Aoki Seminar Fall 2019: Gregory Downs - What’s So Scary About Revolutions? 10/1/2019

What’s So Scary About Revolutions? Thinking of the Civil War and Reconstruction as a Second American Revolution, and the Problem of Constitutional Continuity Professor Gregory Downs Professor of History at UC Davis Why, other than tradition, do we refer to the war and constitutional re-creation of the 1860s as the Civil War, rather than as a revolution? And what difference would it make if we thought of the period as a revolutionary transformation? In my talk, I re-create the tools for re-making the Constitution during the Civil War and Reconstruction—fractional congresses, peculiarly invented states, quickly admitted territories, shifts in Supreme Court size, and martial law in order to force states to ratify constitutional amendments. What difference do the methods used to remake the Constitution make for the way we understand the possibilities for broader constitutional change? Do narratives of continuity, in which the Civil War resolves a paradox or fulfills the Constitution, obscure the difficulty of actually ending slavery, creating birthright citizenship and due process, and providing the first (limited) protection for voting rights? Does examining the messy, norm-busting, even bloody, roots of constitutional transformation in the 19th century help contemporary activists consider the strategies they might need to use to pursue broad transformation today? Greg Downs is Professor of History at UC Davis and previously taught at City College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He is the author of two previous books of history, After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War and Declarations of Dependence: The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, as well as of the Flannery O’Connor Prize-winning short story collection Spit Baths. With Northwestern’s Kate Masur, he co-wrote the National Park Service’s first-ever Theme Study on Reconstruction and organized historians’ lobbying for the creation of the first National Park Service site devoted to Reconstruction, proclaimed by President Obama in January 2017 at Beaufort, South Carolina. With Georgia’s Scott Nesbitt, he designed the digital history site Mapping Occupation, This talk is drawn from his forthcoming book “The Second American Revolution: The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic,” which will appear in November.