I agree with Noah Feldman.
The Confederates were right.
“Who created the Constitution we have today? As a law professor, I’ve always thought the best answer was “the framers”: James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and the other delegates who attended the Philadelphia convention in the summer of 1787.
The Constitution they drafted has since been amended many times, of course, sometimes in profound ways. But the document, I’ve long reasoned, has also exhibited a fundamental continuity. We’ve always had one Constitution.
I no longer think this conventional understanding is correct. Over the course of several years of research and writing, I’ve come to the conclusion that the true maker of the Constitution we have today is not one of the founders at all. It’s Abraham Lincoln. …
But I’m making a stronger argument. What has become clear to me is that even before the passage of those Reconstruction amendments — indeed, as a kind of precondition for them — Lincoln fatally injured the Constitution of 1787. He consciously and repeatedly violated core elements of that Constitution as they had been understood by nearly all Americans of the time, himself included.
Through those acts of destruction, Lincoln effectively broke the Constitution of 1787, paving the way for something very different to replace it. What began as a messy, pragmatic compromise necessary to hold the young country together was reborn as an aspirational blueprint for a nation based on the principle of equal liberty for all. …”
Lincoln didn’t “save the Union.”
The Union which had existed before the war, which is the one in which the people of the states were sovereign and which was voluntary, was replaced by centralized and consolidated despotism. The very term “Union” fell out of fashion in the late 19th century because it no longer had any meaningful existence. The Reconstruction amendments empowered the federal government over the states.
The American Founding was inspired by republicanism. Federalism has nothing to do with liberalism. It holds that the people of the states, not the individual, are equal and sovereign. The Constitution died on Lincoln’s watch during the War Between the States because it was such an aggravating obstacle to Eastern industrial, commercial and financial interests. It was replaced by Lincoln’s Second Founding which was based on 19th century liberalism in which all men and corporations are created equal. The Confederates, of course, were the conservatives in that conflict and fought to preserve the original design.
As a result of our defeat in that conflict, the Constitution died with the Confederacy. The South became little more than a conquered province and internal resource colony of the budding American Empire. The South was the American version of Ireland down until World War II with the East and Midwest in the metropolitan role of Great Britain. It all fell apart for the Yankees between the World Wars due to the fact that the North was overwhelmed with European immigrants and rich Jews and rich Catholics like the Kennedy family eventually became wealthy and powerful enough to crash their country club.
FDR’s New Deal/World War II era was effectively a Third Founding. The Eastern WASPs who ruled America between the War Between the States and World War II lost their former cultural, economic and political power. We’re currently living through the breakdown of FDR’s Third Republic. It’s just that Americans like to pretend that we have always had the same government.
Note: Eric Foner and Noah Feldman have a better understanding of Abraham Lincoln than the conservative movement.