The Challenge of Equal Rights Under Law

In the face of a newly established US Constitution and its protected rights, were laws that deeply excluded women and minorities and enforced slavery. In Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), the Supreme Court notoriously denied that African-Americans were US citizens, or equal in humanity. The Dred Scott edition on display, published by the New York Tribune's Horace Greeley, includes contemporary rejections of the Court's arguments. Six years would pass before the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) liberated slaves by Lincoln's decree, and another five years before the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed "due process" and "equal protection of the laws" for all, enjoining states to enforce the Bill of Rights.

The 1866 Civil Rights Act and Fourteenth Amendment admitted "all persons born or naturalized in the United States" as citizens, but achieving basic equal rights was an ongoing challenge. Sarah Winthrop Smith's pamphlet (1893) makes a direct argument: because all naturally-born or naturalized individuals are US citizens, and voting is a natural right of citizenship, women should be allowed to vote. In a similar way, Native Americans were not entirely included as citizens until 1924, and achieved fuller constitutional rights in 1968. Justice and Jurisprudence: An Inquiry... (1889), published by the African-American Brotherhood of Liberty, critiques interpretations of the Reconstruction Amendments that denied civil rights.