Acts of State Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In this section we encounter the various legislative acts that were developed to address the needs of the South as a whole and the freedmen in particular. Most of these laws went through fiery trials in the Capitol, as competing voices had their say even while in these early years of Reconstruction the radical Republicans held sway. In the first of the laws (or “bills,” as the case may be) examined here, the Freedmen's Bureau is established–at a time when the war had yet to draw to a close. This bureau came to perform a noted role in bringing former slaves into the economic system and the wider sociopolitical arena, doing so by extending federal power at the expense of the states. It was, however, never a model of effective government and suffered from various problems that are discussed here and elsewhere in the book.

In this section we encounter the various legislative acts that were developed to address the needs of the South as a whole and the freedmen in particular. Most of these laws went through fiery trials in the Capitol, as competing voices had their say even while in these early years of Reconstruction the radical Republicans held sway. In the first of the laws (or “bills,” as the case may be) examined here, the Freedmen's Bureau is established–at a time when the war had yet to draw to a close. This bureau came to perform a noted role in bringing former slaves into the economic system and the wider sociopolitical arena, doing so by extending federal power at the expense of the states. It was, however, never a model of effective government and suffered from various problems that are discussed here and elsewhere in the book.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866, also discussed here, laid out some basic rights such as economic rights and a provision for equal treatment under the law. The latter provision, of course, is a Constitutional one, but in the 1866 law it is re-stated so as to apply to all persons regardless of race and regardless of prior status (such as having been a slave). The law, moreover, affirms that all persons born in the United States are citizens, regardless of any conditions.

Following the Civil Rights Act came the first and second Reconstruction acts, both of which imposed military controls on the South. These were wide-ranging laws that greatly expanded federal oversight, yet they were enacted, in part, because Southern resistance to the radical Republicans' agenda was already evident. Martial law, in one form or another, seemed the most direct measure to ensure that Reconstruction proceeded. It also prodded the former Confederate states that had not yet been readmitted to the Union to satisfy the requirements–such as ratifying the Fourteenth Amendment.

Political infighting is also on display in the present section, chiefly in the form of an analysis of the articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson. Johnson the Democrat was at odds with the Republican-controlled Congress throughout his tenure, and the battle came to a head in early 1868. Although he managed to escape conviction and serve out his term, in the presidential election later in 1868 Johnson saw the presidency fall back in the hands of the Republicans. Ulysses S. Grant succeeded him and went on to face problems of his own.

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