Civil Rights in American History
Concern for civil rights by policy makers has varied throughout American history. Although questions about civil rights, particularly racial equality, have arisen since the introduction of slavery into the colonies, almost no pro-equality governmental policies were promulgated until much later. The Declaration of Independence asserted equality for "all men" but seemed to exclude all but white and propertied men. The Founders postponed the slavery question with Article 1, Section 9, and notably, the Constitution said nothing about equality. The concept appeared eighty years later in the Fourteenth Amendment phrase "equal protection of the laws." Today concern with equality--racial and otherwise--pervades American politics, although sometimes it is beneath the surface. While equality is rarely the most important issue to Americans, many aspects of contemporary politics, including modern differences between the two political parties, are based in racial and civil rights issues ( Carmines and Stimson 1989, 14). Civil rights policy is, in fact, extremely important in American politics.
Since World War II, civil rights issues have been particularly salient for presidents and other actors. In some policy areas, such as economic and national security matters, the participation of modern presidents is no longer fully discretionary. Domestic policy areas, however, like civil rights, usually allow presidents greater latitude. Indeed, the American president is the most prominent catalyst for public policies. Presidents can influence the entire policy process, from setting priorities