The Civil War and Reconstruction Amendments

Blacks Voting

(Photo  Credit: Gabriel Hackett /Getty Images)

After the Civil War, three Constitutional Amendments were passed and ratified to provide rights to formerly enslaved Blacks.  These three amendments are often referred to as the Civil War Amendments or Reconstruction Amendments.  With the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it becomes increasingly vital for us to learn more about what our ancestors fought and died for us to have.

13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment furthered the work of the Emancipation Proclamation and abolished slavery.  The Amendment was passed by Congress in January of 1865 and was ratified by the states in December of 1865.  President Andrew Johnson used ratification of the Amendments as a requirement for southern states to rejoin the Union.  Abolishing slavery didn’t eradicate discrimination, however.  By 1865, most southern states had enacted Black Codes, which were laws aimed at limiting the rights of newly freed Blacks.  Racists have always sought ways to circumvent laws and the Constitution to restrict rights and opportunities for minorities in America.  Congress responded to Black Codes by creating the 14th Amendment.

14th Amendment

The 14th Amendment granted Blacks citizenship, “equal protection of the law” and due process rights.  It was illegal, therefore, for states to deny Blacks “equal protection of the law” after ratification of this Amendment.  This Amendment was passed by Congress in June of 1866, and it was ratified by the states in February of 1868.

15th Amendment

The 15th Amendment gave all male American citizens the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  It was ratified in February of 1870.  Black males, therefore, gained the right to vote through this Amendment.  Unfortunately, Jim Crow laws prevented many of them from voting by mandating that they pass literacy tests and pay poll taxes in order to vote.


1.     What did the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution do that brought about many changes in American society and economic structure after the Civil War?

A.    It freed the slaves.

B.     It changed who owned land.

C.    It gave Blacks the right to vote.

D.    It made Blacks U.S. citizens.

 2.    Under the terms of the radical Congressional plan of Reconstruction, what Amendment did a southern state have to ratify before it could rejoin the Union?

A.    15th

B.     16th

C.    13th

D.    14th

 3.    What did the 14th Amendment to the Constitution do?

A.    It gave Blacks citizenship.

B.     It gave Blacks their freedom.

C.    It gave Blacks the right to vote.

D.    It gave Blacks the right to own property.

 4.    What did the 15th Amendment to the Constitution do?

A.    It gave Blacks citizenship.

B.     It gave Blacks their freedom.

C.    It gave Blacks the right to vote.

D.    It gave Blacks the right to own property.

5.    The 14th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in response to the

A.    adoption of laws known as Black Codes by the southern states.

B.     rising violence from terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

C.    refusal of White southerners to provide freedmen with land and farm animals.

D.    refusal of some southern states to adopt constitutional provisions calling for an end to slavery.

Leave your responses to the Quiz as a comment.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Special Needs Doctrine and the Fourth Amendment

4th Amendment (Photo Credit: The Huffington Post)

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”  The U.S. Supreme Court uses three approaches in rendering decisions involving the 4th Amendment: the Warrant Approach, the Reasonableness Approach, and the Special Needs Doctrine.

The Warrant Approach (also known as the Traditional Approach) is the approach the Court uses when it requires probable cause and a warrant to be secured in a case to characterize a search and/or seizure to be legal.  Most people are familiar with the aforementioned approach to the 4th Amendment.  The Reasonableness Approach allows law enforcement to engage in a legal search and/or seizure if there’s reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred and probable cause would eventually be obtained by executing the search and/or seizure.

While I’m sure that some people (maybe many) will believe that the Reasonableness Approach to interpreting the 4th Amendment is problematic enough, the Special Needs Doctrine is much more problematic.  The Special Needs Doctrine is employed by the Court to permit law enforcement the right in emergency cases to conduct searches and seizures without a warrant and without probable cause.  These emergencies cases have to be in the interest of protecting public safety.  This doctrine contends that protecting the public safety is far greater a concern than protecting individual privacy.  The Court recognized that there are emergency cases where obtaining a warrant and probable cause is “impracticable.”  The Court posits that law enforcement should be empowered with the ability to act in the interest of protecting public safety and not compromise public safety simply because it was unrealistic to obtain a warrant and probable cause.

Although I’m a strong supporter of giving government the tools it needs to protect the American people, this doctrine does open up the possibility for law enforcement to invade people’s privacy.  Each time law enforcement acts in the name of “protecting public safety” isn’t an authentic effort to safeguard public safety.  As a student of history, I’m aware that the American government has a history of violating individuals’ privacy for selfish and malicious purposes.  One thing we must continue to work on at the national level is finding the right balance between national security and civil liberties.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison