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.”

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.

Immigration in the 1990s: Proposition 187

This 9-minute video illustrates how demographic trends and a changing California economy in the 1990s created a backlash against immigration, only to be followed by an even larger one over time. The video shows students how economic and demographic forces affect the strategies of the political parties, and demonstrates how policies like Proposition 187 can produce unintended and surprising consequences. It also draws parallels with some aspects of President Trump’s rhetoric on immigration.

Presidents vs. Press: How Pentagon Papers Leak Set Up First Amendment Showdowns

This 12-minute video clarifies the connections between the New York Times Co. v. United States Supreme Court case and the recent battles that Presidents Obama and Trump have fought to contain national security leaks. Focusing on the broader issues of freedom of the press in a democracy, the video helps students draw a line between the New York Times decision from 1971 and the ongoing disputes between the public’s right to know and the president’s right to secrecy. Useful for examining the First Amendment and the role of the press in a democratic society, the video also provides students with the historical context surrounding the Pentagon Papers, and the Vietnam War and consequences of the New York Times court decision.

How to Fact-Check History

This lesson and its accompanying seven-minute video introduce students to a professional fact-checker, who describes the methods and processes he employs to verify information that appears in news stories. The video explains which claims can be fact-checked, and why some sources are more reliable than others. How do fact-checkers engage in analysis of contemporary and historical claims? How do we distinguish between “bad facts” and “bad narratives” when critiquing media sources? Examine the tools that fact-checkers use to identify and interrogate claims, and put those skills into practice.

Aftermath of the War on Terror

This 11-minute video and lesson plan enable students to examine the experiences of Muslims and Arab Americans following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Students will investigate one example of a flawed prosecution of Arab immigrants living in Detroit as a case study in the climate of fear following the attacks. Students will then choose from among other primary source materials to describe particular experiences and generalize about the broader experiences of Muslims and Arab Americans.

The War on Terror and the Debate Over Torture

This 13-minute video and lesson plan are designed for students to analyze the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the public debate over the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques by U.S. officials and government contractors. Students will evaluate multiple perspectives from a mix of resources (video clips, a short film, documents and political cartoons) and classify arguments as being supportive, neutral or critical of government action.