Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy

By George P. Fletcher | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 3
NATIONHOOD

“It is war that turns a people into a nation.”

—Heinrich von Treitschke

Gettysburg marked a major moral breakthrough in the political ideals of the United States. It prepared us for the postbellum struggle to realize the value of equal citizenship. It began the movement toward broadening the franchise and converting the United States into a popular democracy, a government “by all the people.” The “second American revolution”—the felicitous phrase of James McPherson—established our primary political trilogy: Nationalité, Égalité, et Démocratie. Although these three are not as well remembered as the trilogy associated with the French Revolution, they became the guiding forces of American politics. They provided the bedrock for the new constitutional order erected in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.

Of our three guiding values of the postbellum Republic, the least appreciated is our commitment to nationhood. We recognize, more or less, the values of equality and democracy. We acknowledge that the “equal protection” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment has served as the vehicle for some dramatic strides toward the equal dignity of black and white, men and women. And popular democracy has been on the ascendancy since the Civil War. Not only blacks but women, those who cannot

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