Jeffrey Jenkins and Justin Peck’s new book Congress and the First Civil Rights Era, 1861-1918 (U Chicago Press, 2021) explores how Congressional Republicans enacted laws aimed at establishing an inclusive, multiracial democracy. During the Civil War and Reconstruction, Congress crafted a civil rights agenda -- including laws, strict enforcement mechanisms, and Constitutional amendments that (for a brief time) enabled Black Americans to vote, sit on juries, and exercise other civil rights. Using a rich collection of data, the book documents how the Republican coalitions that passed and enforced civil rights weakened because of GOP political weakness in the South, shifts in the political preferences of Northern voters, and lack of GOP unity over core assumptions. Jenkins and Peck offer a Congress-centered American political development perspective to understand how Republicans built civil rights yet subsequently undermined the nascent multiracial democracy that their civil rights agenda helped make possible. The book focuses on the conflict within the Republican Party and electoral trends to argue that “policy enactments are a consequence of, and a window into, evolving attitudes about civil rights.” The book’s granular political history demonstrates how legal institutions -- created by majoritarian bodies like Congress -- liberated and protected an oppressed class of citizens but also reasserted the power of the white majority.
Dr. Jeffery A. Jenkins is Provost Professor of Public Policy, Political Science, and Law, Judith & John Bedrosian Chair of Governance and the Public Enterprise, Director of the Bedrosian Center, and Director of the Political Institutions and Political Economy (PIPE) Collaborative at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.
Dr. Justin Peck is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Wesleyan University. In addition to his work on Congress and Civil Rights, he is engaged in a project that seeks to understand how the United States’ role in international affairs leads to the production of new political ideas and to the reform of domestic political institutions.
Daniella Campos assisted with this podcast.
Susan Liebell is professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “BLM versus #BLM:The Dangers of the New Armed Rebellion Narrative” was recently published as part of the Brennan Center for Justice’s series on Protest, Insurrection, and the Second Amendment and “Sensitive Places: Originalism, Gender, and the Myth Self-Defense in District of Columbia v. Heller” appeared in July 2021’s Polity. Email her comments at email@example.com or tweet to @SusanLiebell.
Susan Liebell is Dirk Warren '50 Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.