“The first effort to structure a unified government for the new United States was based on something known as the Articles of Confederation, and it was a failure. Generally, historians agree the Articles of Confederation did not provide the central government with sufficient powers to administer the basic functions of a viable government. The Constitution was developed in 1787 to address the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution is not perfect either—it has been amended twenty-seven times. The first ten amendments were adopted in 1791 and are known collectively as the Bill of Rights.
Seventy-four years after the Constitution was formally approved, we suffered four terrible years of Civil War because we could not agree on the issues of slavery and the relative powers of the state and federal governments. From 1861 to 1865, the Civil War claimed the lives of approximately six hundred and twenty-five thousand Americans. Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election on a Republican platform that included a pledge to keep slavery out of the western territories prompted the secession of several southern states. South Carolina seceded from the Union in December of 1860, followed by Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana in January 1861. State militias in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida seized federal installations, arsenals, and armories in January 1861. The federal government refused to recognize the legitimacy of secession even as other states seceded and joined the Confederate States of America. By the time Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, Texas had also seceded and seized the federal arsenal at San Antonio. Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter on April 12 and captured the fort on April 13. Lincoln responded with a blockade and a call for volunteers. The federal army eventually conquered and occupied the Confederate states. In April 1865, Lincoln was assassinated; Confederate military forces surrendered across the south and an armistice was signed. The Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery was adopted as part of the Constitution in December of 1865.
But the end of the war and the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment did not solve the problems of discrimination, human dignity, and civil rights. For over one hundred years after the end of the Civil War, African Americans and other minorities fought domestic terrorism, harassment, and discrimination. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments ostensibly gave African Americans and other minorities the rights of citizenship and the ability to vote, but in practice these rights were systematically denied in many parts of the country. The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 marked a significant milestone in the struggle for equality. The peaceful persistence of people like Dr. Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez raised awareness of shortcomings in law and in behaviors. A series of important decisions by the courts have supported and strengthened the law.
Besides the struggle of African Americans and other racial minorities, women also struggled against inequality from the earliest days of our republic. In fact, it wasn’t until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920 that women were given the right to vote. The path to the Nineteenth Amendment was long and arduous. Women leaders such as Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul led a peaceful movement for change and persisted in the face of ridicule, harassment, imprisonment and brutal treatment. Legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender and providing penalties for sexual harassment have greatly improved conditions, but behaviors undermining equality persist.
The expansion of the United States westward across the continent came by seizing lands originally occupied by Native Americans. The campaigns to subdue these tribes were brutal. Both sides committed atrocities. The United States government broke treaty after treaty with Native American tribes. In the aftermath of the wars and forced migrations, the government generally failed to provide adequately for the people we had conquered and displaced. Our Native American peoples have had their own unique struggle to address the legacy of this period and to gain their civil rights.
The United States was not the first nation to lay claim to much of the territory we occupied in our march westward. During our colonial period, France had claimed much of the interior lands west of the Mississippi. Spain had claimed the area now covered by the states of Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. Russia held what is now Alaska. The United States purchased the territorial rights claimed by France in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, effectively doubling the size of the country at that time. In 1819, the United States purchased the rights claimed by Spain in Florida. Two years later, Mexico won its independence from Spain. Under the Treaty of Cordoba, Mexico assumed sovereignty of all territories claimed by Spain in the American southwest. In 1824, a dictator suspended the Mexican Constitution and rebellions erupted in several places in Mexico. Texas gained its independence from Mexico in 1836, existing as an independent republic until it was annexed by the United States in 1845. The United States fought a war with Mexico from 1846 to 1848. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war in 1848 with the United States paying Mexico $18 million and taking control of all territory north and west of the Rio Grande including California. In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million. The Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown by American and European businessmen in 1893. The United States annexed Hawaii in July of 1898 despite the opposition of a majority of native Hawaiians. Both Alaska and Hawaii remained territories until 1959 when they became the 49th and 50th states respectively.
An unvarnished view of the history of the United States forces us to confront many unpleasant facts. In our treatment of citizens as well as others subject to our laws and powers, the people of the United States have frequently acted no better than the people of other nations, and our government no better than other governments. The founding principles of our country were a unique expression of individual dignity and liberty in 1776, but our  year struggle to realize in practice the ideas implied by these founding principles teach us that we cannot accept a romanticized view of our republic at face value. The words of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are only as good as the sum of our individual efforts to make the policies and practices of our government conform to the spirit of those words.
Accountability citizenship requires that each of us accept responsibility and accountability for all that our country does or fails to do. It is not enough to blame dysfunctional government as if it were a thing apart: our government is designed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. Even when we disagree with the chosen course, we are responsible and accountable for registering that disagreement with our votes and with our persistent and peaceful engagement with elected officials.” [Accountability Citizenship, 2013, pp. 46-49]