American History 3-Pack
The Declaration of Independence declared equality as an American ideal, but it took a century to even partially realize that goal. One of the key periods of U.S. history is Reconstruction. They were the years following the Civil War. The era began with promises of egalitarianism. The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution were revolutionary. They abolished slavery, guaranteed all persons due process and equal protection of the law, and gave black men the right to vote. In a few short years, those juridical gains were rolled back with Jim Crow and KKK terror. Today, the 14th Amendment which clearly states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States,” is being contested. The Reconstruction amendments have been undermined and weakened. Voter suppression, mass incarceration, and prison slave labor are all features of the world’s oldest democracy.
The barbarity of the onslaught on indigenous people by Euro-Americans settlers can scarcely be believed. Historian David Stannard states the indigenous peoples of North and South America had undergone the "worst human holocaust the world had ever witnessed, roaring across two continents non-stop for four centuries and consuming the lives of countless tens of millions of people." The Native American Holocaust is a historical fact, “but the wreckage that it caused,” Stannard declares, “remains vividly evident among many of its survivor descendants. Today, from the desert southwest of Arizona to the Black Hills of South Dakota many American Indian communities barely survive, mired in poverty and despair that has little equal except in some so-called desperately impoverished Third World countries.” Yet to add insult to injury, Columbus Day is still a federal holiday. But, in defiance, many cities have changed the name to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Recorded at Vanderbilt University.
The term corporation is not in the Constitution, yet this entity has emerged over the years as the most dominant force in society. Although never oppressed like women and minorities, corporations have fought to win equal rights under the Constitution. Today, they have nearly all the same rights as ordinary people. Corporations have waged a persistent campaign to expand their power and to strike down regulation. They have systematically pursued and won legal privileges through the courts, especially the Supreme Court. Most notoriously, the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision paved the way for unlimited, anonymous money to be spent in elections. The idea that corporations are persons and money is free speech strike at the heart of equality. Justice John Paul Stevens in his Citizens United dissent said, “A democracy cannot function effectively… (if citizens believe) laws are being bought and sold.”
Eric Foner, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, is a preeminent historian. He is DeWitt Clinton professor emeritus of history at Columbia. He is the author of many books including Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, The Story of American Freedom and The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution.
David Stannard, an award-winning historian, taught at the University of Hawaii. He has lectured at colleges and universities across the U.S. He is the author of many books including The Puritan Way of Death, Before the Horror and American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World.
Adam Winkler is professor of law at UCLA. He is the author of We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights, a National Book Award finalist.