Second Founding New York City, Reconstruction, and the Making of American Democracy

David Quigley

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

256 Pages



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At the close of the Civil War, Americans found themselves drawn into another conflict, one in which the basic shape of the nation's government had to be rethought and new rules for the democratic game had to be established. In this superb study, David Quigley argues that New York City's politics and politicians lay at the heart of Reconstruction's intense, conflicted drama. In ways that we understand all too well today, New York history became national history.

The establishment of a postwar interracial democracy required the tearing down and rebuilding of many basic tenets of American government, yet, as Quigley shows in dramatic detail, the white supremacist traditions of the nation's leading city militated against a genuine revision of America's racial order, for New York politicians placed limits on the possibilities of true reconstruction at every turn. Still, change did occur and a new America did take shape. Ironically, the novel languages and practices of public life that would leave an indelible mark on progressive national politics were developed in New York City. Quigley's signal accomplishment is to show that the innovative work of New York's black activists, Tammany Democrats, bourgeois reformers, suffragettes, liberal publicists, and trade unionists resulted in a radical redefinition of reform in urban America.


Praise for Second Founding

"Second Founding is a significant contribution toward our understanding of the pivotal roles played by Reconstruction, New York City, class struggle, and white supremacy in the drama of modern American democracy. In clear prose and a quick narrative, Quigley convincingly argues that New York 'has long been central to the making and remaking of democracy in America,' and that struggles for citizenship, particularly by African Americans, are central to the making and remaking of New York and the nation."—Joel Olson, Civil War Book Review

"Today's highly partisan, interest-group-dominated American politics is a natural consequence of the politics established by the second founding."—The New York Sun

"Concise and ambitious . . . We may well begin to view New York's impact on national politics through the new lens of David Quigley."—Ena L. Farley, The Journal of American History

"In this fascinating study of New York, and the nation, Quigley sets the story of the Reconstruction struggle over democracy against a riveting, crucial backdrop: the streets of Manhattan."—Jill Lepore, author of The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity

"Second Founding is an elegantly written, important piece of scholarship that is sure to be widely read and praised. Quigley offers fascinating insights into New York City's history in the Civil War years and demonstrates the city's central place in the national debates on race and class that shaped the post-war era."—Tyler Anbinder, author of Five Points: The Nineteenth-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum

"A century and a half ago, as the nation fell into civil war, Manhattan was a bastion of white racism and a reluctant participant in the fight to save the Union. But as David Quigley brilliantly shows, it was on the streets and in the assemblies of New York that the postwar struggle to found an interracial democracy was fought and decidedly lost. In an industrializing city teeming with working-class discontent, numerous groups vied to control popular participation in government. Quigley tellingly depicts how class interests prevailed over democratic hopes and, thanks to the influence of its politicians, New York's conservatism became the nation's. Better than any study I have seen, Second Founding demonstrates that failure of Reconstruction in the South was bound up with the defeat of democracy in the North."—Robert A. Gross, James L. and Shirley A. Draper Chair of Early American History, University of Connecticut

“This scholarly examination provides an illuminating window into the Reconstruction era, an era the author refers to as the ‘second founding of American democracy.’ Using post-Civil War New York City as a microcosm of the more heterogeneous, pluralistic, and decentralized democracy introduced during Reconstruction, Quigley paints a portrait of a deeply conflicted city, a metropolis that reflected, above all others, the whirlwind changes that were sweeping the nation. As fundamental questions of equality and freedom were being reconsidered, radical economic changes, rapid urbanization, and racial revolution were the hallmarks of the day. Forced to confront these changes head on, New York was at the center of a political and social revolution that permanently altered the fabric of American life, ushering in a new type of democratic politics. This original analysis firmly ties the history of Reconstruction-era New York City to the contemporary American political landscape.”—Margaret Flanagan, Booklist
“Quigley’s book is a magnificent scholarly study of interracial democracy in New York, and it is one that will set the standard for others to follow.”—William Seraile, Department of African and African American Studies, Lehman College, City University of New York, H-Net Book Review
"Legal lynchings, anti-civil rights demonstrations, official indifference to acts of violence against African-Americans: welcome to New York, ca. 1865. The New York draft riots that closely followed the Union victory at Gettysburg, observes Quigley, marked 'the worst incident of civil unrest in American history.' Much of the rioters' wrath was directed at the government (one of their slogans was 'Rich man's war, poor man's fight'), fueled by pro-Southern 'Copperheads' among the city's Democratic Party operatives, who saw to it that Republicans were targeted. But, writes Quigley, the most sustained and rawest violence was directed at the black community; the largest black neighborhood was besieged for days, while the hospitals filled with hundreds of victims. The singling out of blacks was no accident, and even Republican politicians seemed little troubled by the fact that the city's victory parade at the end of the Civil War was fully segregated, as a prominent speaker argued that the U.S. 'is a government of white men, and should not and shall not be destroyed for the sake of the African.' For many Tammany Hall operators, Quigley writes, Reconstruction meant little more than the opportunity for New Yorkers to benefit from the reopening of Southern ports and the flow of raw materials from the defeated Confederacy. But other New Yorkers took the opportunity to press for civil rights, universal suffrage, labor reforms, and other progressive measures. Their victories would be a long time in coming, as Reconstruction eventually faded and Gilded Age conservatism carried the day; but, Quigley suggests, their efforts amounted to no less than a second American revolution, one that extended democratic rights to even those not blessed with property or connections. 'The unending tragedy of Reconstruction is the utter inability of the American mind to grasp its real significance,' W. E. B. Du Bois once remarked. Quigley's look at Reconstruction history in an unexpected quarter is a welcome addition to the scholarly literature."—Kirkus Reviews

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David Quigley, a graduate of Amherst College and New York University, teaches history at Boston College. This is his first book.
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  • David Quigley

  • David Quigley, a graduate of Amherst College and New York University, teaches history at Boston College.