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The Reconstruction Amendments: The Essential Documents

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The Civil War and its aftermath were a turning point in American history. Starting near the end of the war and then continuing during Reconstruction, Congress set to work drafting three constitutional amendments that would fundamentally alter our founding document. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments, collectively known as the Reconstruction Amendments, aimed to protect the liberties that had previously been denied in much of the country. Together, these amendments abolished slavery, established the rights to due process and equal protection, and banned racial discrimination in voting laws.


Today, the Reconstruction Amendments remain at the heart of some of our most contentious legal controversies: Does equal protection mandate equality of outcome or equality of opportunity? To what extent does due process carry with it substantive rights of personal autonomy? And do the “privileges or immunities” guaranteed to all citizens encompass a broader set of rights than courts have been willing to protect?


To help us answer these questions, it is crucial to understand what those who drafted, debated, and ratified the Reconstruction Amendments thought and said. University of Richmond law professor Kurt Lash’s epic two‐​volume work is the most comprehensive source ever compiled of the key speeches, debates, and public dialogues that accompanied the drafting and ratification of these amendments. In this book forum, Professor Lash will comment on his work and the importance of primary historical sources to constitutional study. Professors Christopher Green and Richard Primus will also offer their thoughts on the work and its implications.



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