Although Americans claim to revere the Constitution, relatively few
understand its workings. Its real importance for the average
citizen is as an enduring reminder of the moral vision that shaped
the nation's founding. Yet scholars have paid little attention to
the broader appeal that constitutional idealism has always made to
the American imagination through publications and films. This study
draws upon such neglected sources to illustrate the way in which
media coverage contributes to major constitutional change.
Successive generations have sought to reaffirm a sense of
national identity and purpose by appealing to constitutional norms,
defined on an official level by law and government. Public support,
however, may depend more on messages delivered by the popular
media. Muckraking novels, such as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle
(1906), debated federal economic regulation. Woman suffrage
organizations produced films to counteract the harmful gender
stereotypes of early comedies. Arguments over the enforcement of
black civil rights in the Civil Rights Cases and Plessy v. Ferguson
took on new meaning when dramatized in popular novels.
From the founding of the United States to the present, Americans
have been taught that even radical changes may be achieved through
orderly constitutional procedures. How both elite and marginalized
groups in American society have reaffirmed and communicated this
faith in the first three decades of the twentieth century forms the
central theme of this book.
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