The Records of Rights Vote
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Which document will be featured first? Find out on December 10!
- The joint congressional resolution proposing the 14th Amendment to the states, 1868. The 14th Amendment established the principle of “equal protection of the laws.”
- The 1971 certification of the 26th Amendment. The amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990, which expanded Federal civil rights laws to include disabled Americans
- Executive Order 9981, 1948. Signed by President Harry S. Truman, this executive order desegregated the U.S. Armed Forces.
- The Immigration Reform Act, 1965. These amendments to a 1952 immigration law ended country-based immigration quotas.
Voting was open from September 9 to November 15, 2013. On December 10, we'll reveal the first document to be displayed in the Landmark Documents case.
Equal Protection of the Laws
In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the Constitution was amended to abolish slavery, establish civil equality, and guarantee all men the right to vote. Ratified on July 9, 1868, the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” thereby granting citizenship to former slaves. It also stated that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
With language echoing the Declaration of Independence, all Americans were not only created equal but were to be treated equally before the law. Racism, segregation, and disenfranchisement limited the effect of the 14th Amendment until the 1960s and beyond. Yet, over time its impact has been deep and widespread. It has been cited by those on both sides of contentious social issues ranging from abortion to marriage equality for gays and lesbians.
Lowering the Voting Age
“Old enough to fight, old enough to vote,” a slogan first heard during World War II, was adopted by student activists during the Vietnam War. In 1942 the slogan prompted Congressman Jennings Randolph of West Virginia to propose an amendment to the Constitution lowering the voting age to 18. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson both championed the cause. Activists during the Vietnam War increased pressure on Congress to change the voting age, and in 1971, when Senator Randolph reintroduced his original proposal, it passed overwhelmingly.
Ratification was accomplished in a record four months. The 26th Amendment to the Constitution was certified by General Services Administrator Robert Kunzig on July 1, 1971. In a ceremony at the White House, President Richard M. Nixon, with several 18-year-olds watching, also signed as a witness. He took the unprecedented step of inviting three 18-year-olds to also sign the new amendment.
Protecting Americans with Disabilities
Inspired by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, disabled Americans and their advocates began campaigning for similar protection for people with disabilities. After years of work by the disability rights movement, and in response to a coordinated nationwide campaign, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. In 1988, after a draft bill was introduced in the 100th Congress, disability rights activists organized a national campaign encouraging individuals to submit “discrimination diaries” that recorded daily examples of inaccessibility and discrimination.
Public hearings were held all across the country, and, at a joint hearing with Senate and House subcommittees, witnesses testified about blindness, deafness, Down Syndrome, and HIV, and parents of children with disabilities testified about barriers, stereotyping, and prejudice. Members of Congress pledged a comprehensive disability civil rights bill as the top priority of the next Congress. And Congress kept its promise. In May 1989, Senator Tom Harken introduced the Americans with Disabilities bill, which was soon passed and then signed by President George H. W. Bush on July 26, 1990. This landmark act protects the civil rights of the disabled and prohibits discrimination based on disability.
Ending Segregation in the Armed Forces
Of the approximately 2.5 million African American men who registered for the draft during World War II, more than one million were inducted into the armed forces. Along with thousands of black women, these inductees served across the globe during World War II. The U.S. Armed Forces were racially segregated, however. Responding in part to pressure from A. Philip Randolph and other African American civil rights activists, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order (EO) 9981 on July 26, 1948.
This established the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, committing the Government to integrating the segregated military. The Executive Order stated that it was “essential that there be maintained in the armed service of the United States the highest standards of democracy.” These standards included “equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin." The order also established an advisory committee to examine the rules, practices, and procedures of the armed services and recommend ways to make desegregation a reality. There was considerable resistance to EO 9981, but by the end of the Korean conflict almost the entire military was integrated.
Immigration Reform in 1965
From 1924 until 1965, a person’s place of birth often determined his or her ability to immigrate legally into the United States. Immigration laws favored people from northern and western Europe over those from southern and eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. Numerical limits, often called quotas, were assigned to each country. For example, a 1924 law allowed about 4,000 Italians to enter the United States annually while about 66,000 could emigrate from Great Britain. Asian immigrants were already largely banned from U.S immigration by other laws passed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The 1965 amendments to the Immigration Reform Act of 1952 abolished that system of country-based immigration quotas. The law authorized 120,000 immigration visas for people from the western hemisphere and 170,000 visas for people from the eastern hemisphere. The law emphasized family reunification and, to a lesser degree, occupational skills and refugee status. Supporters of these changes saw them as a matter of fairness—an offshoot of the broader civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Few anticipated that the new system would create profound demographic change. But the 1970s and 1980s saw a surge of immigration from Asia and Latin America that continued into the 21st century. By the late 1970s, three-quarters of all legal immigrants would arrive here from those two areas.
The "Records of Rights" exhibition and the David M. Rubenstein Gallery are made possible in part by the Foundation for the National Archives, through the support of David M. Rubenstein.