The Legacy of Reconstruction
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.
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.