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Key Legislation in Favor of Black America
In December 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, announcing the freedom of black slaves. It set Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 into motion (Frazier 113). While the Civil War brought freedom from the binds of slavery, it did not offer security from angry Confederates. What did offer that security was the group of laws passed between 1866 and 1872 that stabilized the South. The legislation passed in the late 1800s was the Robin Hood of all congressional action, taking power from President Andrew Johnson and given power to the freedmen.
The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed by Congress, after being vetoed by President Andrew Johnson. The main goal was to offer citizenship to anyone born in the United States regardless of what their exterior appeared to be. It was issued to counter act the Black Codes, a selection of southern laws that attempted to circumvent what the 13th amendment said in reference to slavery. The rest of the Civil Rights Act said that all citizens should have equal benefits of the law and, it was deemed unlawful for anyone to deprive another person of their rights on racial basis. The Civil Rights Act was a major monumental piece of legislation for blacks in America. (Tindall 499)
The first of the Reconstruction legislation was the Military Reconstruction Act passed in 1867. It gave guidelines for the South that dictated how the new governments should be formed. This intended to open up the terms of restoration, and give power to the military leaders. On the same day, the Command of the Army Act and the Tenure of Office Act were passed. These both were aimed at restricting Johnson's power. The Command of the Army Act necessitated that the general of the army has legal control over the orders of the commander in chief. The Tenure of Office Act explained that the president must go through the Senate to remove anyone the Senate put in place. This was to protect Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, who sided with the Radical Republicans (Tindall 500-501).
People lost favor in President Johnson and his prejudice towards African Americans. He was short tempered, illiterate and lacked self control. He did not oppose slavery, but defended the Union. (Tindall 495). He had lost power, altogether, in Congress by 1866. The Radical Republicans unsuccessfully tried to impeach Johnson in 1867, but set himself up the second time around with the Tenure of Office Act. The Radical Republicans seized the opportunity to try Johnson of an indictable cause to impeach. However, the senate failed to remove him (Tindall 502-503). The entire Civil Rights legislature seems to have been, up to this point, undermining a racist Johnson and giving power to the African American population of the United States.
In response to the KKK insurgence, President Grant responded with the Enforcement Acts of 1870. These were intended to protect black voters. The first act supplied punishments for people who tried to take away any citizen's right to vote. The second act required federal supervisors to oversee the elections of congressmen. The third, also known as the Ku Klux Klan act, made the work of KKK members illegal. The federal government chased down Klan members and brought a halt to their terrorism (Tindall 512-513).
In May of 1872, The Amnesty Act was passed by Congress. It was a federal law that extended voting rights and opened up office-holding to secessionists from the Civil War, some of whom had been excluded by the 14th Amendment. However, it expelled approximately 500 army leaders from the Confederacy, affecting nearly 200,000 troops who had partaken in the war (The Mississippi Valley Historical Review).
The legislation from the mid-1800s offered a general idea of what the air of the South was like after the Civil War. The North was trying to regulate and reassert their victory. The Radical Republicans stripped power from the makeshift president, after Lincoln's death, and enforced their rules of equality upon the South. While the whites did retaliate, the key civil rights legislation kept them in check and punished those who deserved retribution.
Frazier, Thomas. Afro-American History. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company,
Tindall, George, and David Shi. America: A Narrative History. New York: W. W.
Norton & Company , n.d. Print.
"The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 47, No. 3 (Dec., 1960), pp. 480-484".