American Founding Son

John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment

304 pages

March, 2016

ISBN: 9781479819911



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Gerard N. Magliocca is the Samuel R. Rosen Professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He is the author of three books on constitutional law, and his work on Andrew Jackson was the subject of an hour-long program on C-Span’s Book TV.

All books by Gerard N. Magliocca

John Bingham was the architect of the rebirth of the United States following the Civil War. A leading antislavery lawyer and congressman from Ohio, Bingham wrote the most important part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees fundamental rights and equality to all Americans. He was also at the center of two of the greatest trials in history, giving the closing argument in the military prosecution of John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and in the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. And more than any other man, Bingham played the key role in shaping the Union’s policy towards the occupied ex-Confederate States, with consequences that still haunt our politics.
American Founding Son provides the most complete portrait yet of this remarkable statesman. Drawing on his personal letters and speeches, the book traces Bingham’s life from his humble roots in Pennsylvania through his career as a leader of the Republican Party. Gerard N. Magliocca argues that Bingham and his congressional colleagues transformed the Constitution that the Founding Fathers created, and did so with the same ingenuity that their forbears used to create a more perfect union in the 1780s. In this book, Magliocca restores Bingham to his rightful place as one of our great leaders.


  • "Gerard Magliocca has done the country a great service by writing the first biography of one of America's most important but under-appreciated statesmen. John Bingham, the father of the Fourteenth Amendment, helped put a guarantee of individual equality into the U.S. Constitution. In this important book, Magliocca tells the fascinating story of a crucial figure in our country's long struggle to establish justice and create a more perfect union."

    —Jack M. Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment, Yale Law School

  • "Gerard Magliocca rescues John Bingham from his moment of fame as the  author of the Fourteenth Amendment, and presents a nuanced understanding of his life and thought. An important contribution that provides deep insight into our constitutional tradition."

    —Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale University

  • "Gerard Magliocca makes the most of the sometimes scanty evidence to paint an illuminating portrait of Ohio Congressman John Bingham, the author of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment and perhaps our most neglected 'framer' of the Constitution.  From leading the impeachment prosecution of President Andrew Johnson, to serving as Ambassador to Japan, Bingham's life was fascinating. And so too is this book that every student of our constitutional history should read."

    —Randy E. Barnett, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory & Director, Georgetown Center for the Constitution

  • "Gerard Magliocca has done nearly as much as anyone could to resurrect John Bingham, and he has succeeded in making Bingham come alive as an important political player in the Civil War era.  [H]e has certainly restored Bingham to a rightful place in Civil War political and legal history."

    —Allen Guelzo, The Wall Street Journal

  • "This is a worthy biography that will illume...many of the controversies that surround interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment....Certainly, the picture that emerges from this book is much fuller than scholars have had to date."

    —John R. Vile, Law and Politics Book Review

  • "For someone so involved with the watershed events of 19th-century US history, John A. Bingham has largely escaped modern scholars' notice, even in the current book of Civil War-era commemorations.  This oversight is puzzling, since Bingham was a major political figure of his time, as Magliocca ably demonstrates...Magliocca takes readers through a learned yet accessible analysis of Bingham's legal and congressional careers, showing how Bingham's constitutional thought on citizenship, rights, and liberties evolved, climaxing with his drafting of the Fourteenth Amendment's preamble. Students of legal, constitutional, and Civil War-era history should read this fine volume on an important yet neglected figure."


  • “How this leading antislavery lawyer shaped Union policy vis-à-vis the defeated South and wrote most of the amendment guaranteeing equal rights to all Americans.”

    American History

  • "Until now, however, we have lacked an adequate biography of Bingham. This lacuna has just been filled by Gerard N. Magliocca. He dubs Bingham the 'Founding Son'—the man who repaired the flawed work of the Founding Fathers and made equal citizen rights part of the Constitution. Without Bingham, writes Magliocca, “there would have been no Fourteenth Amendment as we know it” (186). His handiwork is the most important part of the Constitution. Bingham also coined that now-common phrase, the 'Bill of Rights.'"

    —Daniel W. Crofts , Civil War Book Review

  • "Magliocca has done valuable work in bringing to public attention the story of an interesting and important states-man of the mid-19th century.  As an enemy of slavery and advocate for constitutional freedom, John Bingham has been too long neglected."

    —Burrus M. Carnahan, The Federal Lawyer

  • "Magliocca presents this evidence in a fine narrative, an excellent example of an intellectual biography.  It preserves a chronological presentation, without obscuring the primacy of the subject's legal and political thoughts."

    —David Upham, Online Library of Law and Liberty

  • "Professor Gerard Magliocca spares no detail in his comprehensive review of John Bingham's life and his drafting of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. For history buffs, constitutional scholars, and civil war experts, the book is a smorgasbord of facts about a critical period in America's history. The reader is taken step by step through the political and legal hurdles required to enact one of the most significant post-Bill of Rights provisions of our Constitution."

    Los Angeles Review of Books

  • "Gerard Magliocca traces Bingham's life from humble beginnings in Pennsylvania through his career as a leader of the Republican Party.  This is an excellent examination of Bingham, who was a major force in shaping the America that emerged from the Civil War."

    —Frank J. Williams, Civil War News

  • “This volume on Bingham made me rethink some things I thought I was taught in high school history class.  Magliocca did a wonderful job of searching, often sparse records, in order to give a full-orbed view of political history in America.  I feel like the legacy of a man like Bingham is often forgotten among those who have largely left the politics to highly paid professionals who sit on Washington’s hill.  It’s stories like these, a relatively no-name person from the middle of nowhere rising to power and changing history.  We can all learn from Bingham, not only from his big wins, but from his losses as well.  We should all be so concerned for freedom as Bingham was, it would make a small difference today which may change the pages of history hundreds of years down the road.”

    Protestant Voices

  • Magliocca's frankly political biography embodies Bingham and his ideals sufficiently to correct the record with 'considerable explanatory force'...This lucidly written book provides just enough information about Bingham's life, roles, and thoughts to place upon him both the gloss of humanness and the prestige of framer/founder...American Founding Son helps dispel the belief that the Fourteenth Amendment is a series of platitudes to capture what was, rather than a forcefully honed and carefully crafted disruption both to create what should have been and what could be."

    The Journal of the Civil War Era

  • “Given Bingham’s central role in the incorporation debate, American Founding Son is long overdue.  Scholars and lawyers who are interested in the incorporation debate eagerly have awaited this book.  They will not be disappointed. […] [T]hose seeking to understand the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment will find a wealth of information in the pages of American Founding Son.” 

    Law and History Review

  • “In this clearly written and extensively researched biography of John Bingham, Gerard Magliocca explains that researchers have neglected Bingham despite his important legislative contributions.”

    The Historian