Civil Rights Act of 1866: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Michelle Jones

Michelle has taught at the elementary level and has earned a master's degree.

The year 1866 began the discussion of civil rights. Congress overrode a President's veto, and civil rights were addressed by the federal government for the first time. Read on to learn more about the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

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.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with paving the way for slaves to be free and gain rights.
Picture of Abraham Lincoln

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.

The House of Representatives celebrating after the passage of the 13th Amendment.
drawing of House of Representatives celebrating the 13th Amendment

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.

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