For most of the twentieth century, Americans spoke of a “melting pot” in which immigrants came to this country and adopted an American character whatever their cultural and ethnic differences. Some people today prefer to replace the metaphor of “melting pot” with “tossed salad” for a nation of immigrants, emphasizing that Americans from different kinds of groups retain their distinct characteristics with only loose connections to each other. Which metaphor do you think captures the American experience better?
Americans have always formed a diverse society with different races, ethnicities, religions, and cultures.
Americans have always formed a diverse society with different races, ethnicities, religions, and cultures. The phrase e pluribus unum—”out of many, one”—captures the genius of the American experiment in liberty. Despite all of the differences among people who came to America from different parts of the world, they have become Americans not by adopting an official religion or being a particular race, but instead simply by embracing the Founding principles of liberty and equality for all.
Diversity as an American Value
The Founders established a republic as the first nation in world history to be based upon principles of liberty, justice, and equality. The nation’s diversity has put our stated ideals and principles to the test repeatedly as one group after another works to align law and culture with our high principles. In this lesson students will use primary sources to examine questions of racial equality and religious diversity.
Native Americans have experienced discrimination at the hands of European settlers during the colonial era and the white majority in the United States for over four hundred years. In that time, there have been a wide variety of policies towards Native Americans, some with good intentions and some bad, but none seemed to resolve the clash of cultures and the difficulties faced by Native Americans. They have rarely enjoyed liberty and equality in the American system of self-government.
Slavery and the Constitution
Today there are few more controversial topics in the study of American history and government than the issue of slavery and the Constitution. On the surface, the Constitution seemed to protect slavery in the states, prohibited Congress from banning the slave trade for twenty years, and required that fugitive slaves, even in the North, be returned to their masters. Because of these apparent constitutional protections, a bloody Civil War was fought to free the slaves and win ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to end slavery in the U.S. forever. The Constitution, therefore, in the eyes of some scholars, seems to be a contradiction to the universal ideals of liberty and equality in the American Founding and the Declaration of Independence which proclaimed “all men are created equal” and endowed with “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Civil War and Reconstruction
Explore the impact the Civil War amendments had on African-Americans during Reconstruction and beyond.
The Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights Movement sought to win the American promise of liberty and equality during the twentieth-century. From the early struggles of the 1940s to the crowning successes of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts that changed the legal status of African-Americans in the United States, the Civil Rights Movement firmly grounded its appeals for liberty and equality in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Rather than rejecting an America that discriminated against a particular race, the movement fought for America to fulfill its own universal promise that “all men are created equal.” The Civil Rights Movement worked for American principles within American institutions rather than against them.
Votes for Women
The emergence of a true women’s movement for equality and suffrage (the right to vote) developed after the religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening and the rise of several antebellum (before the Civil War) reform movements in the 1830s and 1840s. This lesson explores the birth of the Women’s Rights movement, as well as its goals and the historical context of the movement.
Women’s Rights in the Late 20th Century
After World War II, women’s struggle for equality achieved a mixed record of success. The women’s rights movement won equal opportunities in higher education and employment relatively quickly in the 1940s and 1950s. The modern concept of women’s equality as “feminism” appeared in the 1960s, led by activists such as Betty Friedan. Some of its victories in the legislative arena were completely inadvertent, while one of its grandest objects and subject of its greatest efforts resulted in defeat. Moreover, the movement was dominated by an intellectual and professional leadership at some distance from ordinary women. Despite the vagaries of the movement, it was remarkably successful in fundamentally changing society and women’s roles as well as attitudes towards women. In this lesson, students will explore the record of successes, and better understand constitutional principles of privacy and due process.
Liberty and Equality Today
America has always been and continues to be a diverse country. One question that will confront all Americans is how to ensure that every citizen, regardless of skin color, sex, or religion, will enjoy the liberty and equality that the country was founded upon. Another question is whether Americans will continue to agree upon the fundamental principles upon which the country was founded and the meaning of those principles or whether we will be fragmented into groups with a narrow perspective and only look out for our own interests. The perennial challenge of liberty and equality are how to unite the goals of freedom and the common good.