American Civil War and Reconstruction Timeline

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American Civil War and Reconstruction Timeline


November 6: Abraham Lincoln elected 16th President of the United States.

December 14: A call is issued from Georgia for a convention to deliberate on a Southern Confederacy.

December 18: The Crittenden Compromise: Last-ditch effort to resolve the secession crisis of 1860-61 by political negotiation.

December 20: South Carolina secedes from the Union. When Abraham Lincoln was elected president, the South Carolina legislature perceived a threat. Calling a state convention, the delegates voted to remove the state of South Carolina from the union. The Secession of South Carolina was followed by the secession of six more states -- Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas -- and the threat of Secession by four more -- Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. These eleven states eventually formed the Confederate States of America.


January 9: Mississippi secedes from the Union.
January 10: Florida secedes from the Union.
January 11: Alabama secedes from the Union.

January 19: Georgia secedes from the Union.

January 21: New York legislature and other free states pledge support to the Union.
January 26:
Louisiana secedes from the Union.
January 29: Kansas admitted to the Union as a free state.
February 1 - Texas secedes from the Union.

February 27: House of Representatives rejects the Crittenden Compromise.

February 8: The South Creates a Government.
At a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, the seven seceding states created the Confederate Constitution, a document similar to the United States Constitution, but with greater stress on the autonomy of each state.

February 18: Jefferson Davis inaugurated as President of the Confederacy, and Alexander H. Stephens inaugurated as Vice-President. Stephens stated at his inauguration: “Our government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races . . . Its corner stone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man. This . . . government is the first in the history of the world, based on this great physical and moral truth.”

February: The South Seizes Federal Forts.
When President Buchanan -- Lincoln's predecessor -- refused to surrender southern federal forts to the seceding states, southern state troops seized them. At Fort Sumter, South Carolina troops repulsed a supply ship trying to reach federal forces based in the fort. The ship was forced to return to New York, its supplies undelivered.

March 4: Crittenden Compromise finally comes before the Senate and is defeated, 19-20.

March 4: Lincoln's Inauguration.
At Lincoln's inauguration the new president said he had no plans to end slavery in those states where it already existed, but he also said he would not accept secession. He hoped to resolve the national crisis without warfare.

March 11: Confederate Constitution.

April 12: Attack on Fort Sumter.
When President Lincoln planned to send supplies to Fort Sumter, he alerted the state in advance, in an attempt to avoid hostilities. South Carolina, however, feared a trick. On April 10, 1861, Brig. Gen. Beauregard, in command of the provisional Confederate forces at Charleston, South Carolina, demanded the surrender of the Union garrison of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The Garrison commander Anderson refused. On April 12, Confederate batteries opened fire on the fort, which was unable to reply effectively. At 2:30 p.m., April 13, Major Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter, evacuating the garrison on the following day. The bombardment of Fort Sumter was the opening engagement of the American Civil War. Although there were no casualties during the bombardment, one Union artillerist was killed and three wounded (one mortally) when a cannon exploded prematurely when firing a salute during the evacuation.
From 1863 to 1865, the Confederates at Fort Sumter withstood a 22 month siege by Union forces. During this time, most of the fort was reduced to brick rubble. Fort Sumter became a national monument in 1948.

April 15: President Lincoln announces that an insurrection was in progress and calls for all loyal states to supply troops.

April 17: Virginia secedes from the Union.

With Virginia's secession, Richmond was named the Confederate capitol.

May 6: Arkansas secedes from the Union.

May 20: North Carolina secedes from the Union.

June 1861: West Virginia Is Born.
Residents of the western counties of Virginia did not wish to secede along with the rest of the state. This section of Virginia was admitted into the Union as the state of West Virginia on June 20, 1863.

June 1861: Four Slave (Border) States Stay in the Union.
Despite their acceptance of slavery, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri did not join the Confederacy. Although divided in their loyalties, a combination of political maneuvering and Union military pressure kept these states from seceding.

July 21: First Manassas / First Bull Run

First major land battle of the armies in Virginia.  On July 16, 1861, the untried Union army under Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell marched from Washington against the Confederate army, which was drawn up behind Bull Run beyond Centreville.

On the 21st, McDowell crossed at Sudley Ford and attacked the Confederate left flank on Matthews Hill. Fighting raged throughout the day as Confederate forces were driven back to Henry Hill.  Late in the afternoon, Confederate reinforcements (one brigade arriving by rail from the Shenandoah Valley) extended and broke the Union right flank.

