Michelle has taught at the elementary level and has earned a master's degree.
Inspiration for Civil Rights
In a classroom, there are red chairs and blue chairs. The students who sit in the red chairs are allowed to chew bubble gum during class, but those sitting in blue chairs are not. Does this seem fair? Probably not, especially if you are sitting in a blue chair! Unfair rules and laws are an unfortunate part of American history. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1866, only white males were allowed to own property, provide and sign contracts, and use the legal system to seek justice. A series of events led to all males gaining these rights in 1866, but it still took many more years for females to gain these same rights.
Timeline Leading Up to the Civil Rights Act of 1866
1863: Issued as a military strategy during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation began the process of freeing slaves. In it, Lincoln stated that slaves in rebel states (the states going against the Union), would be free if the Union won. This encouraged many slaves to join the newly formed United States Colored Troops to fight for their freedom.
1864: There was a shift of power in the 1864 election, when many Republicans who wanted to gain and protect the rights of blacks were elected to Congress. This paved the way for government to take charge in the area of civil rights.
1865: The 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, which totally abolished (put an end to) slavery in the United States.
Civil Rights Act of 1866
With everything going their way, the Republican Congress passed the Civil Rights bill introduced by Senator Lyman Trumbull, who wrote the bill. Many members of Congress felt that this was a necessary step after the abolishment of slavery. In its seven sections, the Act has three major points.
First, it states that any male born in the United States is considered a citizen. Before, only white males were considered citizens.
It then goes on to explain what rights U.S. citizens have, including the right to own, buy, and sell property, the right to use the justice system and file lawsuits, and the right to make and carry out contracts. For example, if a black male owned a piece of land, he could now have a contract, a written agreement, with another person to use or sell that land. Also, if that person broke the contract, that black male could now take them to court to seek justice.
Finally, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 makes it illegal to deny citizens these rights based on their color or race.
If we go back to our classroom example, this would be like if all students, regardless of what color seat they were in, were now able to chew gum in class.
Not So Fast, Congress
The year before, in 1865, President Lincoln had been assassinated, making Andrew Johnson President. Johnson didn't support the Civil Rights Act, so when Congress introduced the bill in 1866 he vetoed, or rejected, it and sent it back to them. Luckily, less than three weeks later, a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives voted to override his veto and make it a law.
A Stepping Stone
Notice that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 did not address political and social rights for African Americans. It also did not give rights to women or Native Americans. However, it did provide inspiration and motivation for these later civil rights movements.
After the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment's abolishment of slavery, the stage was set for Congress to propose a civil rights act that would grant black men property, contract, and legal rights. Although President Andrew Jackson vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Congress quickly passed it with a majority vote. This action would be echoed in future civil rights movements.
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