Over the past few months, we’ve gone from looking at early contact between Native peoples and Europeans, to the upheavals of the 1700s and the American Revolution, to the contest over slavery, federal authority, and western expansion in the lead-up to the Civil War. From American Independence forward, consider whether the United States has lived up to its promises and principles. After writing an introduction, dedicate a paragraph to each of the following as a way of answering this question: 1) As you think back to the American Revolution, what were the principles of independence that Americans were writing and fighting about? 2) What steps did Americans take to protect and promote these principles after they established their country? 3) And how did those principles come into question again during the era of the Civil War and its aftermath? Did the Civil War help fulfill or negate these original promises? Finally, in your concluding paragraph, share your thoughts on whether the United States has lived up to its ideals in the post-Civil War era. Are there any outstanding issues that remained to be dealt with after 1865? Have any of those major issues lingered until our current era of American history?


Since gaining independence from British rule in 1776, the United States has often been regarded as a beacon of liberty and democracy, founded on principles of equality, freedom, and opportunity for all. However, the journey towards realizing these ideals has been fraught with challenges and contradictions. From the early days of the American Revolution to the tumultuous era of the Civil War and its aftermath, the nation has grappled with questions of justice, equality, and the meaning of freedom. In examining this history, we can assess whether the United States has truly lived up to its promises and principles.

1) American Revolution and Principles of Independence: The American Revolution was driven by the desire for liberty and self-governance, as Americans sought to break free from British rule and establish a new nation founded on principles of democracy and individual rights. Key documents such as the Declaration of Independence articulated ideals of equality, inalienable rights, and government by consent of the governed. The principles of independence centered on the belief that all individuals are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that government exists to secure these rights.

2) Protection and Promotion of Principles after Independence: Following independence, Americans took significant steps to protect and promote the principles of liberty and equality enshrined in their founding documents. The Constitution, ratified in 1788, established a framework for democratic governance, with checks and balances to safeguard against tyranny. The Bill of Rights, added in 1791, further reinforced individual liberties such as freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. Expansion westward and the abolition of slavery in the northern states were seen as progress towards fulfilling the promise of freedom for all Americans.

3) Civil War and Challenges to Principles: However, the principles of independence came into question again during the era of the Civil War and its aftermath. The issue of slavery, rooted in deep-seated racial inequality, threatened the nation’s founding ideals and ultimately led to a violent conflict over the future of the Union. The Civil War raised fundamental questions about the extent of federal authority, the rights of states, and the meaning of freedom and equality. While the war resulted in the abolition of slavery and the passage of constitutional amendments guaranteeing civil rights and equal protection under the law, the Reconstruction era saw the rise of systemic racism, segregation, and ongoing struggles for racial justice.

Conclusion: In the post-Civil War era, the United States has made strides towards fulfilling its promises of liberty and equality, yet significant challenges and disparities remain. Issues such as racial inequality, economic injustice, and political polarization continue to pose obstacles to achieving the nation’s founding ideals. While progress has been made in advancing civil rights and expanding opportunities for marginalized communities, the legacy of historical injustices and ongoing struggles for equality remind us that the journey towards a more perfect union is ongoing. As we navigate the complexities of contemporary American society, it is imperative to confront these challenges with a commitment to upholding the principles of justice, equality, and democratic governance for all.

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