Segment descriptions
Topics in American History Series
Constitution, Part 2     

            Description: American Revolution 9

Constitution, Part 2
     sampler  4’-2”   (41’ lecture)

Why is the Dred Scott case in the 1850s such a
 crucial victory for slavery and the South?

play sampler



Racial Issues After the Civil War



The end of Reconstruction in 1877. Withdrawal of federal troops from the South.  The battle for control of the one-party Democratic South between the upper and lower class whites is won by the upper class whites in 1896.  Blacks are still enfranchised.  Plessy versus Ferguson decision in 1896 upholds "separate but equal" concept of segregation as constitutional, gives judicial sanction to segregation.  Jim Crow, using terror, eventually disenfranchises blacks.  It is overturned in 1954, climaxing the conservative era dating back to
late19th century. 




The 20th Century


Constitutional Amendments.  Legislating morality. 

8th Prohibition Amendment is ineffective.Aimed at victimless crime, it trivializes the Constitution.  Is repealed by a later amendment. 

Lowering the voting age to 18. 

The vice president becomes president when the president is disabled. 

Limit Presidency to 2 terms.  A reaction to FDR's 4 terms, affects Eisenhower.  Rule has value because of the power of the executive branch. 


Stature of justices.  They should have a reputation for law, steeped in law not politics. 


Crises of constitutional interpretation. Examples are World War One hysteria, internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War Two carried out although they were known at the time to not be a security threat.  The Cold War anti-Communist hysteria sanctioned by the Supreme Court is also a time of great dissent. 


1960 Eisenhower appointments.  Decisions in the 1960s support individual rights.  Unanimous Supreme Court decision in 1966 outlaws segregation. However, this is now eroding into a form of segregation. 


After the 1960s there is a more conservative Supreme Court.  Narrow politicization rather than stature, yet sometimes unpredictable.  Since 1980 there is a dramatic shift to the right of the political process.  Centrists are now seen as dangerous liberals.  The slave South is romanticized.  Renewal of states’ rights argument.  Political partisanship exists in today’s Supreme Court.  In recent contested presidential election Justice Anton Scalia argues against a recount, overturning a state decision, thus contradicting the issue of states’ rights in another case where he upholds the states’ rights argument that a state need not obey a federal law under certain circumstances.  Question of constitutional principles versus political issues.


Supreme Court Decisions in the Last Generation.

1973 Roe versus Wade
.  Abortion rights.  Bitterly divides the Court and the country.
Death penalty
.  Question of cruel and inhuman punishment.  Issues of class and race.  Death penalty is held up for a period, then reinstated. 


Issues between moderates and extremists.

New appointees affect on the future Court.  Court opens up to women. 

Sharing of power between the 3 branches, the checks and balances.  In the 20th century the power of the executive has grown enormously.  The legislative branch has often abdicated its responsibilities.  The executive branch has violated civil rights, the President seeing himself above the law in time of crisis.  Judges have the independence of a lifelong appointment.  Will it be a lofty court following judicial issues, or a partisan court?