After I finish my book on Populist and Progressive era constitutionalism, my next book will be a biography of John Bingham (1815-1900), the principal drafter of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment. It’s a bit daunting, as I’ve never written a biography before and much of the relevant material is scattered around the country. Nevertheless, given his importance (Hugo Black called Bingham the “James Madison of the Fourteenth Amendment”), he really deserves a full-fledged biography (not to mention an HBO miniseries, if anyone wants to buy the rights from me). There was one written by Erving Beauregard about twenty years ago, but it is pretty obscure and was based on an inaccurate view of Bingham’s role that dates back to Charles Fairman’s flawed scholarship in the 1940s.
To give you some highlights, Bingham was an abolitionist member of Congress from 1855-73 (with a gap between 1863-65). He was also one of the three JAG prosecutors in the military trial of Lincoln’s assassins (Bingham is on the left in the picture). And he served as one of the impeachment managers during Andrew Johnson’s trial before closing his career as Ambassador to Japan from 1873-85. But his main claim to fame comes from his work on Reconstruction and on the Fourteenth Amendment, as he was at the center of almost every major debate during that time.
The lack of a serious Bingham biography is part of an odd dichotomy in our historiography. The Civil War is the most popular topic in American history — far more so than the Revolutionary War. (Go look in any bookstore). Yet the Founding Fathers get a lot more attention than the leaders of Reconstruction — books about Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, or Lyman Trumbull are rare compared to what you see about Hamilton, Jefferson, or Madison. Why is that?