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Civil Rights Acts of 1866

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Civil Rights Acts of 1866

The Civil Rights act of 1866 was the first time that Congress ever directly legislated on the issue of human rights. In a bitter battle with President Andrew Johnson, the Republican controlled Congress overrode his veto. The Black Codes, which attempted to strip the rights of Black Americans would be ended. The legislation was a Radical Republican political victory that deeply affected the lives of Black Americans.

A black and white political cartoon about President Andrew Johnson Studysmarter Political cartoon critical of President Andrew Johnson/Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Johnson and Congress

Having only inherited the role of President due to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson was an unlikely figure to oversee the reintegration of the Confederate states after the Civil War. Johnson was a slave-owning Southern Democrat who had stayed loyal to the Union during the Civil War. Republicans controlled Congress. Voices within the party, known as Radical Republicans, held views that were strongly opposed to Johnson's ideas on how Southern states should be readmitted to the Union.

Andrew Johnson on States' Rights

Johnson was very sympathetic to White Southerners who resented the new place of Black Americans in southern society. He strongly believed in states' rights and did not believe in racial equality. He did not think that the federal government should be interfering in the types of governments that the former Confederate states wished to set up.

Radical Republicans

Radical Republicans strongly believed in racial equality. They were outraged by the attempts of the Southern states to pass laws that restricted the rights of Black Americans. They believed that full federal power must be brought to bear on the Southern states to effect lasting political and social change.

Causes of the Civil Rights Act of 1866

Although the Emancipation Proclamation had freed the enslaved people of the Confederate States, and the Thirteenth Amendment had ended human enslavement in the entire United States, the South attempted to find any way it could to limit the rights of Black Americans. The Black Codes were created in an attempt to roll back the freedoms that had been gained. Radical Republicans were enraged by these actions. This led to the decision to pursue stronger federal protections for Black Americans.

The Black Codes

The Black Codes were a series of laws that began in Mississippi and South Carolina before spreading to the rest of the former Confederate states. There was no blanket set of laws that covered the entire South but many areas passed similar legislation. The laws restricted Black Americans' ability to own certain property or testify against White Americans in court. Most notoriously, labor contract and vagrancy laws forced Black Americans to either have work lined up for the entire upcoming year or be sentenced to forced labor. While they were technically not enslaved, the labor contract and vagrancy laws forced many Black Americans into labor arrangements with their former owners.

A black and white photograph of Lyman Trumbull StudySmarterLyman Trumbull/Wikimedia Commons

Creation and Passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1866

Republicans in Congress felt that they must wield federal power to protect Black Americans in the South. A bill was drafted that Senator Lylman Trumbull introduced on January 5, 1866. The bill would make all of those born in the United States, with the exception of some Indigenous People, citizens whose rights were protected by the federal government. Despite a presidential veto, the law was passed on April 9, 1866.

Movement through Congress

After entering the Senate, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed by a vote of 33 to 12 on February 2. The bill then quickly moved through the House of Representatives with a vote of 111 to 38 on March 13. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill and delivered an address where he described it as "evil." Despite his objections, both houses of Congress overrode the veto, and the bill became law.

President Andrew Johnson's Veto of the Act

Johnson provided several reasons why he believed that the legislation was unconstitutional. His first was that the bill forced states to accept non-White people as citizens, where state citizenship should be a state-level decision. The second was that it overrode any state's legislation that was in conflict with this new federal legislation. He also opposed the provision that federal military forces could be used to enforce the bill. He generally opposed the bill as granting too much power to the federal government over the states.

Protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1866

The new law stated that anyone born within the United States was a citizen, regardless of their race or enslavement, with the exception of Indigenous People who do not pay taxes. The law also spelled out some clear rights that these individuals now had. These rights covered property, courts, contracts, and punishments for crimes. The bill also gave recourse to enforce the bill through federal courts and with federal troops.

Specific Rights Granted

"to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property"

"to make and enforce contracts"

"to sue, be parties, and give evidence"

"to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other"

Effects of the Civil Rights Act of 1866

The Civil Rights act of 1866 was the beginning of more federal legislation to aid newly free Black Americans. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments would shortly be ratified to bolster protections. With federal opposition, the Black Codes were repealed in the former Confederate States. However, racism found new expressions in violent terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. When the White Southerners who resented the new role of Black Americans in society couldn't use legal means of oppression, they resorted to secret and illegal methods.

Civil Rights Acts of 1866 - Key takeaways

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed in response to laws limiting the rights of Black Americans in former Confederate states
  • The bill was drafted and passed by Republicans in Congress over the veto of President Andrew Johnson
  • Granted citizenship to anyone born in the United States, except certain Indigenous People
  • Spelled out specific rights granted with citizenship
  • Forced repeal of the Black Codes

Frequently Asked Questions about Civil Rights Acts of 1866

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was an act of Congress that defined US citizens as anyone born within US territory and defined some rights which were included with that citizenship.

Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 as a response to the Black Codes infringing on the rights of Black Americans.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 defined US citizens as anyone born within US territory and defined some rights which were included with that citizenship.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 prohibits treating Black and White Americans differently under the law.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was the first time Congress legislated on Civil Rights.  It was also the begining of a wave of legislation including the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments which protected Black Americans 

Final Civil Rights Acts of 1866 Quiz

Question

Why did Andrew Johnson say he didn't support the Civil Rights Act of 1866?

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Answer

States' rights 

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Question

What was the Civil Rights Act of 1866 a response to?

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Answer

The Black Codes 

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Question

What was something that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 did?


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Answer

It made people born inside the United States citizens

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Who was not included in the Civil Rights Act of 1866?

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Answer

Indigenous people who didn't pay taxes 

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Question

What political party supported the Civil Rights Act of 1866?


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Answer

Republican 

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Question

The President vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866

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Answer

True 

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Question

What were specific rights given to citizens in the Civil Rights Act of 1866?

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Answer

"to make and enforce contracts"

"to sue, be parties, and give evidence"

"to inherit, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property"

"to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other"

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Question

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was the first time Congress legislated on civil rights 


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Answer

True 

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Question

Andrew Johnson became president through popular vote 

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Answer

False 

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Question

Congress quickly passed the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 by large margins 

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Answer

True 

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