Our Forgotten Founders: Reconstruction, Public Education, and Constitutional Heroism

79 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2010 Last revised: 20 Nov 2010

See all articles by Thomas Donnelly

Thomas Donnelly

Princeton University - Princeton University

Date Written: September 6, 2010


This Article examines a set of constitutional stories that has not been the subject of focused study by legal scholars — the stories we tell our schoolchildren about the Founding and Reconstruction. These stories offer new clues about the background assumptions that elite lawyers, political leaders, and the wider public bring to bear when they consider the meaning of the Constitution. Since the early twentieth century, our leading high school textbooks have tended to praise the Founding generation and canonize certain Founding Fathers, while, at the same time, largely ignoring Reconstruction’s key players and underemphasizing the constitutional revolution these “Forgotten Founders” envisioned (and began to wage). As a result, generations of students have been left with a relatively pristine view of the Founding, while receiving (at best) a “warts-and-all” account of Reconstruction. These disparate accounts (presented for decades in our classrooms) have helped to construct a constitutional culture that reveres the Founding generation, but gives short shrift to their Reconstruction counterparts.

Keywords: popular constitutionalism, constitutional law, civic education, education law, Reconstruction, Founders

Suggested Citation

Donnelly, Thomas, Our Forgotten Founders: Reconstruction, Public Education, and Constitutional Heroism (September 6, 2010). Cleveland State Law Review, Vol. 58, No. 115, 2010 , Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 10-46, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1672725

Thomas Donnelly (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Princeton University ( email )

United States

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