The Federal retreat rapidly deteriorated into a rout. Although victorious, Confederate forces were too disorganized to pursue. Confederate Gen. Bee and Col. Bartow were killed. Thomas J. Jackson earned the nom de guerre "Stonewall." By July 22, the shattered Union army reached the safety of Washington.

This battle convinced the Lincoln administration that the war would be a long and costly affair. McDowell was relieved of command of the Union army and replaced by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, who set about reorganizing and training the troops.

July 22 and July 25: The House of Representatives and Senate, on these respective dates, pass the Crittenden Resolution, affirming the fact that the war was being fought to preserve the Union and not to interfere with slavery.

July – November: Blockade of the South.
To blockade the coast of the Confederacy effectively, the federal navy had to be improved. By July, the effort at improvement had made a difference and an effective blockade had begun. The South responded by building small, fast ships that could outmaneuver Union vessels. On November 7, 1861, Captain Samuel F. Dupont's warships silenced Confederate guns in Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard. This victory enabled General Thomas W. Sherman's troops to occupy first Port Royal and then all the famous Sea Islands of South Carolina.

August16: Confederate states declared to be in a state of insurrection by President Lincoln.


January: Abraham Lincoln Takes Action. On January 27, President Lincoln issued a war order authorizing the Union to launch a unified aggressive action against the Confederacy. General McClellan ignored the order.

March 8: McClellan Loses Command.
President Lincoln -- impatient with General McClellan's inactivity -- issues an order reorganizing the Army of Virginia and relieving McClellan of supreme command. McClellan was given command of the Army of the Potomac, and ordered to attack Richmond. This marked the beginning of the Peninsular Campaign.

March 8-9: Hampton Roads / Battle of the Ironclads

"Monitor" and the "Merrimac (Virginia)." In an attempt to reduce the North's great naval advantage, Confederate engineers converted a scuttled Union frigate, the U.S.S. Merrimac, into an iron-sided vessel rechristened the C.S.S. Virginia. On March 9, in the first naval engagement between ironclad ships, the Monitor fought the Virginia to a draw, but not before the Virginia had sunk two wooden Union warships off Norfolk, Va.

April 6: The Battle of Shiloh.
On April 6, Confederate forces attacked Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant at Shiloh, Tennessee. By the end of the day, the federal troops were almost defeated. Yet, during the night, reinforcements arrived, and by the next morning the Union commanded the field. When Confederate forces retreated, the exhausted federal forces did not follow. Casualties were heavy -- 13,000 out of 63,000 Union soldiers died, and 11,000 of 40,000 Confederate troops were killed.

April 16: Confederate states enact conscription.

April: The Peninsular Campaign.
In April, General McClellan's troops left northern Virginia to begin the Peninsular Campaign. By May 4, they occupied Yorktown, Virginia. At Williamsburg, Confederate forces prevented McClellan from meeting the main part of the Confederate army, and McClellan halted his troops, awaiting reinforcements.

May 1862: "Stonewall" Jackson Defeats Union Forces.
Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, commanding forces in the Shenandoah Valley, attacked Union forces in late March, forcing them to retreat across the Potomac. As a result, Union troops were rushed to protect Washington, D.C.

May 31: The Battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks).
The Confederate army attacked federal forces at Seven Pines, almost defeating them; last-minute reinforcements saved the Union from a serious defeat. Confederate commander Joseph E. Johnston was severely wounded, and command of the Army of Northern Virginia fell to Robert E. Lee.

July 11: Major-General Henry Halleck was named general-in-chief of the Union army.

August 29-30: Second Battle of Bull Run – Union General John Pope defeated.

September 4: Army of northern Virginia crosses Potomac river to invade Maryland. Union General McClellan defeats Lee at South Mountain and Crampton's Gap in September, but did not move quickly enough to save Harper's Ferry, which fell to Confederate General Jackson on September 15, along with a great number of men and supplies.

September 17: Antietam - bloodiest day of the war – battle allows Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation
Confederate forces under Lee were caught by McClellan near Sharpsburg, Maryland. This battle proved to be the bloodiest day of the war; 2,108 Union soldiers were killed and 9,549 wounded -- 2,700 Confederates were killed and 9,029 wounded. The battle had no clear winner, but because Lee withdrew to Va., McClellan was considered the victor.

The battle convinced the British and French -- who were contemplating official recognition of the Confederacy -- to reserve action, and gave Lincoln the opportunity to announce his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which would free all slaves in areas rebelling against the United States, effective January 1, 1863.

September 22: The first draft of Emancipation Proclamation read to the cabinet by Lincoln.

