Second Founding essay

Due November 1

On Tuesday, November 1 [REVISED], students will submit a 3-5 page typed, double-spaced essay on a topic about the Reconstruction era constitutional amendments provided to them in class on Thursday, October 27.

Please choose ONE of the questions below and submit a 3-5 page typed, double-spaced essay by email to Prof. Pinsker by Tuesday, November 1, 2022, at 5PM (via Word doc or PDF attachment)

  1. “The Second Founding culminated a profound shift in American thinking about individual rights and their relationship to the national government.”  Agree or disagree with this statement.  Make sure to define terms and to focus your answer on specific examples and the views of historical decision-makers.


  1. “The Second Founding contained just as many tragic compromises as the 1787 founding, not over slavery any longer but rather in a series of disappointing concessions to American discrimination and prejudice.”  Agree or disagree with this statement.  Make sure to define terms and to focus your answer on specific examples and the views of historical decision-makers.
  • Please open your paper with a descriptive title, byline (name), and a clear, engaging introductory paragraph with analytical thesis statement.  Don’t just restate the question and consider using opening tactics such as thoughtful narrative vignettes or striking quotations or statistics to help focus the reader’s attention.
  • Organize your essay in a way that respects chronology and historical context.
  • Use past tense except when describing modern scholarship
  • Avoid first person pronouns, including “our”
  • Prof. Pinsker is available to review drafts by email (before Tuesday) and you may utilize the Writing Center.  Do not consult with other students in the class.

All essays must use Eric Foner, Second Founding (2019), properly cited with Chicago-style footnotes. Outside research is allowed but not required.

  • Other relevant reading assignments for this essay include some online resources from the American Yawp textbook or the House Divided Project.  And don’t forget to consult the discussion topic pages on the course site syllabus as well –they also contain valuable insights and examples.
  • Make sure to devise a thesis statement that can be effectively argued in a short paper.  Consult the Methods Center handout on How to Write a Thesis Statement 
  • Make sure you are formatting your footnotes correctly (see some of the samples below).  For further guidance, see this methods handout on How to Use Footnotes and consult as needed with the library’s Chicago-style guide, but make sure to use sample footnote models for formatting and NOT bibliography examples.  

Sample Footnotes

[1] Eric Foner, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution (New York: W.W. Norton, 2019), 24.

[2] Foner, 88.


Essays will be graded on depth of analysis, use of evidence, and quality of prose. Late essays will be penalized up to 5 points each day.

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of integrating your quoted evidence with some degree of fluidity.  Awkwardly inserting quotations is one of the hallmarks of mediocre undergraduate essays.  Consult this handout from the methods center for a range of good tips.
  • Also, please guard against plagiarism.  Remember our discussion from the very first day of the semester.  Never write your own words while looking directly at your sources, especially secondary sources –unless you are quoting them.
  • And finally, always remember to proofread your work by printing it out and reading it aloud, slowly. See our methods handout on How to Proofreed [sic]

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