Celebrating the Second Founding
The next three years will mark the 150th anniversary of the Second Founding of
the United States, which was led by Thaddeus Stevens. While the Civil War kept
the country united and destroyed slavery, the Second Founding that followed
established the framework that protects civil and equal rights, which had not existed
It was marked by the ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, the
14th Amendment ensuring equal and civil rights, and the 15th Amendment giving
the vote to black men. The period also saw the passage of the Reconstruction Acts,
which sought to protect the newly freed African-Americans.
The Second Founding started on December 4, 1865 when Stevens orchestrated
the successful effort to prevent ex-Confederates and their allies from taking over
Congress. A re-enactment of this event can be found at this link: https://youtu.
If Stevens had not been successful at that time, the accomplishments of the
Second Found would have been impossible.
The following are other important dates in the Second Founding:
April 30, 1866 -- Thaddeus Stevens introduced the first version of the 14th
Amendment. Also the Memphis Riots occurred where whites and municipal
authorities attacked and murdered dozens of black soldiers and civilians.
June 13, 1866 -- Congress passed the 14th Amendment. Even though Stevens
objected to changes in the amendment, he voted for it because, “ I live among men
and not among angels.”
July 30, 1866 -- The New Orleans Massacre where white policeman attacked a
political meeting killing black and white activists. The Memphis and New Orleans
atrocities convinced the North that the South was determined to preserve the old
order. This lead the Congress to enact the Reconstruction Acts that maintained
military control of the South for several years.
February 13, 1867 -- An ailing Thaddeus Stevens made an impassioned plea for the
House of Representatives to pass the Reconstruction Act. He was so weak,
congressmen had to huddle around him to hear him. In part he said:
“For the last few months Congress has been sitting here, and while the South has
been bleeding at every pore, Congress has done nothing to protect the loyal people
there, white or black, either in their persons, in their liberty, or in their property,”
The speech swayed Congress and the act was approved.
July 9, 1868 -- The 14th Amendment was ratified by the states.
August 11, 1868 -- Thaddeus Stevens died and is buried in the only integrated
cemetery in Lancaster, PA. His epitaph says the action, “Illustrates in my death the
principles which I advocated through a long life: Equality of Man before his
February 3, 1870 -- The 15th Amendment was ratified by the states. Stevens had
advocated this in his last few years.
On the national level, the commemoration of the Second Founding is being taken
up by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and the Constitutional
Accountability Center. These groups hope to mirror the celebration of the 200th
anniversary of the U.S. Constitution in 1987.
An advisory board chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’
Conner has been formed to bring together scholars, leaders and citizens to highlight
the importance of the Reconstruction Amendments. For more on this effort, go to:
The Thaddeus Stevens Society will strive to be part of the national
commemoration while holding our own events to mark this critical historic period. If
you would like to help in this effort, please contact us at
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 717-334-1912.