November 7: General McClellan replaced by Ambrose E. Burnside. McClellan’s slow movements, combined with Lee's escape, dismayed many in the North, causing Lincoln to replace McClellan with Burnside.

December 11-15: The Battle of Fredericksburg.
Burnside's forces were defeated in a series of attacks against entrenched Confederate forces at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Burnside was replaced with General Joseph Hooker.


January 1: Emancipation Proclamation Issued.
In an effort to placate the slave-holding border states, Lincoln had resisted the demands of radical Republicans for complete abolition. Congress had been moving toward abolition: in 1861, Congress passed an act stating that all slaves employed against the Union were to be considered free; in 1862, another act stated that all slaves of men who supported the Confederacy were to be considered free. Lincoln, aware of the public's growing support of abolition, issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves in areas still in rebellion were, in the eyes of the federal government, free.

March: North enacts Conscription Act.
Because of recruiting difficulties, an act was passed making all men between the ages of 20 and 45 liable to be called for military service. Service could be avoided by paying a fee or finding a substitute. The act was seen as unfair to the poor, and riots in working-class sections of New York City broke out in protest. A similar conscription act in the South provoked a similar reaction.

April 30 - May 6: The Battle of Chancellorsville.
April 27, Union General Hooker crossed the Rappahannock River to attack General Lee. Lee split his army, attacking a surprised Union army in three places, almost completely defeating them. Hooker withdrew, giving the South a victory, but it was a very costly victory in terms of casualties.

May 1863: Vicksburg Campaign.
Union General Grant won several victories around Vicksburg, Mississippi, the fortified city considered essential to the Union's plans to regain control of the Mississippi River. On May 22, Grant began a siege of the city.

June 13: Gettysburg Campaign Begins.
Confederate General Lee decides to take the war to the enemy. On June 13, he defeated Union forces at Winchester, Virginia, and continued north to Pennsylvania. General Hooker, who had been planning to attack Richmond, was instead forced to follow Lee. Hooker, never comfortable with his commander, General Halleck, resigned on June 28, and General George Meade replaced him as commander of the Army of the Potomac.

June 20: West Virginia admitted to the Union

July 1 - 3: Battle of Gettysburg
A chance encounter between Union and Confederate forces began the Battle of Gettysburg. In the fighting that followed, Meade had greater numbers and better defensive positions. He won the battle, but failed to follow Lee as he retreated back to Virginia. Militarily, the Battle of Gettysburg was the high-water mark of the Confederacy; it is also significant because it ended Confederate hopes of formal recognition by foreign governments.

July 4: Vicksburg campaign ends as Vicksburg falls to Grant, surrendering 30,000 men. The capture of Port Hudson, Louisiana, shortly thereafter placed the entire Mississippi River in Union hands. The Confederacy was now split in two.

November 19: Gettysburg Address

President Lincoln dedicated a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield as a national cemetery, and delivered his memorable "Gettysburg Address."

November: Battle of Chattanooga.

Grant, brought in to save the situation, steadily built up offensive strength, and on November 23- 25 burst the blockade in a series of brilliantly executed attacks. Union forces pushed Confederate troops away from Chattanooga. The victory set the stage for General Sherman's Atlanta Campaign.


May: Grant's Wilderness Campaign
General Grant, promoted to commander of the Union armies, planned to engage Lee's forces in Virginia until they were destroyed. North and South met and fought in an inconclusive three- day battle in the Wilderness. Lee inflicted more casualties on the Union forces than his own army incurred, but unlike Grant, he had no replacements.

May: The Battle of Spotsylvania.
General Grant continued to attack Lee. At Spotsylvania Court House, he fought for five days, vowing to fight all summer if necessary.

June: Battle of Cold Harbor.
Grant again attacked Confederate forces at Cold Harbor, losing over 7,000 men in twenty minutes. Although Lee suffered fewer casualties, his army never recovered from Grant's continual attacks. This was Lee's last clear victory of the war.

June: Siege of Petersburg.
Grant hoped to take Petersburg, below Richmond, and then approach the Confederate capital from the south. The attempt failed, resulting in a ten month siege and the loss of thousands of lives on both sides. Grant steadily extending his lines westward.

July: Confederate Troops Approach Washington, D.C.
Confederate General Jubal Early led his forces into Maryland to relieve the pressure on Lee's army. Early got within five miles of Washington, D.C., but on July 13, he was driven back to Virginia.

