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Unit 5: A Living Constitution?

This unit examines how the Constitution of the United States and the government it proscribes has adapted and changed throughout its history. The Constitution would provide a framework in which each successive generation would work to tackle the challenges and opportunities they faced.

The Early Republic

From the signing of the Declaration of Independence through the beginning of the nineteenth century, the new United States would face numerous challenges highlighting the tensions between its founding principles and the hard realities of governance.

Sectionalism and the Civil War

Between the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and 1860, tensions over slavery and the nature of republican government would divide the nation along sectional lines. These tensions would eventually erupt into a devastating Civil War, leading to the end of slavery and emancipation.

The End of Slavery and Reconstruction

The end of the Civil War and slavery offered hope for emancipated African Americans. During Reconstruction, constitutional amendments banned slavery, established black citizenship, and protected the right of black males to vote. Many were elected to public office at all levels of government and pushed for reform. However, this hope soon faded with white supremacy, violence, voting restrictions, and segregation stifling most serious attempts at reconstructing the nation. Though some progress was made, unequal and inhumane treatment would continue throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries.

The 14th Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment made all individuals, regardless of race, citizens of the United States, entitled to all the protections of its laws. This Amendment and its due process clause have become a critically important piece of federal law.

The Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Between 1876 and 1920, a rapidly industrializing and expanding population presented new challenges to the country and its government. New ideas concerning the role of government and the place of the United States in the world rapidly changed the political and social landscape of the nation.

Rights and the New Deal

Following the onset of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration pushed for a broad range of economic initiatives known as the "New Deal." These actions signaled a shift in the role of government and challenged previous understandings of rights.

Modern Debates on Rights

The nature of individual rights and their protections in the law continues to be debated in modern times.