One Hundred Years
When the nation's founders signed the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1776, they knew they were doing something never done before. They were declaring that citizens could rule themselves; they were establishing a nation based on "self-government." No one knew whether such a nation was even possible, or whether one so designed could last very long.
By 1876, exactly a century later, the nation is really ready to celebrate. It is our hundredth birthdayour centennial . And the experiment in self-government seems to be working. We have become a free nation with a constitution all the world envies. We have survived a terrible civil war, and ended the horror of slavery. We have grown from two and a half million citizens in 1776 to forty-six million in 1876. We are becoming a world industrial power.
But we haven't found perfection. Our nation has problems. That idea of liberty and justice for all isn't easy to achieve. Former slaves still haven't been recognized as full citizens . The Fourteenth Amendment was supposed to change that. But written guarantees aren't good enough by themselves. What is also needed is the will to enforce them. No constitution will work if the government doesn't enforce its principles. In the South, those principles are not being enforced, and the era of black freedomcalled Reconstructionis ending in failure. Frederick Douglass , the nineteenth century's great civil rights leader, is outraged. "Men talk of the Negro problem," he says. "There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own Constitution We Negroes love our country. we fought for it. We ask only that we be treated as well as those who fought against it."