Adam has a master's degree in history.
Context of the Act
During the period of Reconstruction, which took place between 1863 and 1877, the United States made several attempts to ensure the equal protection of African Americans under the law. The Reconstruction amendments, the Enforcement Acts and the Reconstruction Acts were all an attempt to guarantee the newly acquired rights of African Americans while rebuilding the South. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was the last major aim of the Reconstruction period and was the last piece of civil rights legislation to pass through Congress until 1957.
Defining the Legislation
The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was a far-reaching measure that was introduced to Congress by Massachusetts (Radical) Republican Senator Charles Sumner. This was a piece of legislation that Sumner had attempted to have enacted since the early 1860s. The Act called for the ban on discrimination in public transportation and accommodations. Simply put, the legislation guaranteed equal access to all Americans to schools, churches, shops and railroads. Additionally, the legislation prohibited exclusion of African American citizens from jury duty. Remember it this way: the Fourteenth Amendment provided equal protection for every naturalized American; the Civil Rights Act of 1875 extended those protections to include public services.
Battle in Congress
The civil rights legislation had first appeared in Congress in 1870. It was only in the waning months of 1874 that Senator Sumner made an exaggerated effort to move the legislation to a vote. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, Sumner passed away. Many feared that the legislation would be suspended and eventually forgotten. However, another prominent Massachusetts Senator, George Boutwell, pushed forward with the bill.
Congress debated the bill for several months. The contentious discussions were often polarized over equal access to schools and the right of the federal government to establish state juries. Supporters of the bill eventually had to accept many of their opponents' provisions as a means to move the legislation to a vote. Some of the negotiated terms included the acceptance of segregation in education, as well as the states' right to arrange a jury without the oversight of the federal government.
Toward a Vote
With the details of the pending Civil Rights Act of 1875 ironed out, Congress was able to put the legislation to a vote in February 1875. On February 4, 1875, the House of Representatives passed the measure 162 to 99. Quickly thereafter, the Senate passed the legislation on February 27, 1875, by a narrow vote of 38 to 26. President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law on March 1, 1875. The new law guaranteed equal access to all accommodations while providing monetary compensation to anyone who was denied this right.
It is interesting to note that this legislation faced serious criticism from politicians and the public. Many scholars believe that the eventual passage was out of respect for the fallen Charles Sumner and his desire to see a lasting piece of legislation that would guarantee equal rights to all citizens regardless of color.
Rapid Demise and Legacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1875
The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was monumental in theory. It guaranteed equal access to all citizens to public accommodations, but it failed to have a lasting effect. Often times, the legislation was ignored by southern states and the federal government rarely enforced the act. The legislation met its demise in 1883 when the United States Supreme Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional during the Civil Rights Cases.
During the hearings, the Supreme Court contended that the federal government had the right to regulate the equal protection of its citizens based on the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the court ruled that the federal government did not have the right to control the public and private behavior of individuals, therefore nullifying the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Remember, theaters, shops and railroads were generally owned by private citizens. The law applied to the states, not to the individual.
The Supreme Court ruling that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional paved the way for the future of segregation and discrimination. Southerners prevented access to all African American individuals in regard to public accommodations. By the 1890s, the ruling of the Supreme Court in 1875 established the grounds for Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, and the official establishment of separate but equal facilities for white and black.
After you've completed this lesson, you should be able to:
- Describe the historical background of the Civil Rights Act of 1875
- Recall the primary supporter of the Act and the Act's content
- Summarize the battle in Congress and the vote over the Act
- Explain when, where and how the Act was declared unconstitutional
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack