Eric Foner

Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia and the author of many books on Reconstruction, including The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010), which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2011.

‘I’m  not a member of an organised political party,’ the American comedian Will Rogers declared. ‘I’m a Democrat.’ When Rogers made this remark, in the early 1930s, the party was just emerging from a decade of disorganisation and defeat. Riven by divisions over Prohibition, immigration, religion and the Ku Klux Klan, Democrats had suffered...

United States of Amnesia

Eric Foner, 9 September 2021

Survivors recalled seeing trucks loaded with bodies heading out of the city, presumably to burial sites in unknown locations. Dick Rowland was not one of the victims. Somehow, he escaped during the chaos. One might think it impossible to erase an event of this magnitude from historical memory. But Tulsa tried its best. Scott Ellsworth discovered that police reports and National Guard records had been systematically destroyed; other documents were removed from the state archives. News articles were cut out of surviving copies of local newspapers in the University of Tulsa library. Shortly after the violence ended, Ellsworth learned, the city’s police chief ordered his men to confiscate any images of the destruction in the possession of Tulsa’s photography studios. Years passed, and yet Oklahoma history textbooks made no mention of the massacre. A teacher who moved to the city in 1950 was warned on pain of dismissal not to mention the events of 1921 in class.

This Guilty Land: Every Possible Lincoln

Eric Foner, 17 December 2020

Abraham Lincoln​, memorialised as a child of the frontier, self-made man and liberator of the slaves, has been the subject of more than 16,000 books, according to David S. Reynolds’s new biography, Abe. That’s around two a week, on average, since the end of the American Civil War. Almost every possible Lincoln can be found in the historical literature, including the moralist who...

It seems​ like ages have passed, not just nine months, since the all-consuming public issue in the United States was the impeachment of Donald Trump. The trial was a giant anticlimax, of course, its proceedings lacking witnesses, its outcome predetermined. That Trump remains in the White House reminds us that there is almost no way of unseating an American president, even one manifestly...

Given its undemocratic nature and long history of dysfunction and racial bias, it isn’t surprising that almost from the start proposals began to circulate about changing the way electors were chosen, or even doing away with the electoral college entirely. Over time, more than eight hundred such amendments have been introduced in Congress. Amending the constitution is a daunting task, requiring the approval of two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of the states. But it has nevertheless been accomplished 27 times, effecting changes that have significantly democratised American politics: extending the right to vote to African Americans, women and 18-year-olds; shifting the election of senators from legislatures to voters; barring the imposition of poll taxes and allocating electoral votes to residents of Washington, D.C. But the stark fact is that with the exception of the Twelfth Amendment, which only tweaked the system, the strange way we elect the president has survived intact for over two centuries. 

Reconstruction was under attack from the outset. There was never a consensus on its legitimacy, and in the end it sank under the weight of racism, indifference, fatigue, administrative weakness, economic...

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A Topic Best Avoided: Abraham Lincoln

Nicholas Guyatt, 1 December 2011

On the evening of 11 April 1865, Abraham Lincoln spoke to a crowd in Washington about black suffrage. The Civil War had been over for a week. Lincoln had already walked the streets of Richmond,...

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During the war and after the war

J.R. Pole, 11 January 1990

With the passing of generations, the Civil War will lose its chronological centrality in American history, and may well come to be regarded, not so much as the great crisis of the very principle...

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