U.S. Constitution

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, tied the 13th amendment celebration to his boyhood observances of Juneteenth with his grandfathers.
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln saw his home state of Illinois become the first to ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, banning slavery. He’d also live to see the end of the Civil War, in which he had declared slaves in Southern states, free under the Emancipation Proclamation, issued two years earlier, but he wouldn’t live to see the amendment itself become law, upon the vote of Georgia state lawmakers on Dec. 9, 1865.

Painter Junius Brutus Stearns, 1856 / via Wikimedia Commons

Encore Presentation: This program's original broadcast was on March 19, 2013.

Having existed and endured for more than 225 years, the U.S. Constitution and the intent of those who created it continues to be a hotly contested topic.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The American people are "both passionately engaged in their own view of the Constitution and woefully ignorant" about it, says the historian who helped develop PBS's new series "Constitution USA."

Christopher Buchanan / Insignia Films

When Twin Cities Public Television, tpt National Productions and Insignia Films wanted to produce a documentary series for PBS examining what the Constitution means in the 21st Century, they didn’t take the conventional route.  Instead of rounding up a number of experts who would talk on a studio set in front of book cases, they asked the host of NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me to get on a red, white and blue Harley Davidson and travel across the country.