By Vikki Bynum
This past week, in celebration of the 4th of July, I joined several historians to discuss the importance of the American Revolution and the American Civil War to the political transformation of our nation. In 1776, America moved from being a slaveholding colony to creating a nation, via the Declaration of Independence, founded on the principle of human equality. Only after decades of struggle and a protracted civil war did that principle became law. In 1865, the United States’ defeat of the Confederate States of America, which was formed to protect and expand the institution of slavery, opened the door to reconstructing our nation by amending its Constitution—first, by abolishing slavery, then, between 1868 and 1870, by bestowing rights of citizenship on freed people. For this reason, the Civil War is often called America’s second revolution.
But the hopeful beginnings of Reconstruction were followed by a tragic counter-revolution that re-instituted white supremacy in new forms. Throughout the 1870s, vigilante mobs, pro-Confederate presses, and corrupt politicians terrorized, slandered, and murdered African Americans, Southern Unionists, and Republican Carpetbaggers. By century’s end, human equality was a dead letter and the Confederacy had been rewritten as a noble “Lost Cause” whose heroes must be immortalized in stone. And so they were within a decade.
Clearly, America’s revolution remains unfinished. In sharing our work and ideas, forum panelists seek to restore the public’s knowledge and understanding of the aspirations of American revolutionaries, many of whom died for their goals, and to inspire our nation’s desperately needed re-commitment to achieving equality for all humankind.