Tag Archive for 'Fifteenth Amendment'

On This Day: The Thirteenth Amendment

On December 6, 1865—147 years ago today—the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, abolishing slavery in the United States.

It had been a long time coming. Nearly three years earlier, in January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in the rebellious states. (Lincoln had also issued a Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation several months earlier, on September 22, 1862.) Before the end of the Civil War in 1865, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment to formally abolish slavery. It would take months, though, before the Amendment was ratified—and President Lincoln, who had fought tirelessly for the Amendment, was assassinated before he could see it ratified.

On December 6, 1865, the amendment finally received the necessary number of state ratifications. Consisting of two sections, the Amendment read as follows:

Section 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Amendment was one of three Reconstruction Era Constitutional amendments. Nineteen months later, the Fourteenth Amendment would be ratified, extending the liberties of the Bill of Rights to former slaves. And, in 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment would grant African American men the right to vote. To learn more about the three Reconstruction Amendments, check out this summary from the United States Senate’s website. The Our Documents initiative also provides summaries and the full text of all three amendments: Thirteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and Fifteenth Amendment.

To learn more about the Thirteenth Amendment, and to view a digitized copy, check out this page from the National Archives.

For a chronological list and summary of Reconstruction Era policies, check out this page from the Digital History collection. For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, check out this page from Black Americans in Congress, hosted by the United States House of Representatives’ website.

To learn more about the Thirteenth Amendment, check out Alexander Tsesis’ The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom: A Legal History (NYU Press 2004), and his edited volume, The Promises of Liberty: The History and Contemporary Relevance of the Thirteenth Amendment (Columbia University Press 2010).

To learn more about the abolition of slavery, check out Michael Vorenberg’s Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment (Cambridge University Press 2001).

The recently released movie, Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day Lewis as President Lincoln, was co-written by the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and focuses on Lincoln’s drive to pass the Thirteenth Amendment.  To learn more about President Lincoln’s work toward emancipation, check out Harold Holzer and Sara Vaughn Gabbard’s edited volume, Lincoln and Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment (Southern Illinois University Press 2007). For more on the Emancipation Proclamation, check out William A. Blair and Karen Fisher Younger’s edited volume, Lincoln’s Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered (UNC Press 2009).

On This Day: The Fourteenth Amendment

On July 9, 1868—144 years ago today—the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, extending the liberties of the Bill of Rights to former slaves.

One of three Reconstruction Era amendments, the Fourteenth Amendment granted to all Americans the right to equal protection and due process of law, greatly expanding the protection of civil rights.

The Amendment stated, in part:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Although the passage of the Amendment certainly was monumental, a narrow interpretation was often taken in the ensuing decades, resulting in the continuation of restricted rights for African Americans. For years, citizens and politicians battled within the courts, in legislative arenas, and in American society at large to make these liberties truly a reality.

The Fourteenth Amendment was cited in Supreme Court cases involving interracial marriage (Loving v. Virginia, 1967) and school desegregation (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954).

More recently, the Fourteenth Amendment has been used to fight for women’s reproductive rights (Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992) and to overturn legalized discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals (Romer v. Evans, 1996).

To learn more—and to read the full text of the document—check out this page from the Our Documents initiative, a collaborative effort of National History Day, the National Archives and Records Administration, and USA Freedom Corps.

This site from the Library of Congress provides links to documents related to the passage and scope of the Fourteenth Amendment, including several newspaper articles available through Chronicling America.

To learn more, check out William Nelson’s The Fourteenth Amendment: From Political Principle to Judicial Doctrine (Harvard University Press, 1998) and Michael Perry’s We the People: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Supreme Court (Oxford University Press, 2001).

To learn more about the three Reconstruction Amendments, check out this summary from the United States Senate’s website. The Our Documents initiative (cited above) also provides summaries and the full text of all three amendments: Thirteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and Fifteenth Amendment.

For a chronological list and summary of Reconstruction Era policies, check out this page from the Digital History collection. For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, check out this page from Black Americans in Congress, hosted by the United States House of Representatives’ website.

To learn about one of the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment, check out Hans Trefousse’s Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian (UNC Press, 1997).

