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Historians have a role to play, and this week has assembled four scholars, all of whom take the view that to engage the present we must understand the past.Their research permits us to examine closely the Fourteenth Amendment, its purpose, and its effect in its own time.Three amendments passed after the Civil War transformed the women’s rights movement.
In this roundtable, Christopher Bonner and Andrew Diemer explain the origins of Section 1, which provided generally that all persons born in the United States were citizens of the United States.
With it was swept aside a half century of legal ambiguity that had enshrouded the lives of black Americans, especially former slaves. Grassroots ideas became inscribed in the text of the nation’s highest law.
In his view, the Fourteenth Amendment was only a partial victory for black activists.
There is little surprise then that struggles for equality did not end in 1868.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote, “If that word ‘male’ be inserted, it will take us a century at least to get it out.”Activists bitterly fought about whether to support or oppose the Fifteenth Amendment. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), proposed in 1923, has never been ratified.
Activists seeking gender equality have sought its ratification since its first proposal but have encountered resistance along the way.
For the first time, the Constitution asserted that men—not women—had the right to vote. Others—like Lucy Stone—supported the amendment as it was. The emphasis on voting during the 1860s led women’s rights activists to focus on woman suffrage.
Previously, only state laws restricted voting rights to men. The two sides established two rival national organizations that aimed to win women the vote.
An unparalleled experiment in interracial democracy was underway.
Here, in 2018, we have not the luxury, however, of looking back to 1868 with collective nostalgia or national self-congratulation.