CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The “Second Founding” of our country after the Civil War defined the core values of America – freedom and equality. The passage of the Reconstruction Amendments (13th, 14th and 15th) ended slavery, defined citizenship, guaranteed equal protection of the laws and expanded the right to vote to all male citizens. They brought a “profound transformation of the Constitution and our nation as a whole,” said James Anderson, the dean of the College of Education and a Center for Advanced Study professor of education policy, organization and leadership.
Anderson will talk about the 14th Amendment in its 150th anniversary year and its implications for current debates over questions of citizenship and immigration when he delivers the Center for Advanced Study Annual Lecture, “Citizenship, Immigration and National Identity: Civic Education on the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the 14th Amendment,” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at Spurlock Museum, 600 S. Gregory Drive, Urbana.
Many people incorrectly think the concepts of freedom and equal protection that are hallmarks of American democracy were in the Constitution from the beginning, when the founding fathers created a new government, Anderson said. In fact, they were added by the constitutional amendments passed during the Second Founding.
“It’s like the unfolding of a nation: America trying to become its better self and throwing off the demons of slavery and inequality. I wish as a nation we fully appreciated how we’ve become who we are and the work that went into it,” he said. “It’s an unfinished legacy that we still have to work on.”
The 14th Amendment, and particularly its Equal Protection Clause, has been the basis of Supreme Court rulings involving equal pay, public school desegregation, affirmative action, same-sex marriage and abortion.
Debates over questions of equality, citizenship and voting rights were intense and dramatic 150 years ago, and there was much disagreement over fundamental issues, Anderson said. Some of those questions are coming back today, particularly in debates over immigration – for example, the debate over whether children of undocumented immigrants are entitled to birthright citizenship.
“Now we’re having a serious discussion about democratic norms. When we talk about the democratic norms that we really value and hold dear – voting rights, due process – they come from the Second Founding,” Anderson said.
In his lecture, he’ll talk about civic education and its importance in understanding how the debate over the principles in the Reconstruction Amendments shaped the country.
“I really want to talk about its meaning to everyday citizens. If we are fully educated in the meaning of our democratic norms and government and rights, we won’t have to worry about one leader or another eroding them. American citizens become the defenders of the Constitution. But how do you defend it if you don’t understand it?” he said.
“A lot of blood and sacrifice and effort went into the formation of our government and we are its inheritors. I want people to get a sense of how all of us should know what it means and understand it,” Anderson said. “We may disagree whether Roe v. Wade is an equal-protection question, but we should understand the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause and how it’s meant to protect our rights.”