Remembering Guinn v. United States

On June 21, 1915—97 years ago today—in the landmark Guinn v. United States, the Supreme Court struck down Oklahoma’s grandfather clause, marking an important step in the fight for suffrage for all citizens, regardless of race.

The clause, part of the Voter Registration Act of 1910, required voters to pass a literacy test; however, it exempted citizens who were entitled to vote on January 1, 1866 (before African Americans gained suffrage through the Fifteenth Amendment), and those whose ancestors (“grandfathers”) were entitled to vote at that time.

Unsurprisingly, given the racial discrimination prevalent at the time, local voter registration officials applied the law in different ways. Often, they imposed unreasonable literacy tests on African American applicants—or refused to administer the test at all.

Finally, in 1915, the federal government prosecuted voter registration officials for denying African American citizens of Oklahoma the right to vote, as a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Also in question was a piece of Maryland’s constitution, which carried similar restrictions.

In a unanimous ruling (one justice sat out), the Supreme Court struck down the restrictions as unconstitutional. The decision read, in part:

. . . how can there be room for any serious dispute concerning the repugnancy of the standard based upon January 1, 1866 (a date which preceded the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment), if the suffrage provision fixing that standard is susceptible of the significance with which the Government attributes to it? Indeed, there seems no escape from the conclusion that to hold that there was even possibility for dispute on the subject would be but to declare that the Fifteenth Amendment not only had not the self-executing power which it has been recognized to have from the beginning, but that its previous provisions were wholly inoperative, because susceptible of being rendered inapplicable by more forms of expression embodying no exercise of judgment and resting upon no discernible reason other than the purpose to disregard the prohibitions of the Amendment by creating a standard of voting which on its face was, in substance, but a revitalization of conditions which, when they prevailed in the past, had been destroyed by the self-operative force of the Amendment.

Although the ruling had little short-term effect (Oklahoma quickly passed new voter registration restrictions), it led to the dismantling of similar restrictions in other southern states, such as Alabama, North Carolina, Louisiana, Virginia, and Georgia. The battle for suffrage continued for many more decades, but the ruling marked an important step toward the eventual banning of voting restrictions seen in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To read the full text of the Supreme Court decision, click here.

For more information, click here, and check out this entry from the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture.

For more on disfranchisement, click here, or check out Michael Perman’s Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 (UNC Press, 2001).

For more on suffrage, check out J. Morgan Kousser’s Colorblind Injustice: Minority Voting Rights and the Undoing of the Second Reconstruction (UNC Press, 1999) and Charles S. Bullock III and Ronald Keith Gaddie’s The Triumph of Voting Rights in the South (University of Oklahoma Press, 2009).

Remembering the Force Acts

On May 31, 1870—142 years ago today—Congress passed the first of four Acts designed to protect the constitutional rights provided for under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The Force Act of 1870 designated criminal penalties to those who interfered with the right to vote, whether through intimidation, threats, or other measures. The Act read, in part:

[I]f any person, by force, bribery, threats, intimidation, or other unlawful means, shall hinder, delay, prevent, or obstruct, or shall combine and confederate with others to hinder, delay, prevent, or obstruct, any citizen from doing any act required to be done to qualify him to vote or from voting at any election as aforesaid, such person shall for every such offence forfeit and pay the sum of five hundred dollars to the person aggrieved thereby, to be recovered by an action on the state, with full costs, and such allowance for counsel fees as the court shall deem just, and shall also for ever such offence be guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall, on conviction thereof, be fined not less than five hundred dollars, or be imprisoned not less than one more and not more than one year, or both, at the discretion of the court.

Enacted only five years after the Civil War, the legislation represented an important acknowledgement of the rights and protections due to all citizens, regardless of color. Over the next few years, three more acts would follow. This legislation allowed many thousands of freedmen to register to vote and to be elected to governmental offices.

African Americans soon saw these rights taken away, as Reconstruction gave way to a long period of disfranchisement, characterized by poll taxes, literacy tests, and other such discriminatory measures. Although it would be years before African Americans would once again enjoy protection of their voting rights (see the 24th Amendment and the 1965 Voting Rights Act), the Force Acts foreshadowed advancements to come.

