Second Founding

Celebrating our nation's "New Birth of Freedom"
The Freedmen's Bureau / Drawn by A.R. Waud, Library of Congress

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announces the launch of the Second Founding project, February 2015.

About the Second Founding

Following the Civil War, President Lincoln and his generation secured the passage of a series of transformational Amendments — the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth — that many scholars have rightly described as our Nation’s “Second Founding.” These Amendments gave our Nation what President Lincoln promised at Gettysburg — “a new birth of freedom.”

Constitutional Accountability Center worked with the National Constitution Center to spearhead a celebration of the 150th anniversary of this Second Founding, with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor serving as its honorary chair. The festivities — including exhibits, debates, online engagement, scholarly writings, and more — began in early 2015, with a tribute to the Thirteenth Amendment, culminating in 2020. This celebration sought to help restore the Second Founding Amendments to their rightful place at the center of our Nation’s constitutional story.

Why the Second Founding Remains Relevant Today

Voting rights. Immigration. LGBTQ rights. The Reconstruction Amendments paved the way for many of our most fundamental rights and are as relevant to the issues we face today as those that we faced 150 years ago. These Amendments contain some of our Constitution’s most inspiring and important passages — transforming our Nation’s Charter from an aggressively pro-slavery document to one that prohibited chattel slavery, from a document silent on the Declaration of Independence’s call for equality to one that granted equal citizenship to everyone born on American soil and guaranteed equality to all persons, from one that stood aside while states abused individual rights such as free speech to one that protected these rights against state abuses, and from one that permitted racial discrimination in voting to one that prohibited it.