The Civil War Amendments
The 13th (1865), 14th (1868), and 15th Amendments (1870) were the first amendments made to the U.S. constitution in 60 years. Known collectively as the Civil War Amendments, they were designed to ensure the equality for recently emancipated slaves.
While the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) officially ended slavery within the U.S., many citizens were concerned that the rights granted by war-time legislation would be overturned. The Republican Party controlled congress and pushed for constitutional amendments that would be more permanent and binding. The three amendments prohibited slavery, granted citizenship rights to all people born or naturalized in the U.S. regardless of race, and prohibited governments from infringing on voting rights based on race or past servitude.
The 13th Amendment
This amendment explicitly banned slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States. An exception was made for punishment of a crime. This amendment also gave Congress the power to enforce the article through legislation.
The 14th Amendment
This amendment set out the definitions and rights of citizenship in the United States. The first clause asserted that anyone born or naturalized in the U.S. is a citizen of the U.S. and of the state in which they live. It also confirmed the right to due process, life, liberty, and property. This overturned the Dredd Scott v. Sandford (1857) Supreme Court ruling that stated that Black people were not eligible for citizenship.
The amendment also defined the formula for determining political representation by apportioning representatives among states based on a count of all residents as whole persons. This contrasted with the pre-Civil War compromise that counted enslaved people as three-fifth in representation enumeration. Southern slave owners wanted slaves counted as whole people to increase the representation of southern states in Congress. Even after the 14th Amendment, native people not paying taxes were not counted for representation.
Finally, the amendment dealt with the Union officers, politicians, and debt. It banned any person who had engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the U.S. from holding civil or military office. Finally, it declared that no debt undertaken by the Confederacy would be assumed by the United States.
The 15th Amendment
This amendment prohibited governments from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote based on race, color, or past servitude Figure 1.
While the amendment provided legal protection for voting rights based on race there were other means that could be used to block Black citizens from voting. These included poll taxes and literacy tests. These methods were employed around the country to undermine the Civil War Amendments and set the stage for Jim Crow conditions and for the Civil Rights movement.