Write a 2 page essay (600 words) on what Foner calls the “Second Founding” (page 585-590) Can include discussion of how women and other minorities were impacted by Reconstruction. Use quotes. Use your own organization and own words. Must be well written and edited. Use paragraphs for organization.
The Second Founding
The laws and amendments of Reconstruction reflected the intersection of two products of the Civil War era—a newly empowered national state and the idea of a national citizenry enjoying equality before the law. What Republican leader Carl Schurz called the “great Constitutional revolution” of Reconstruction transformed the federal system and with it, the language of freedom so central to American political culture. The laws and amendments of Reconstruction repudiated the pre–Civil War idea that citizenship was an entitlement of whites alone. The principle of equality before the law, moreover, did not apply only to the South. The Reconstruction amendments voided many northern laws discriminating on the basis of race. As one congressman noted, the amendments expanded the liberty of whites as well as blacks, including “the millions of people of foreign birth who will flock to our shores.” The new amendments also transformed the relationship between the federal government and the states. The Bill of Rights had linked civil liberties to the autonomy of the states. Its language —“Congress shall make no law”—reflected the belief that concentrated national power posed the greatest threat to freedom. The authors of the Reconstruction amendments assumed that rights required national power to enforce them. Rather than a threat to liberty, the federal government, in Charles Sumner’s words, had become “the custodian of freedom.” The Reconstruction amendments transformed the Constitution from a document primarily concerned with federal-state relations and the rights of property into a vehicle through which members of vulnerable minorities could stake a claim to freedom and seek protection against misconduct by all levels of government. In the twentieth century, many of the Supreme Court’s most important decisions expanding the rights of American citizens were based on the Fourteenth Amendment, including the 1954 Brown ruling that outlawed school segregation and the decision in 2015 preventing states from discriminating against gay Americans in the right to marry. Together with far-reaching congressional legislation meant to secure to former slaves access to the courts, ballot box, and public accommodations, and to protect them against violence, the Reconstruction amendments transferred much of the authority to define citizens’ rights from the states to the nation. They were crucial in creating the world’s first biracial democracy, in which people only a few years removed from slavery exercised significant political power. Introducing into the Constitution for the first time the words “equal protection of the law” and “the right to vote” (along with “male,” to the outrage of the era’s advocates of women’s rights), the amendments both reflected and reinforced a new era of individual rights consciousness among Americans of all races and backgrounds. They forged a new constitutional relationship between individual Americans and the national government and created a new definition of citizenship. Today, the legal doctrine of birthright citizenship sets the United States apart. Most countries, including every one in Europe, limit automatic access to citizenship via ethnicity, culture, or religion. Birthright citizenship remains an eloquent statement about the nature of American society and a repudiation of a long history of equating citizenship with whiteness. So profound were these changes that the amendments are frequently seen not simply as an alteration of an existing structure but as a second founding, which created a fundamentally new document with a new definition of both the status of blacks and the rights of all Americans.