Civil War Reconstruction (Amendments 13, 14, & 15)
This group of Amendments are referred to as the “Reconstruction Amendments,” as they were adopted in the aftermath of the United States Civil War. These amendments were monumental, because where the Bill of Rights protected the people from the federal government, Amendments 13, 14, and 15 protected them from the government of their states.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended slavery in the United States. Although President Abraham Lincoln‘s 1863 executive order, the Emancipation Proclamation, freed slaves in the Confederate States during the war, it did not go as far as to outlaw slavery and involuntary servitude entirely. Until the amendment was enacted, they weren’t yet free men and women.
When Amendment Thirteen was adopted, making slavery illegal in the United States, it became the first new Amendment to be adopted in 60 years. However, it didn’t end the issues in the states, a series of “Black Codes” were introduced, mainly in the South, forcing Congress to add two more amendments.
Amendment Fourteen (Proposed June 13, 1866; Adopted July 9, 1868) was the second of the three Reconstruction Amendments and came in three parts: The Citizenship Clause, The Due Process Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause.
Even though the Emancipation Proclamation had freed the slaves, and the Thirteenth Amendment had secured their freedom, many individuals and organizations throughout the United States continued to treat Black Americans as if they didn’t belong, like the color of their skin continued to make them inferior regardless of their new Constitutional liberties. This is because they were emancipated, but not yet full citizens.
The Fourteenth Amendment was enacted as a direct response to the serious issues free black men and women were facing under the “Black Codes.” The decision of the 1857 Supreme Court Case Dred Scott v. Sandford stated that slaves were neither protected by the Constitution, nor were they U.S. citizens. As it turned out, this historic case went down in history as the worst Supreme Court decision ever made, and the Citizenship Clause reversed the Dred Scott Decision declaring that all persons born or naturalized in the United States, regardless of race or ethnicity, would be citizens.
The Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clausewere in the same vein, protecting the rights of life, liberty, and property of all United States citizens. Under the Black Codes, newly free men and women had no guarantee that their property wouldn’t be seized or that they would not be arrested on arbitrary grounds. The Due Process Clause gave them the confidence that they too were protected by the Constitution, and the Equal Protection Clause ensured equal protection under the laws of the state.
The last of the Reconstruction Amendments, The Fifteenth Amendment (Proposed February 26, 1869; Adopted February 3, 1870) gave all male citizens of the United States, regardless of “race, color, or previous condition” of servitude the right to vote.
Women would not have the right to vote until 50 years later.