Monday, March 31, 2014

Americans Battle For And Against Constitutional Rights: Not For The First Time

Today, the battle seems to contend over the protective value (or lack of same) of the Fourth Amendment (see my posts on the NSA, here). Goodness knows our rights are fragile enough, and our government sufficiently indifferent to them.

But ours is not the first era in which America's government, or one or another part of it, has governed as if parts of the rights-related amendments to the Constitution (chiefly I through VIII, XIII, XIV, XV, XIX, XXIV, XXVI) had never been ratified. One significant example is reconstruction after the Civil War, when not just one but many courts effectively refused to give the federal government the power to compel the state governments to extend the rights amendments to citizens of each state, resulting in a patchwork application, state-by-state, of rights granted and rights denied. In practical terms, the nation's newest citizens at the time... freed slaves... often found themselves back where they started as their citizens' rights were simply refused them. It was, in our perspective at least, a nightmarish time. But it was not the last such denial, and our own time has a "bad dream" quality about it when it comes to citizens' rights.

I am now reading a very rewarding book, The Amendment that Refused to Die: Equality and Justice Deferred: A History of the Fourteenth Amendment, by Howard N. Meyer (1973, 1978, 2000). (I picked up this book used or remaindered, probably a decade ago, intending to read it when I retired. Guess what: I did in fact live long enough to do that.) The book offers a passionate recounting of the history of abolition, then, almost skipping the war itself, hastens onward to the national dysfunction during reconstruction.

A Fool's Errand - cover
Among other things, Meyer points us to some original sources some of which are easy to find on the web today, e.g., the books of Albion W. Tourgée, introduced in the wiki as "an American soldier, Radical Republican, lawyer, writer, and diplomat" and a "pioneer civil rights activist." (Remember, "radical Republican" in those days meant something almost diametrically opposite to what the phrase connotes today.) Tourgée's book, A Fool's Errand: By One of the Fools is available online, partly in facsimile and partly in HTML text, by Documenting the American South at UNC... next on my historical reading list after Meyer's book (which itself is available literally cheaper than dirt at Amazon; I know for certain, because Stella bought some potting soil for tomato plants this week). Maybe the next time you order something else from Amazon you could drop a few cents (literally) on a copy of Meyer's book. Tourgée's book is available, the whole text, at the link above, for free. Isn't the web wonderful?


  1. Why Has President Obama Deported More Immigrants Than Any President in US History?(The Nation)

  2. Senate Candidate Endorsed By Condoleeza Rice Taking Money From Putinist Oligarch (FDL)
    Pro-Putin Russian oligarch dumps money into establishment GOP candidates’ campaign coffers(

    1. Enfant, back when I was a college student pursuing a professional Masters in electrical engineering, my faculty adviser always told me I should study Russian so I would be ready when Russian became "the language of the masters" (I'm pretty sure his pun was intentional). I always laughed, but maybe he was right!



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