HOPE BLOOMED AT THE END OF THE CIVIL WAR THAT VICTORY WOULD prove the Declaration of Independence’s statements about equality, liberty, and happiness to be far more than empty generalities. As at no time since the Revolution, the nation recognized that its tolerance of racial inequality was incompatible with the founding principles. The Constitution would need to be amended to eliminate the force of its slave-holding provisions. The Declaration would influence the dialogue of reform; it was an ancient but living manifesto with universal values, whose principle of equal inalienable rights was informed by the past as well as the wisdom of later generations.
In a eulogy for Abraham Lincoln, after John Wilkes Booth’s bullet felled the president, Sen. Charles Sumner was adamant that postbellum America should prevent racial injustice. Sumner rallied the country to live up to the ideals of the American Revolution. Victory over the Confederate States, he said, “will have failed unless it performs all the original promises of that Declaration which our fathers took upon their lips when they became a nation.” Sumner called on the nation to fulfill Lincoln’s vision, drawing on the Republic’s continuing obligation to finish the work of Emancipation “and the promises of the Declaration of Independence unfulfilled.” Freedom