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The Two Reconstructions

The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement

Winner of the 2005 J. David Greenstone Book Award from the Politics and History section of the American Political Science Association.
Winner of the 2005 Ralph J. Bunche Award of the American Political Science Association
Winner of the 2005 V.O. Key, Jr. Award of the Southern Political Science Association

The Reconstruction era marked a huge political leap for African Americans, who rapidly went from the status of slaves to voters and officeholders. Yet this hard-won progress lasted only a few decades. Ultimately a "second reconstruction"—associated with the civil rights movement and the Voting Rights Act—became necessary.

How did the first reconstruction fail so utterly, setting the stage for the complete disenfranchisement of Southern black voters, and why did the second succeed? These are among the questions Richard M. Valelly answers in this fascinating history. The fate of black enfranchisement, he argues, has been closely intertwined with the strengths and constraints of our political institutions. Valelly shows how effective biracial coalitions have been the key to success and incisively traces how and why political parties and the national courts either rewarded or discouraged the formation of coalitions.

Revamping our understanding of American race relations, The Two Reconstructions brilliantly explains a puzzle that lies at the heart of America’s development as a political democracy.

Read an op-ed by the author.

348 pages | 1 line drawing, 31 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2004

American Politics and Political Economy Series

History: American History

Political Science: American Government and Politics, Race and Politics


"In these days of microscopic studies in the social sciences and humanities, the author’s breadth of intellectual concern is admirable indeed."

Political Science Quarterly

"A valuable contribution to the literature on American political development and the Reconstruction era that should be of some interest to judicial scholars, especially those interested in supplementing their knowledge of the non-judicial aspects of the first Reconstruction."

Emery G. Lee III | Law and Politics

“Richard M. Valelly’s magisterial work The Two Reconstructions will stand for a long time as the definitive political analysis of racial suppression and redemption in American democracy. . . . Valelly [compares] the two reconstructions in every dimension—the coalition politics on which they rested, the role of courts, the dynamics of Southern white resistance, and the legislative and judicial means for securing democracy. Many of the instruments of the second reconstruction, such as federal registrars, were echoes of the aborted first one. Likewise, the subterfuges devised by white supremacists to destroy black suffrage in the late 19th century were often the same ones still deployed, or redeployed, a century later. . . . With the [Voting Rights Act] up for renewal in 2007, Valelly shows how more conservative courts and new tactics of vote dilution or suppression again put full democracy at risk. ‘As a country, we still have important business to do.’”

Robert Kuttner | American Prospect

"Valelly has written a book that offers a rich database of facts contrasting a successful and unsuccessful instance of institutionalization. It deserves to be read by social movement scholars and political sociologists, as well as anyone with an interest in the roots of black social inequality."

Martin Ruef | American Journal of Sociology

"This is the best work ever written comparing Reconstruction after the Civil War with the reconstruction of race relations since World War II. Combining a mastery of the vast historical literature with a political scientist’s emphasis on the ways coalitions are built, maintained, and eroded, Vallely convincingly pushes economic and cultural factors to the side and restore mass and judicial politics to their rightful place at the center of the histopry of racial change in America. On questions large and small . . . Vallely consistently illuminates."

J. Morgan Kousser | Law and History Review

"Valelly has made and judicious use of history. It is a timely and instructive book to read."

Steven F. Lawson | Journal of Southern History

Table of Contents

1. The Strange Career of African American Voting and Office-Holding
2. Forging the Coalition of 1867-1868
3. Incomplete Institutionalization
4. Party-Building during the First Reconstruction
5. The Limits of Jurisprudence-Building
6. The Vortex of Racial Disenfranchisement
7. Heralding the Second Reconstruction: The Coalition of 1948
8. The Coalition of 1961-1965
9. How the Second Reconstruction Stabilized
10. Institutions and Enfranchisement


APSA Politics and History Section: J. David Greenstone Book Award

American Political Science Association: Ralph J. Bunche Award

Southern Political Science Association: V.O. Key Book Award

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