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American Founding Son

John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment

Gerard N. Magliocca

Publication Year: 2013

John Bingham was the architect of the rebirth of the United States following the Civil War. A leading antislavery lawyer and congressman from Ohio, Bingham wrote the most important part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees fundamental rights and equality to all Americans. He was also at the center of two of the greatest trials in history, giving the closing argument in the military prosecution of John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and in the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. And more than any other man, Bingham played the key role in shaping the Union’s policy towards the occupied ex-Confederate States, with consequences that still haunt our politics.
American Founding Son provides the most complete portrait yet of this remarkable statesman. Drawing on his personal letters and speeches, the book traces Bingham’s life from his humble roots in Pennsylvania through his career as a leader of the Republican Party. Gerard N. Magliocca argues that Bingham and his congressional colleagues transformed the Constitution that the Founding Fathers created, and did so with the same ingenuity that their forbears used to create a more perfect union in the 1780s. In this book, Magliocca restores Bingham to his rightful place as one of our great leaders.
Gerard N. Magliocca is the Samuel R. Rosen Professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He is the author of three books on constitutional law, and his work on Andrew Jackson was the subject of an hour-long program on C-Span’s Book TV.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-11

Every biographer should explain why it is worth spending so much time learning about somebody else’s life. In my case, the answer is that John Bingham is a fascinating man who is largely unknown despite his immense contributions to law and justice. One of my most prized pos-sessions is Bingham’s autograph, which I purchased from an antique ...

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Introduction: Measuring a Man

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pp. 1-4

Americans are of two minds about their past. When the subject is military history, the Civil War holds a special place in our national life. When it comes to political and legal history, the Founding Fathers and the birth of the Constitution are sacred. Most people know who Robert E. Lee and Alexander Hamilton were and want to learn more about them. Turn this pairing around, however, and...

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1. Group Think

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pp. 5-10

John Bingham and the abolitionist dream that was his life’s pursuit were both rooted in the emerald hills of western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. The Bingham family traced its origins to another John Bingham, a knight who marched with William the Conqueror, but its American patriarch was Hugh Bingham, who came from Ireland in 1736. Hugh settled in central...

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2. Franklin College

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pp. 11-19

In 1835, John Bingham enrolled at Franklin College in New Athens, Ohio, about six miles from Cadiz.1 His decision was probably based on the school’s proximity to his family, the fact that his former pas-tor was on the faculty, and the role that his friend Matthew Simpson had played as a founding trustee.2 While Franklin’s evangelical ...

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3. Lawyer and Whig

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pp. 20-38

Like almost every young lawyer, John Bingham was eager to make contacts and establish a reputation when he returned to Cadiz. Politics was one way to accomplish those goals, and so before he could even practice law, Bingham took the stump for the Whigs in the 1840 presidential election. He stayed loyal to the Whig Party into the 1850s even as he worked as a grassroots activist...

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4. Republican Congressman

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pp. 39-65

The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened the door for John Bingham’s rise to power. In January 1854, Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois proposed a bill to allow slavery in those territories if the inhabitants there so desired and thereby repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which excluded human property...

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5. And the War Came

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pp. 66-88

The Civil War marked John Bingham’s transition from dissenter to legislator. Lincoln’s election in 1860 gave the Republicans control of Washington for the first time, and the congressman from Ohio was one of the president’s most fervent supporters. From his perch on the House Judiciary Committee, Bingham designed legislation to support the Union army, suspend the writ...

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6. The Trial of the Century

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pp. 89-107

On March 4, 1865, John Bingham stood among the crowd at the Capitol to hear the president’s Second Inaugural Address. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” Lincoln said, “let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan...

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7. The Fourteenth Amendment

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pp. 108-127

John Bingham’s great contribution to constitutional democracy was Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment, which committed the nation to fair and equal treatment for all.1 As a member of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction in Congress, he wrote the key language of Section One and led the fight for its ratification in the House.2 With respect to the meaning of...

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8. Reconstruction and Impeachment

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pp. 128-153

John Bingham’s influence reached its zenith in 1867 as Congress grappled with how to win the hearts and minds of the former Confederate States. At one extreme was President Johnson, who would not accept the Fourteenth Amendment and used all of the power at his disposal to block its ratification.1 Thaddeus Stevens was in the other corner, arguing that only reforms that went far beyond the Fourteenth Amendment, including redistributing wealth...

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9. Farewell to Washington

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pp. 154-166

The extension and protection of voting rights dominated the final years of Bingham’s congressional career. After barely retaining his seat in 1868, he joined his Republican colleagues to ratify the Fifteenth Amend-ment, though he believed that its ban on racial discrimination at the polls did not go far enough.1 As the chair of the House Judiciary Com-...

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10. Ambassador

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pp. 167-177

After thirty years of political seasoning in Ohio and Washington, John Bingham was ready to step onto the world stage. In June 1873, President Grant appointed (and the Senate confirmed) him as the first American minister plenipotentiary to Japan.1 Over the next twelve years, Bingham served with distinction and took a firm anticolonial stance, arguing that ...

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11. Obscurity

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pp. 178-184

Retirement was not kind to John Bingham. He had the gift of robust health until he was past eighty, but ended up outliving his income.1Amanda passed away in 1891, and his two daughters feuded when they were not spending their father’s money.2 During his final years, mental decay and poverty took such a toll that Congress was pressed to give ...

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Conclusion: Legacy

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pp. 185-188

Enoch Powell, a member of the House of Commons who advised Margaret Thatcher, once wrote that “[a]ll political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.”1 Powell’s maxim can be applied to John Bingham’s political life as it appeared in 1900. The states were still free, with just one exception...

Appendix: The Reconstruction Amendments

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pp. 189-190


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pp. 191-276


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pp. 277-284


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pp. 285-294

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About the Author

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pp. 295-306

Gerard N. Magliocca is the Samuel R. Rosen Professor at Indiana Uni-versity Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He is the author of three books on constitutional law, and his work on Andrew Jackson was the ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814761465
E-ISBN-10: 0814761453
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814761458
Print-ISBN-10: 0814761453

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2013