Civil and Human Rights

OUR VIEW: Struggle for freedom is still relevant today

He suffered the fatal gunshot on the evening of April 14, but it wasn’t until 7:22 a.m. the following morning, exactly 150 years ago today, that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton announced that President Abraham Lincoln had died.

Lincoln’s assassination came less than a week after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, the beginning of the end of the Civil War and the start of one of the most important chapters in American History – Reconstruction.

Reconstruction is a period of history often overlooked, but as the Constitutional Accountability Center noted this week, it was a transformational time critical in providing the “rebirth of the nation” that Lincoln spoke of in his Gettysburg Address two years earlier – and is still relevant today. 

Three critically important amendments to the U.S. Constitution are part of Lincoln’s legacy – the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

The Thirteenth Amendment brought an end to slavery finally securing the equality for all that Thomas Jefferson had called for in the Declaration of Independence. Connecticut ratified the amendment on May 4, 1865. It’s inclusion in the Constitution came that Dec. 6 with Georgia’s ratification

The Fourteenth Amendment grants U.S. Citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil, and protects free speech through the application of the Bill Rights to the states. It also provides for equal treatment to all under the law.

The Fifteenth Amendment gave black men the right to vote, guaranteeing that right free of racial discrimination.

Constitutional scholars refer to these three amendments as the “ Second Founding” of the nation.

Just as important, these three amendments are central to key issues that are just as divisive today as they were 150 years ago. Today in the courts, rather than on battlefields, we fight legal challenges to issues such as marriage equality, immigration and voting rights.

It is good to be reminded of history and the struggles our forefathers endured to build “a more perfect Union” – something we continue to struggle with today.

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