Philadelphia's National Constitution Center—chartered by Congress to "disseminate information about the U.S. Constitution on a nonpartisan basis"—is adding a new permanent exhibit recounting a crucial chapter in that document's history. 

Opening May 9, "Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality" will use interactive multimedia and scores of historical artifacts to illustrate the considerable constitutional challenges of the late 19th century.

The war between the Union and the Confederacy is covered along with the period of rebuilding that followed, when efforts were made—despite the often violent opposition of whites—to grant legal protections to recently emancipated African Americans.

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The new rarities will include:

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  • original printings of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments banning slavery, ensuring equal protection, and securing (male) voting rights, respectively;
  • a signed petition for freedom from the enslaved Dred Scott, whose case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (his loss was a major catalyst for war);
  • an 1867 ballot box marked "colored" for a Virginia state election;
  • a playbill from Washington, D.C.'s Ford's Theatre on the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated;
  • and about 100 more objects from the era.


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(Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (ca. 1864–1868) by African American artist David Bustill Bowser; from the Collection of the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia on loan from Gettysburg Foundation Soldier’s hymn book [CWMP at Union League])

Many of the exhibit's holdings came from the now-closed Civil War Museum of Philadelphia. That means, as the Philadelphia Inquirer points out, that visitors to the National Constitution Center will get a chance to see artifacts that have been out of public view since 2008. 
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The new exhibit's multimedia elements will focus on topics such as the drafting of the postwar amendments and the lives of African American officeholders during Reconstruction, when the promises of the Constitution fell short for newly freed citizens.

The additions will join the museum's other permanent fixtures, which include rare copies of the Constitution and bronze statues of the nation's founders. 

Admission to the National Constitution Center—part of Independence National Historical Park—is $14.50 for adults, $11 for kids ages 6–18, and free for kids age 5 and younger.  

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Tags: philadelphia, national constitution center, history, independence national historical park, civil war, equality

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