Drawing on existing scholarship, Downs argues that the era of Reconstruction that followed the U.S. Civil War amounted to a second foundational moment in the history of the United States, when the government in Washington employed military force and other measures to radically transform labor and property relations in the American South and fundamentally revise the U.S. Constitution. With graceful and forceful prose, Downs links the mid-nineteenth-century history of the United States to that of the broader Atlantic world—in particular, to Cuba and Mexico in their struggles against European powers to end slavery and establish anti-imperialist democracies. The U.S. example was powerful, spreading revolutionary impulses and promising, however briefly, to produce a network of “free-trading antislavery republics” on either side of the Atlantic. Extending his historical interpretations to today’s politics, Downs suggests that Americans could benefit from reexamining the bold measures of nineteenth-century Republicans: the carving out of new states, the passing of constitutional amendments, and the introduction of federal oversight of elections.
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