The National Constitution Center‘s new permanent exhibit—the first in America devoted to exploring the constitutional debates from the Civil War and Reconstruction—will open to the public this year.
The 3,000-square-foot exhibit, entitled Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality, will feature over 100 artifacts, including original copies of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, Dred Scott’s signed petition for freedom, a pike purchased by John Brown for an armed raid to free enslaved people, a fragment of the flag that Abraham Lincoln raised at Independence Hall in 1861, and a ballot box marked “colored” from Virginia’s first statewide election that allowed black men to vote in 1867.
The exhibit will also feature artifacts from the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia—one of the most significant Civil War collections in the country—housed at and on loan from the Gettysburg Foundation and The Union League of Philadelphia. A detailed list of confirmed artifacts is featured below, with more being added in the months ahead.
“The post-Civil War amendments that emerged during Reconstruction represent the most important changes to the Constitution since the adoption of the Bill of Rights,” said Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center. “The National Constitution Center is thrilled to open the first permanent gallery in America that will tell the story of how the freedom and equality promised in the Declaration of Independence was thwarted in the original Constitution, resurrected by Lincoln at Gettysburg, and, after the bloodiest war in American history, finally enshrined in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.”
Civil War and Reconstruction will be a permanent addition to the National Constitution Center’s main exhibit experience, which includes three signature attractions: The Story of We the People, the museum’s interactive main exhibit, which illuminates America’s constitutional history; Signers’ Hall, which allows visitors to walk among life-size bronze statues of the Founding Fathers; and Freedom Rising, a multimedia theatrical production that highlights the American quest for freedom. Located on the ground floor, this new permanent gallery will be adjacent to the American Treasures gallery, which features the five rarest original drafts of the Constitution. Together, these two exhibits will ensure that the most significant original documents from America’s founding and from the Reconstruction era—which some have called the Second Founding—can educate and inspire visitors in perpetuity.
Artifacts in Civil War and Reconstruction will be generously lent to the National Constitution Center thanks to a path-breaking partnership between the Center, the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia, and the Gettysburg Foundation. The Civil War Museum formally transferred ownership of its three-dimensional artifacts to the Gettysburg Foundation in 2016 on the condition that a selection be permanently displayed in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center. The Museum’s two-dimensional collection of archives and books is housed at The Heritage Center of The Union League of Philadelphia under a stewardship agreement with the Abraham Lincoln Foundation where researchers and others can access it.