The Reconstruction Amendments: The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments

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  • 0:07 The Reconstruction Amendments
  • 1:48 Thirteenth Amendment
  • 2:48 Fourteenth Amendment
  • 4:23 Fifteenth Amendment
  • 4:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

Between 1865 and 1870, during the historical era known as Reconstruction, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified to establish political equality for all Americans. Together, they are known as the Reconstruction Amendments.

The Reconstruction Amendments

The Fourteenth Amendment overturned the Dred Scott Decision
Dred Scott

On October 17, 2006, the population of the United States hit 300,000,000. According to demographers, the famous baby was a little boy, born in Los Angeles County to Mexican parents. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted this little one citizenship at birth. But his heritage (not to mention the illegal status of his parents) brought to light a politically charged question: should children born on U.S. soil automatically become American citizens? It's not actually a new question.

Back in 1857, a Supreme Court case known as the Dred Scott Decision determined that black Americans were not citizens. The Fourteenth Amendment overturned that ruling, stating that 'All persons born or naturalized in the United States...are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.' This was one of three Constitutional amendments aimed at establishing political equality for Americans of any race.

Together, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are referred to as the Reconstruction Amendments. They address slavery, citizenship and voting rights. The Radical Republicans didn't always have the purest motives, they didn't always use the most democratic methods of achieving their goals and America is still not always perfectly equal. But history has proven that the controversial Reconstruction Amendments, which were designed to guarantee the rights of freed slaves, have helped to create one of the most free, most democratic societies in the world today.

Thirteenth Amendment

Gradual abolition began soon after the Revolution in Pennsylvania, and for nearly a century, various states and territories either abolished slavery or prohibited it from the outset. Then came the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which legally freed all slaves held within rebellious states - but not those within Union border states like Missouri and Maryland. At the end of the Civil War in 1865, slavery was still not technically illegal in America.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery but allowed for the use of inmate labor
Inmate Labor

On December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery within the United States and its territories. It reads: 'Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.' The exception that allows servitude as punishment for a crime allows prisons to use inmate labor.

Fourteenth Amendment

With five separate sections, the Fourteenth is the lengthiest of the Reconstruction Amendments. The most significant and far-reaching was the first section, stipulating that 'All persons born or naturalized in the United States...are citizens.' It also explicitly declares that states may not deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Later sections address suffrage, the right to hold public office, war debts and compensation for emancipation.

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