Thursday, January 7, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 14 (Eric Foner)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Foner, Eric
America's Unfinished
Revolution 1863-1877

I bought this three or four years ago at Talking Leaves Books, I think, or maybe online. I was on a Civil War jag at the time and had read several books on the subject. It seemed logical to read on about reconstruction in the wake of that. I never finished the book, though I remember enjoying it. My bookmark still rests between pages 244 & 245. How is this for irony? The bookmark was printed by the Buffalo News Book Club and is advertising the title of their book of the month in September 2006. The book is called Dear Senator: A Memoir of the Daughter of Strom Thurmond, by Essie Mae Washington-Williams. "In this emotional memoir, Williams breaks her decades-long silence about the identity of her father--the late Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. With candor and sensitivity, she describes how she came to accept the father who supported segregation while also having a child who is black."

from page 244 of Reconstruction:

In constitutional terms, the Civil Rights Bill represented the first attempt to give meaning to the Thirteenth Amendment, to define in legislative terms the essence of freedom. Again and again during the debate of Trumbull's bills, Congressmen spoke of the national government's responsibility to protect the "fundamental rights" of American citizens. But as to the precise content of these rights, uncertainty prevailed. To Radicals, equality before the law was an expansive doctrine embracing nearly every phase of public life. Moderates had in mind a narrower definition, focusing on those rights essential for blacks to enter the world of contract, to compete on equal terms as free laborer. The bill proposed, one congressman declared, "to secure to a poor, weak class of laborers the right to make contracts for their labor, the power to enforce the payment of their wages, and the means of holding and enjoying the proceeds of their toil." If states could deny blacks these rights, another Republican remarked, "then I demand to know, of what practical value is the amendment abolishing slavery?"

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