The new film “Lincoln” chronicles our 16th president’s role in pushing for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which Abraham Lincoln called “a king’s cure” for the evils of slavery. Passed by Congress at Lincoln’s urging and ratified by the states in his memory, the amendment abolished slavery, erasing the stain on our Constitution that had perverted our constitutional ideals of liberty and equality.
Just as significant is the role that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address played in presaging the guarantees of liberty and equality in the Fourteenth Amendment. At Gettysburg, 149 years ago today, in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln promised the nation “a new birth of freedom” and called on Americans to defend the Union and vindicate the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. In a speech that was instantly hailed, Lincoln looked backward to the Founders who brought forth a “new nation conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” and called for a “new birth of freedom” to keep faith with our highest constitutional principles.
Tragically, Lincoln would not live to see his promises at Gettysburg enshrined in the Constitution. His story not only makes for a great film, but it is also essential to understanding the Reconstruction amendments. This term the Supreme Court is poised to decide blockbuster cases about affirmative action, the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, and possibly marriage equality as well. Let’s hope the justices remember how Lincoln captivated the nation and helped transform the Constitution from a slaveholders’ charter to a document that affirms liberty, equality, and democracy as our highest constitutional principles. They should all see “Lincoln,” then reread his a speech. Come to think of it, we all should.
David H. Gans
Civil rights director
Constitutional Accountability Center
Washington, D.C.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.