To read excerpts from the 1870 and 1871 Force Acts, click here.

For the Encyclopedia Britannica’s summary, click here.

For more about voting rights, click here.

For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, click here.

For a chronological view of Reconstruction-era policies, click here.

To learn about voting rights in ensuing decades, check out J. Morgan Kousser’s Colorblind Injustice: Minority Voting Rights and the Undoing of the Second Reconstruction (UNC Press, 1999) and Chandler Davidson and Bernard Grofman’s Quiet Revolution in the South: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act, 1965-1990 (Princeton University Press, 1994).

To learn about disfranchisement, check out Michael Perman’s Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 (UNC Press, 2001).

Remembering Smith v. Allwright

On April 3, 1944—68 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Smith v. Allwright chipped away at race-based voter discrimination, ruling that a state cannot “permit a private organization to practice racial discrimination in elections.”

The case was brought in response to a resolution by the Democratic Party of Texas (described as a “voluntary association” by the Texas Supreme Court)—a policy which allowed only whites to participate in Democratic primary elections. Lonnie Smith, a 39-year-old African American man, was denied the right to vote in the 1940 Texas Democratic primary, and thus began his four-year legal struggle.

Famed NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall—who four years earlier in Chambers v. Florida had won his first of 29 Supreme Court victories—argued that Texas’s Democratic Party’s policy violated the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and as such denied African Americans their full citizenship rights.

Overturning a nine-year-old decision from Grovey v. Townsend, the Supreme Court in Smith v. Allwright ruled:

The United States is a constitutional democracy. Its organic law grants to all citizens a right to participate in the choice of elected officials without restriction by any state because of race. This grant to the people of the opportunity for choice is not to be nullified by a state through casting its electoral process in a form which permits a private organization to practice racial discrimination in the election. Constitutional rights would be of little value if they could be thus indirectly denied.

Not only did this case lead to an immediate increase in African American voter registration, it also represented a milestone in the African American struggle for equality and full citizenship and heralded civil rights victories that would come in the following decades.

For more information, check out the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s summary of the case.

For the full text of the decision, click here.

For background information, check out this essay from the University of Texas.

Charles Zelden published a book about the trial with the University of Kansas Press back in 2004: The Battle for the Black Ballot: Smith v. Allwright and the Defeat of the Texas All-White Primary (search for it here).

The NAACP: 103 Years of History

On this day, 103 years ago, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed in order to secure for all citizens the rights guaranteed by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution: an end to slavery, equal protection under the law, and universal suffrage for adult males.

Organized only six months after the Springfield (Illinois) Race Riot left eight African Americans dead, the NAACP brought together some of the nation’s most prominent civil rights leaders, both black and white. Within nine years of its founding, the NAACP had organized 165 branches, with a total of roughly 44,000 members.

Most Americans connect the NAACP with W.E.B. Du Bois, whose Niagara Movement had focused on many of the same goals; however, many don’t realize that Du Bois, who was one of 60 original members, was one of only a handful of African American members. In fact, when the organization named its first board of directors in 1910, Du Bois, as the director of publications and research, was the only African American among the NAACP’s executives. (William English Walling, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Josephine Ruffin, and Jane Addams were other notable early members.)

Through democratic processes, the NAACP has consistently fought to eliminate racial prejudice and ensure equality for minorities. During the mid-1900s, the NAACP became increasingly well known for its lawyers’ tireless work within the court system. Lawyers such as Thurgood Marshall (who would later become the first African American Supreme Court justice) argued case after case, chipping away at legalized segregation and discrimination. (See, for example, Gaines v. Canada).

The organization’s official publication, The Crisis, which Du Bois founded in 1910, is still published today. And the NAACP continues to fight for equality, both within the courts and without. (See, for example, this recent lawsuit).

For more information about the NAACP, click here.

To learn more about the NAACP’s battle against segregation, check out Mark Tushnet’s The NAACP’s Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, 1925-1950 (UNC Press, 2005 reprint).

Kenneth Janken wrote a wonderful biography of one of the NAACP’s prominent members: Walter White: Mr. NAACP (UNC Press, 2006).