Review: American Founding Son

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

9780814761458_FullThese words have, for the most part, been lost on the American people. There are, however, certain plays which are being made by those in government offices which are calling people back to a more pointed focus on the Constitution. There are epochs of time which so stir the soul of the American people which call them back to the great men and women who founded this country on the truths of God’s Word. John Bingham, who we shall discover in American Founding Son, lived during such a time where history was being shaped before his very eyes.

Born in a two-story brick house on the 21st of January in 1815, John Bingham was brought up on the south side of the town square in what is now used as the Republican Party Headquarters. Growing up in Cadiz, OH Bingham was likely exposed to the two centers of interest in that small quaint city, the Church and the Courthouse. As the seat of Harrison County, Cadiz was positioned so importantly that lawyers from miles around to transact business there and also served as a platform which produced names like Edwin M. Stanton, who would later become the secretary of war under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. Along with the platform Cadiz provided, it was also a place where Bingham would forge lasting friendships with men who would shape history. Matthew Simpson was one such friend who became one of America’s most influential clergymen and would provide the funeral oration for President Lincoln.

From an obscure young man in the middle of nowhere to front and center at the trial of the century, Bingham certainly made headlines while leading the prosecution team in the trial of John Wilkes Booth. At the conclusion of the long and dragging trial Magliocca notes that, “While Bingham was not responsible for the design of the military commission that tried the alleged conspirators to Lincoln’s assassination he did put his skills at the disposal of a flawed process. On the other hand, when Bingham returned to Congress, he did more than anyone else to ensure that all criminal defendants would get the protection of the Bill of Rights that one woman and seven men did not get from the United States”

After leaving the seat of power in Washington and slipping into retirement Bingham sat on his porch most days just watching life pass him by. The words that he penned in the 14th amendment would take decades before it took the place of prestige which Bingham hoped it would. At the old age of 85 and after a life of shaking things up in Washington, Bingham passed away. An estate he left behind, which contained mostly debts were sold off to the highest bidder but the wealth he left in constitutional terms could not have a worth which could be assessed.

This volume on Bingham made me rethink some things I thought I was taught in high school history class. Magliocca did a wonderful job of searching, often sparse records, in order to give a full-orbed view of political history in America. I feel like the legacy of a man like Bingham is often forgotten among those who have largely left the politics to highly paid professionals who sit on Washington’s hill. It’s stories like these, a relatively no-name person from the middle of nowhere rising to power and changing history. We can all learn from Bingham, not only from his big wins, but from his losses as well. We should all be so concerned for freedom as Bingham was, it would make a small difference today which may change the pages of history hundreds of years down the road.

Magliocca, G. (2013). American Founding Son John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment (p. 304). New York City: New York University Press.

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