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Getting Beyond Guns: Context for the Coming Debate over Privileges or Immunities

As it struggled to cope with the aftermath of the Civil War and to dismantle the system of human slavery that had both dominated and disgraced its early history, the United States adopted a trio of amendments designed to fulfill the promise of America as originally expressed in our founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The Reconstruction amendments were specifically intended to reshape the relationship between government—federal, state, and local—and the people. And while an immediate goal of those amendments was to confer full and equal citizenship on newly freed African-Americans, they had a deeper, more profound purpose: to stamp out a culture of lawlessness and oppression that had grown up around the issue of slavery and attempts to abolish it, but that had grown like a cancer until it menaced the freedom of all citizens and the very notion of liberty upon which this country was founded...