Civil Rights Act of 1866 Summary and Analysis

Summary and Analysis

In the wake of the American Civil War, politicians were divided into two camps: the progressive Republicans, who pushed for greater civil rights, and the conservative Democrats, who sought to sustain the status quo. By 1866, the Republicans had secured two major legislative victories. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1863, effectively freed all American slaves. The Thirteenth Amendment, passed in 1864, formally prohibited slavery. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 serves as an additional pillar to strengthen the Thirteenth Amendment. The act defines American citizenship and clarifies that all American citizens are equal before the law. Paired with the Civil Rights Act, the Thirteenth Amendment unequivocally bestows freedom and full rights to all black Americans, including former slaves. With the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to arrive in 1868 and 1870, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 is one of a series of powerfully progressive laws passed in the Reconstruction Era. Although President Andrew Johnson vetoed the act, Congress responded by overriding his veto with a landslide vote on April 6, 1866.

Summary of the Civil Rights Act of 1866:

  • Section 1 declares that all natural-born Americans are citizens, regardless of their former status as slaves. The section grants the full rights of American citizenship to those citizens.
  • Section 2 prohibits any person from depriving another citizen of rights and freedoms. The section specifically bans the deprivation of an American “by reason of his color or race.”
  • Section 3 outlines the creation of a court system designed to oversee civil rights trials. This section seeks to interlace the state court systems with the federal court system, thereby producing standards for adjudicating civil rights cases.
  • Section 4 proposes the creation...

(The entire section is 1,115 words.)