Document Type



Judge William E. Miller Prize Paper.


This Article examines a set of constitutional stories that has not been the subject of focused study by legal scholars—the constitutional stories we tell our schoolchildren. In particular, this Article focuses on portrayals of the Founding and Reconstruction in our most widely-used high school textbooks. These stories offer new clues about the background assumptions that elite lawyers, political leaders, and the wider public bring to bear when they consider the meaning of the Constitution—especially, the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment. In the end, our textbooks tend to praise the Founding generation and canonize certain key “Founding Fathers,” while, at the same time, largely ignoring Reconstruction’s key players and underemphasizing the constitutional revolution these “Forgotten Founders” envisioned (and began to wage). Students are left with a relatively pristine view of the Founding, while receiving (at best) a “warts-and-all” account of Reconstruction. These disparate accounts (presented for decades in our classrooms) have likely played an important role in constructing (and reinforcing) a constitutional culture that reveres the “Founding Fathers,” but gives short shrift to their Reconstruction counterparts.

Date of Authorship for this Version

Spring 2009