Slavery in America: From the Founding to America’s Second Founding – Module 12 of Constitution 101

Slavery was embedded into America’s fabric by the time of the framing and ratification of the Constitution. At the Constitutional Convention, the delegates refused to write the word “slavery” or enshrine a “right to property in men” in the Constitution’s text, but they did compromise on the issue of slavery, writing important protections for slaveholders into our nation’s charter. Debates over slavery continued (and increased) in the decades to come, culminating in Abraham Lincoln’s election as America’s first anti-slavery president, Southern secession, and the Civil War. Following this bloody war, the Reconstruction Republicans worked to rebuild our nation on a stronger constitutional foundation, passing our nation’s first civil rights laws and ratifying the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. These amendments ended slavery, wrote the Declaration of Independence’s promise of freedom and equality into the Constitution, and promised to end racial discrimination in voting. Many scholars refer to this key period as America’s “Second Founding.”

Juneteenth Resources

Juneteenth (June 19) commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War was over and that enslaved people were free. While the day has been celebrated ever since, it was only recognized as a federal holiday in 2021. This resource page includes a video of a conversation with Annette Gordon-Reed about her book “On Juneteenth,” primary sources from the Gilder Lehrman Collection, and a lesson plan “Juneteenth and Emancipation.”

Juneteenth and Emancipation

Over the course of four lessons, students will analyze primary source documents that convey the realities of slavery in the United States, represent various viewpoints on emancipation, and provide context for the federal holiday of Juneteenth, which is the most widely recognized commemoration of slavery’s end. Students will read and assess different types of documents not only to comprehend the language of the text but also to infer meaning and integrate historical context. They will use textual evidence to draw conclusions and present arguments as directed in each lesson, including debating whether Juneteenth is the date that should be celebrated as the end of slavery in the United States.

Election of 1860: Slavery Splits the Democrats

This four-minute video explores the causes and consequences of the Democratic Party’s division into two parties following the Democratic national convention of 1860. After rejecting Stephen A. Douglas’s failed attempt to reconcile the Northern and Southern factions of the party with his doctrine of “popular sovereignty,” the Southern delegates walked out of the convention. That decision led to the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and 50 years of Republican dominance in national politics. A concise summary of the unusual events that allowed Abraham Lincoln to win the election of 1860, the video fits into any sequence of lessons on the factors leading to secession and the Civil War.

Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow

This free curriculum guide from the New-York Historical Society explores the contested efforts toward full citizenship and racial equality for African Americans that transpired in the fifty years after the Civil War. Examining both the activism for and opposition to Black citizenship rights, the materials in this curriculum underscore how ideas of freedom and citizenship were redefined by government and citizen action, and challenged by legal discrimination and violence.

Civil Rights

While the Reconstruction Amendments were an important step in ensuring equal rights for all people, regardless of race, racial injustices throughout the United States continued into the late 19th and 20th centuries, leading to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and the passages of Supreme Court decisions and legislation, including Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Visit the National Constitution Center’s learning module to learn more about the freedom struggle and civil rights.

13th Amendment: Abolition of Slavery

Slavery was embedded into America’s fabric by the time of the ratification of the Constitution. Do you think this affected how long slavery lasted in America and how it ended? Explore the National Constitution Center’s 13th Amendment Learning Module to learn more.

Constitution Clips

C-SPAN’s Constitution Clips makes the U.S. Constitution come alive by providing teachers and students with video clips from C-SPAN’s Video Library of the Constitution in action. 

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850

In 1850, Southerners succeeded in getting a new federal law passed to return fugitive slaves who had escaped to the North. The U.S. government enforced this law, but some Northern states passed laws to resist it. Sometimes, free blacks and sympathetic whites joined to rescue captured fugitive slaves.