Tag Archive for 'Thirteenth 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 Civil Rights Cases

On October 15, 1883—129 years ago today—the Supreme Court struck a major blow to the fight for equality when it ruled the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional, rejecting the argument that it was authorized under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Eight years earlier, in a last-ditch effort to protect the rights African Americans had gained in the decade following the Civil War, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 signaled an important step in the fight for equality, stating:

Be it enacted, that all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude.

The Act imposed punishments on those who violated its provisions and gave exclusive jurisdiction to federal courts to rule on cases related to the Act.

Unfortunately, this Act was rarely enforced. And then, in 1883, the cases of five African Americans who had been denied accommodations in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 were consolidated into one issue for the Supreme Court to review: the Civil Rights Cases.

Eroding the progress made on civil rights in the previous ten years, the Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment did not give the federal government the power to regulate the Act. Claiming that the issues discussed in the Civil Rights Cases only constituted private wrongs, the Court held that the Amendment  gave Congress the right only to enforce state action. The justices further argued that the Constitution did not prohibit discrimination, but rather only prohibited involuntary servitude.

Justice John Harlan famously dissented, arguing that “such discrimination is a badge of servitude, the imposition of which congress may prevent under its power, through appropriate legislation, to enforce the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendment.”

Those who opposed the decision worried that it represented a step toward legalized segregation. They were correct: over the next eight decades African Americans saw their rights further eroded. Segregation became the rule rather than the exception in the workplace, in housing, and in public life. Not until the second half of the twentieth century would the rights so clearly stated in 1875 become the law of the land once more.

To learn more about the Civil Rights Cases, check out this page from PBS and this page from OYEZ. To read the Supreme Court’s 1883 ruling against the Civil Rights Act, click here.

To read the New York Times article printed one day after the Court’s decision, click here.

Justice John Harlan, who wrote the famous dissent, would later produce another famous dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson.

To read the text of the four Reconstruction Era civil rights acts passed by Congress, the last of which was the Civil Rights Act of 1875, click here. For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, click here.

To learn more about race relations during this period, check out J. Michael Martinez’s Coming for to Carry Me Home: Race in America from Abolitionism to Jim Crow (Rowman & Littlefield 2011).

To learn more about the erosion of civil rights, check out Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (Anchor 2009).

To learn more about the history of civil rights and the Supreme Court, check out Abraham L. Davis and Barbara Luck Graham’s The Supreme Court, Race, and Civil Rights: From Marshall to Rehnquist (Sage 1995).

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 Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co.

On June 17, 1968—44 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., acknowledging Congress’s power to “determine what are the badges and incidents of slavery, and the authority to translate that determination into effective legislation,” barred racial discrimination, both private and public, in the sale or rental of property.

Three years earlier, Joseph Lee Jones and his wife, who were African American, filed complaint in a district court in Missouri, arguing that they had been denied the opportunity to buy a home in a St. Louis County subdivision solely because of their race. After legal wrangling in district court and the court of appeals, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Coming only two months after the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the 7-to-2 decision read, in part:

. . . Just as the Black Codes, enacted after the Civil War to restrict the free exercise of those rights, were substitutes for the slave system, so the exclusion of Negroes from white communities became a substitute for the Black Codes. And when racial discrimination herds men into ghettos and makes their ability to buy property turn on the color of their skin, then it too is a relic of slavery.

Negro citizens, North and South, who saw in the Thirteenth Amendment a promise of freedom—freedom to “go and come at pleasure” and to “buy and sell when they please”—would be left with “a mere paper guarantee” if Congress were powerless to assure that a dollar in the hands of a Negro will purchase the same thing as a dollar in the hands of a white man. At the very least, the freedom that Congress is empowered to secure under the Thirteenth Amendment includes the freedom to buy whatever a white man can buy, the right to live wherever a white man can live. If Congress cannot say that being a free man means at least this much, then the Thirteenth Amendment made a promise the Nation cannot keep.

The Supreme Court thus took a strong stance in the fight against housing discrimination—a struggle which had been fought in courtrooms across America for many decades. Each ruling and each piece of legislation—from Corrigan v. Buckley (1926) to Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) to later cases—provided stronger protections against housing discrimination. Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. was an important step in this journey.

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

To listen to the oral argument, click here.

For a discussion of the extent of Congress’s enforcement powers, check out this website from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.

For more on housing discrimination in Missouri, check out this page from the St. Louis Beacon.

For more about the fight against housing discrimination, click here.

To learn more about the struggle against housing discrimination, check out John M. Goering’s edited volume, Housing Desegregation and Federal Policy, available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

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