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The Reconstruction Amendments and Their Legacy
Content Session Material

Theme: American Political Thought:
The Constitution and American Democratic Institutions

Topic: The Reconstruction Amendments and Their Legacy
Date: January 5, 2006
Scholar: Paul Marsella, Ph.D. Professor, Department of History, Salem State College

Overview | Required Reading | Reading Questions

Materials selected and syllabus compiled by Paul Marsella, Ph.D. Professor, Department of History, Salem State College.


The Civil War Amendments include Amendments 13 through 15, each linked to the abolition of slavery and to efforts to insure racial integration. This session explores the meaning of the "due process" clause and the "equal protection" clauses of the 14th Amendment. By reading Linda Monk's The Bill of Rights: A User's Guide, participants will see how the Civil War context of the 14th Amendment has become a legal basis for defining "rights" in the United States. Through analysis of actual court cases, the session will clarify the effect of the 14th Amendment on people in a variety of situations. Our primary goal is to understand how the provisions of the 14th Amendment can affect the lives of teachers and of students.

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Monk, Linda L., The Bill of Rights: A User's Guide, 4th ed., Close Up Publishing, 2004.

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  • What is “due process of law”? For what historical reasons was this clause included in the 14th Amendment?
  • How might the constitutional requirement of “due process of law” affect your career? How might the concept affect the academic life of your students?
  • According to your reading, what are “fundamental rights”? Do you and your students possess such rights in the classroom?
  • Is there a “fundamental right” which you value above all others? If so, why?
  • In your classroom, should you be required to teach “equality”? If so, why? If not, then what is the meaning of the 14th Amendment “equal protection” clause as it applies to education?
  • The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. Based on your reading of cases and of The Bill of Rights: A User’s Guide, is today’s constitutional guarantee of “due process,” “equal protection” and “fundamental rights” too broad, too narrow, or just right?


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