Roosevelt House is pleased to present a lecture by distinguished legal scholar Kermit Roosevelt III—great-great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, first cousin (three times removed) of Eleanor Roosevelt, and distant cousin of FDR—on his new book The Nation That Never Was: Reconstructing America’s Story. Eye-opening, provocative, and timely, The Nation That Never Was delivers a powerful reinterpretation of the story of America’s founding and the origins of its most important and fundamental values.

Challenging the narrative that attributes core American ideals such as equality and liberty to the vision of the country’s founders, Roosevelt argues that they originate instead in the Civil War and as the hope of Reconstruction. Modern Americans, he asserts, are not the heirs of the Founders, but of the people who overthrew and destroyed that political order; and Reconstruction, he says, was not a fulfillment of the beliefs of the Founding but rather a repudiation. Through a deeply informed historical lens, and with persuasive passion, Roosevelt makes the case that the common American story is not only untrue—it has also outlived its usefulness.

At a time, as many see it, of deepening divides across the country, The Nation that Never Wasoffers an alternate understanding of American identity—one that Roosevelt believes can contain the power to reconcile American pride with an honest assessment of the country’s history of racism and oppression, both inflicted and endured. Carefully articulating an inspiring rethinking of the country’s beginnings, Roosevelt seeks to uncover a shared past that he believes can provide the basis for the building of a country that truly, fully embodies equality for all.

As author and Yale law professor Jack Balkin has said of The Nation That Never Was: “In this brilliant book, Roosevelt asks us to trade in our standard story of America, based on founding myths about the Declaration of Independence, for a different, more complicated, and yet more hopeful story of Reconstruction. Like the Reconstruction framers, we too can build on the wreckage of the past to achieve justice not only for ourselves but for everyone, and help create the America that is to come.”

Kermit Roosevelt III is a professor of constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. A former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice David Souter, he is the author of The Myth of Judicial Activism, as well as two novels, Allegiance and In the Shadow of the Law.

Kermit Roosevelt III — The Nation That Never Was: Reconstructing America’s Story | Posted on October 25th, 2022 | Book Discussions, Public Programs