A Law-Related Chronology
Bill Long 8/7/05
Pertaining to the 14th Amendment Era (1863-1875)
Any attempt to understand the words of the 14th Amendment must first come to grips with the world of that Amendment. And that world is a most complex and daunting one to understand, a time like no other in our history--the difficult decade or so from the latter days of the Civil War until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. What I provide here is a focused "law-related chronology pertaining to the 14th Amendment" both because other general treatments of Reconstruction are available online, and because the ideas and issues swirling around the passage of the 14th Amendment warrant separate treatment. Though this list could be indefinitely expanded, I will give ten significant events/dates to get you started.
1. December 1863--President Lincoln gives his own Reconstruction plan, where the 11 CSA states would be let back into the Union on an affirmative loyalty vote of 10% of voters in the 1860 elections.
2. July 1864--In response to the President's plan, Congress, influenced by Radical Republicans, passes the more stringent Wade-Davis Bill, requiring, among other things, the loyalty of 50% of white male citizens. Lincoln pocket vetoes this bill.
3. March 1865--Congress creates the Freedmen Bureau, which will bulk large in the next decade in giving land, labor, some judicial protection and educational opportunities to recently-freed Black citizens, in the South and the North. The scope of this statute will be considerably expanded in 1866.
4. December 1865-- The 27th State (out of 36) passes the 13th Amendment, approved by Congress the preceding January, outlawing slavery. Confederate States, despite not being back in the Union, voted on this measure. Mississippi became the 36th (and last) state to ratify it--in 1995. Black Codes are written and enforced in much of the South in 1865-1866.
5. December 1865-Summer 1866. The 39th Congress convenes. The first act of business was to appoint a Joint Committee on Reconstruction whose task it was to take testimony to ascertain the best course of action with respect to the defeated South. President Johnson had ordered that 10/11 of the seceded states be readmitted in the Fall 1865 (as they agreed to his more lenient Reconstruction plan), but the Republican-controlled Congress refused to recognize the Representatives and Senators sent by these states. Johnson readmitted Texas in April 1866. Congress never recognized this presidential action, and would tie readmittance to state acceptance of the 14th Amendment, which was not ratified until 1868.
6. April 1866--Congress passes, by party-line vote (3-1 Republican margin in both houses) the Civil Rights Act of 1866, allowing Blacks to own property, participate in lawsuits and many other things. Johnson vetoes, but veto is overridden. This is now known as "Section 1981."
7. June 1866--Congress sends to the States the 14th Amendment, drafted by the Joint Committee. Most think the leading contributor/shaper of the Amendment to be John Bingham of Ohio. The Amendment has five sections, with most of the words (secs. 2-4) dealing with war debts, representation in the future Congresses and elections. Readmittance of seceding states conditioned on acceptance of the 14th Amendment.
8. March 1867--Congresses passes and revises the Reconstruction Act, which placed 10/11 seceding states (Tennessee excepted) in one of five military districts. This was the height of the Radical Republican power, as the military commanders allowed all male citizens over 21 the right to vote.
9. July 1868--14th Amendment ratified by the States. A few states held out from ratifying and were not admitted in 1868. As a result, they had to ratify the 14th and the 15th Amendment (on suffrage for Blacks) before they could be readmitted. The 15th Amendment was submitted to the states in 1869 and approved in 1870.
10. 1871; 1875-- In response to widespread violence against Blacks in the South since the withdrawal of federal troops (there were no more than about 38,000 Union troops in the South in the late 1860s), Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan law in 1871, authorizing the President to suppress the Klan. In March 1875 Congress passed a broad-ranging Civil Rights Act entitling "all persons" in the United States to "full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances, ..." This law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1883 as exceeding Congressional power under Sec. 5 of the 14th Amendment.
The following essays explore these and other themes.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long