Virtual Event: Noah Feldman


The Broken Constitution:
Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America

in conversation with ANNETTE GORDON-REED


December 2, 2021
7:00 PM ET


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Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes Harvard Law Professor NOAH FELDMAN—author of The Three Lives of James Madison and Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices—for a discussion of his latest book, The Broken Constitution: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America. He will be joined in conversation by Pulitzer Prize–winning historian ANNETTE GORDON-REED, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.

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About The Broken Constitution

Abraham Lincoln is justly revered for his brilliance, compassion, humor, and rededication of the United States to achieving liberty and justice for all. He led the nation into a bloody civil war to uphold the system of government established by the US Constitution—a system he regarded as the “last best hope of mankind.” But how did Lincoln understand the Constitution?

In this groundbreaking study, Noah Feldman argues that Lincoln deliberately and recurrently violated the United States’ founding arrangements. When he came to power, it was widely believed that the federal government could not use armed force to prevent a state from seceding. It was also assumed that basic civil liberties could be suspended in a rebellion by Congress but not by the president, and that the federal government had no authority over slavery in states where it existed. As president, Lincoln broke decisively with all these precedents, and effectively rewrote the Constitution’s place in the American system. Before the Civil War, the Constitution was best understood as a compromise pact—a rough and ready deal between states that allowed the Union to form and function. After Lincoln, the Constitution came to be seen as a sacred text—a transcendent statement of the nation’s highest ideals.

The Broken Constitution is the first book to tell the story of how Lincoln broke the Constitution in order to remake it. To do so, it offers a riveting narrative of his constitutional choices and how he made them—and places Lincoln in the rich context of thinking of the time, from African American abolitionists to Lincoln’s Republican rivals and Secessionist ideologues.

Praise for The Broken Constitution

“With insight and a talent for illumination, Noah Feldman explores our greatest president’s complicated relationship with a document he revered—and changed forever.” —Jon Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson, American Lion, and His Truth Is Marching On

“Is there really a need for yet another book on Abraham Lincoln? The answer is yes, at least with regard to Noah Feldman’s stunning examination of Lincoln and ‘the broken Constitution.’ It truly needs to be read by anyone interested not only in our tangled and tragic constitutional history but also in the continuing problems that face us today. He conveys in lucid prose the best existing overview of the constitutional issues that Lincoln (and the country) faced with regard to slavery in general and the conduct of the ‘war to preserve the union’ in particular. Whether one is a general reader or a professional academic, this is a book demanding to be read and discussed.” —Sanford Levinson, Centennial Chair at the University of Texas Law School and coauthor of Fault Lines in the Constitution

"With his characteristic verve, erudition, and insight, Noah Feldman explores the constitutional breakup reflected and propelled by the Civil War. That he sheds fresh light on a subject that has been discussed so extensively is deeply impressive.” —Randall Kennedy, professor at Harvard Law School and author of Say It Loud!

Annette Gordon-Reed
Annette Gordon-Reed

Annette Gordon-Reed

Annette Gordon-Reed is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard. Gordon-Reed won sixteen book prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2009 and the National Book Award in 2008, for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (W.W. Norton, 2008). In addition to articles and reviews, her other works include Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, Vernon Can Read! A Memoir, a collaboration with Vernon Jordan, Race on Trial: Law and Justice in American History, a volume of essays that she edited, Andrew Johnson, and, with Peter S. Onuf, “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination. Her most recent book is On Juneteenth (Liveright Publishing, 2021).

Photo Credit: Stephanie Mitchell

Noah Feldman
Noah Feldman

Noah Feldman

Noah Feldman is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, and host of Pushkin Industry’s Deep Background podcast. He is the author of ten books, including The Three Lives of James Madison and Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices.

Photo Credit: Deborah Feingold


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Event Series: Virtual Event Series

Harvard Book Store’s award-winning event series continues online! Named "Best of Boston: 2020 Best Virtual Author Series" and "2021 Best Virtual Author Series" by Boston magazine.

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