• The Broken Constitution

  • Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America
  • By: Noah Feldman
  • Narrated by: Noah Feldman
  • Length: 11 hrs and 14 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (70 ratings)

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The Broken Constitution

By: Noah Feldman
Narrated by: Noah Feldman
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Publisher's Summary

This program is read by the author

An innovative account of Abraham Lincoln, constitutional thinker and doer

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.

A Macmillan Audio production from Farrar, Straus and Giroux

©2021 Noah Feldman (P)2021 Macmillan Audio

What listeners say about The Broken Constitution

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Takes you to Lincoln’s time for a new understanding

The most pleasant surprise of this book is how the author takes you into the real time thinking (based on diaries largely, but other documents and news stories of the time) in the lead up and execution of the Civil War. I had a real sense of Lincoln’s desperation to do anything possible to save the Union, including acts of censorship and execution of revocation of habeas corpus. I never fully appreciated how radical a step it was, nor on such tenuous grounds that Lincoln took this action. Everything had to smashed and remade in order for the country to survive. Some of Lincoln’s racial pronouncements are deeply uncomfortable viewed from the 21st century, but the author examines them unflinchingly. I would buy a deeper analysis of the reconstruction betrayal - how it happened, why, what it meant- if this author wrote it. He also did a very nice job of narration

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Unique Analysis

It was refreshing to receive a unique and well substantiated book regarding a President upon whom so much has been written but so little is new and informative. The author is a true scholar and I was pleasantly surprised by his narration. Moreover, this book contains quite a deep analysis of the relevant portions of the Constitution and Bill of Rights; the constitution clearly was a compromise document to establish the Union and did not have a specific, agreed upon “original intent”.

This book was very well written, incisive and illuminating. Highly recommended.

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A shockingly honest account of our worst president

Reading Lincoln biographies can be a frustrating experience to those of us who don’t believe the false narrative of the man’s life and motives taught to us since elementary school.

Feldman does a great job of chronicling Lincoln’s crimes and atrocities. Usually without varnish. It’s incredibly refreshing because you usually have to go to figures like Tom DiLorenzo to get this sort of an honest assessment.

The big thing I disagree with is Feldman’s interpretation that this was all moral because it was done to save the union and free the slaves. To me, Lincoln was the American Stalin. However, I can appreciate Feldman’s willingness to embrace the good and bad of Lincoln and not try to downplay or make excuses for what was done in the darkest hour of American history.

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Perspective

A lot has been written about Lincoln and the civil war, however
this is an interesting perspective. Loved it!!

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You'll learn so much you didn't learn in School

Noah's produced and narrated a fascinating look at the times, the politics and the pressure of one of the most challenging times in US history. A great listen.

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Overstated Thesis

Professor Feldman I believe overstates and hypes his thesis, perhaps because this will make for better sales. There is a more measured approach to this topic.

I was surprised however by Professor Feldman's omission of the status of West Virginia. Here is an example of a clear constitutional violation of Article IV, Section 3 implemented by the Union to form a new state from the territory of Virginia.

Close to the end of his book (p. 322) Professor Feldman states in passing without comment that the Republicans who drafted the Fourteenth Amendment forced the South to ratify it as a condition of being once more represented in Congress. Where in the constitution was the authority to do this? For all of Professor Feldman's thesis of Lincoln's breaking the constitution, this departure from constitutional norms was arguably more significant than any of those mentioned in his book. But these actions took place after Lincoln's death and therefore cannot advance the author's argument that Lincoln broke the constitution.

And in 1864, the Union held a presidential election in which our "constitutional dictator," Lincoln, as the author describes him, had the distinct prospect of being turned out of office.

Ultimately, Professor Feldman's paradigm of a broken constitution is simply not a helpful approach to understanding history or explaining the changes of the civil war period. Much more was going on than the legalisms of constitutional law. The question is not one of the compromise constitution vs. a moral constitution. The question is whether our country more closely approached in the largest sense the ideal of social justice.

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Corrective Lens for Our Founding and Refounding

Ate this up. Gets wonky, but not out of reach, IMO.

Not gnna find a better authority on the constitution than Noah, so worth buckling in.

Found this honest account of our history to be a refreshing tonic in today's polarized environment.

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An exceptional book about an exceptional time

Noah Feldman is a master at his craft. The book combines a deeply compelling narrative of slavery, secession, war, emancipation, reformation, and betrayal, alongside a brilliant analysis and explanation of the legal and constitutional dimensions of the civil war. I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who is interested in history, constitutional law, or the demands of American citizenship.

Feldman is also a spectacular audio narrator, and uses his professorial tenor to keep listeners engaged throughout the book.

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Excellent

Another great book from Professor Feldman. He covers a lot of ground, but the content is anything but shallow. Each page is well-researched and persuasively argued. Plus Feldman has a fantastic reading voice.

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Persuasive and master,y

The Broken Constitution is consistent with and indeed follows on from the 2021 story of the Compromise Constitution by Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar. As if writing with the narrative buildup of a novelist, Noah Feldman carefully pursues Lincoln’s final break with the Compromise Constitution in the last period I of the Civil War. I found the critical reviews in the NYT and the WSJ shortly after the publication of the Feldman argument querulous and niggling if not disingenuous. We will find both the audible and hard copy of The Broken Constitution is valuable resource in our library.