Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy


Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy



Americans hate and distrust their government. At the same time, Americans love and trust their government. These contradictory attitudes are resolved by Fletcher's novel interpretation of constitutional history. He argues that we have two constitutions – still living side by side – one that caters to freedom and fear, the other that satisfied our needs for security and social justice.

The first constitution came into force in 1789. It stresses freedom, voluntary association, and republican elitism. The second constitution begins with the Gettysburg Address and emphasizes equality, organic nationhood, and popular democracy. These radical differences between our two constitutions explain our ambivalence and self-contradictory attitudes toward government.

With September 11 the second constitution – which Fletcher calls the Secret Constitution – has become ascendant. When America is under threat, the nation cultivates its solidarity. It overcomes its fear and looks to government for protection and the pursuit of social justice. Lincoln's messages of a strong government and a nation that must "long endure" have never been more relevant to American politics.



Publication Date



Oxford University Press


New York, NY


"In his typically provocative style, George Fletcher brilliantly evokes the true lessons of the Second American Revolution – the Civil War, the Gettysburg Address, and the post-bellum commitment to equality. No one who cares about racial justice, constitutional justice, or American history can afford to miss this beautifully written and persuasive revision of our traditional understanding of the Constitution."
Alan M. Dershowitz, Harvard Law School

"This brilliant essay confronts our constitutional legacy, and vividly reveals the challenges involved in redeeming its promises for a new generation."
Bruce Ackerman, author of We the People

"A provocative meditation on the Constitution that emerged from the redemptive experience of the Civil War.... His discussions of voting rights, education, affirmative action, victims' rights, and the constitutional grounding of a positive government are insightful and thought-provoking."
Mark Tushnet, Georgetown University Law Center

"With subtlety and coherence, Fletcher presents a lively critique of constitutional law."
Publishers Weekly

"Fletcher's argument has intriguing implications beyond the sweeping subject of this profoundly thought-provoking book."
The Denver Post


Also available as an eBook through the Columbia University Libraries.


Administrative Law | Constitutional Law | History | Law | Legal History | United States History


Center on Global Governance

Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy

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