About the Reconstruction Amendments

US Constitution

The Reconstruction Amendments - 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments

The Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution are collectively known as the Reconstruction Amendments. These very important amendments were part of a Reconstruction program to provide equal legal and civil rights, particularly to slaves, and to all citizens of the United States. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude in every state of the nation as well as in any place under U.S. jurisdiction. The Fourteenth Amendment provides a definition of United States Citizenship, the implementation of "Due Process" protecting the rights of the people from the government and the Equal Protection clause that provides all citizens equal protection of the laws. The passage of the Fifteenth Amendment allows citizens the right to vote regardless of "race, color or previous condition of servitude."

The Thirteenth Amendment

The Thirteenth Amendment has some what of an interesting past before becoming the amendment known for ending close to 200 years of slavery in America. Before the Civil War in 1861, Congress passed a thirteenth amendment that would have actually guaranteed the legality and perpetuation of slavery. Some years later during the Civil War President Abraham Lincoln, the writer of the Emancipation Proclamation, pushed for members of Congress to accept the amended, Thirteenth Amendment. He succeeded, largely due to the fact that many of the southern congressional representatives were not present for the debate, due to the war. With the support of the northern representatives, who were either indifferent or directly opposed to slavery, the amendment was passed.

On April 8, 1864, the United States Senate passed the Thirteenth Amendment, the House passed this amendment on January 31, 1865, with a vote of 119-56, then finally ratified on December 6, 1865, to officially abolish slavery in the United States. Below is the text from the amendment:

Amendment XIII

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 power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The act of terminating slavery nation wide certainly deserves honorable recognition. The fight against slavery was ultimately a step toward establishing the indivisibility of American freedom. With the passage of this amendment, the road to racial and civil equality was just beginning.

The Fourteenth Amendment

On June 13, 1866, the United States Congress proposed the Fourteenth Amendment and by July 9, 1868, three-fourths of the states (28 of 37) ratified the amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment provides a definition of citizenship within the United States and provides that all states will offer citizens equal protection. Also provided is the right to due process, expressing that the government must respect all of the legal rights owed to a citizen according to the law. This amendment provides constitutional rights to all citizens, as defined there in. Here is the original text of the amendment:

Amendment XIV

Section 1. 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.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

While the Thirteenth amendment essentially freed any slave held in the Unites States, those slaves were not automatically deemed citizens upon being freed, and were not granted any constitutional rights. It was not until the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment that those freed from slavery and their families were granted citizenship and the rights of a U.S. citizen as provided by law.

The Fifteenth Amendment

On February 26, 1869, the Congress proposed the Fifteenth Amendment, which was signed into law on February 3, 1870. Working with the passage of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to provide universal rights to citizens of the United States, the Fifteenth Amendment provided citizens of all races and color, as well as former slaves, the right to vote.

Amendment XIII

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude

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

On March 31, 1870, the first African-American man to vote after the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment was Mr. Thomas Mundy Peterson, who cast his ballot in a school board election in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The passage of this amendment, in conjunction with the two previous amendments, allowed African-Americans not only the right to vote but also the right to be elected to public office. Later, the right to vote would also be granted to women, under the Nineteenth Amendment.

These rights given and the subsequent results are truly momentous in our American history, for which all citizens of the United States can be thankful.

Click here to read some great quotes such as:

"The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law."

"No man is above the law, and no man is below it."
~Theodore Roosevelt

"To live anywhere in the world today and be against equality because of race or color
is like living in Alaska and being against snow."

~William Faulkner

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