August: General Sherman's Atlanta Campaign.
Union General Sherman departs from Chattanooga, and was soon met by Confederate General Joseph Johnston. Skillful strategy enabled Johnston to hold off Sherman's force -- almost twice the size of Johnston's. However, Johnston's tactics caused his superiors to replace him with General John Bell Hood, who was soon defeated. Hood surrendered Atlanta, Georgia, on September 1; Sherman occupied the city the next day. The fall of Atlanta greatly boosted Northern morale.

September-November: Sherman in Atlanta
After three and a half months of incessant maneuvering and much hard fighting, Sherman forced Hood to abandon Atlanta, the munitions center of the Confederacy. Sherman remained there, resting his war-worn men and accumulating supplies, for nearly two-and-a-half months.

November: Sherman's March to the Sea.
General Sherman continued his march through Georgia to the sea. In the course of the march, he cut himself off from his source of supplies, planning for his troops to live off the land. His men cut a path 300 miles in length and 60 miles wide as they passed through Georgia, destroying factories, bridges, railroads, and public buildings.

November: Abraham Lincoln Is Re-Elected.
The Republican Party nominated President Lincoln as its presidential candidate, and Andrew Johnson for vice-president. The Democratic party chose General George B. McClellan for president, and George Pendleton for vice-president. At one point, widespread war-weariness in the North made a victory for Lincoln seem doubtful. In addition, Lincoln's veto of the Wade-Davis Bill -- requiring the majority of the electorate in each Confederate state to swear past and future loyalty to the Union before the state could officially be restored -- lost him the support of Radical Republicans who thought Lincoln too lenient. However, Sherman's victory in Atlanta boosted Lincoln's popularity and helped him win re-election by a wide margin.

December: Sherman at the Sea
After marching through Georgia for a month, Sherman stormed Fort McAllister on December 13, 1864, and captured Savannah itself eight days later.

January: Confederacy begins to fall.
Transportation problems and successful blockades caused severe shortages of food and supplies in the South. Starving soldiers began to desert Lee's forces, and although President Jefferson Davis approved the arming of slaves as a means of augmenting the shrinking army, the measure was never put into effect.

February: Sherman Marches through North and South Carolina.
Union General Sherman moved from Georgia through South Carolina, destroying almost everything in his path.

February: A Chance for Reconciliation Is Lost.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis agreed to send delegates to a peace conference with President Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward, but insisted on Lincoln's recognition of the South's independence as a prerequisite. Lincoln refused, and the conference never occurred.

March 4: Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see

the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care

for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may

achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

April: The Fall of Richmond.
On March 25, General Lee attacked General Grant's forces near Petersburg, but was defeated -- losing again on April 1. On April 2, Lee evacuated Richmond, the Confederate capital, and headed west to join with other forces.

April 9: Lee Surrenders at Appomattox Courthouse.
General Lee's troops were soon surrounded, and on April 7, Grant called upon Lee to surrender. On April 9, the two commanders met at Appomattox Courthouse, and agreed on the terms of surrender. Lee's men were sent home on parole -- soldiers with their horses, and officers with their side arms. All other equipment was surrendered.

April 14: Assassination of President Lincoln / Andrew Johnson becomes President.
As President Lincoln was watching a performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., he was shot by John Wilkes Booth, an actor from Maryland obsessed with avenging the Confederate defeat. Lincoln died the next morning. Booth escaped to Virginia. Eleven days later, cornered in a burning barn, Booth was fatally shot. Nine other people were involved in the assassination; four were hanged, four imprisoned, and one acquitted.

April 14 to June 2: Final Surrenders among Remaining Confederate Troops.
Remaining Confederate troops were defeated between the end of April and the beginning of June.

May 10: Jefferson Davis captured in Georgia. While it is rumored he was wearing women’s clothing in an attempt to escape, there is little historical evidence to support this.(see story below)

On May 27, 1865, Harper's Weekly featured a cartoon about the capture of Jefferson Davis.

Jefferson Davis As An Unprotected Female!

"He is one of those rare types of humanity born to control destiny, or to accept, without murmur, annihilation as the natural consequence of failure."--N. Y. Daily News, May 15, 1865

Jefferson Davis was captured by Union troops on May 10, 1865. 
This unsigned Harper's Weekly cartoon reflects the widespread rumor that Davis had tried to escape by dressing as a woman.  The artist pictures him in a hoop skirt and bonnet, carrying a hatbox labeled "C. S." for "Confederate States." 
The image is intended to contradict the stoic description of Davis conveyed by the quotation from the New York Daily News, a major voice of the Peace Democrats ("Copperheads").

On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.  Davis believed that a guerrilla war could still be fought, but Lee and General Joseph Johnston rejected the strategy as futile.  Davis's wife, Varina, and children had already left the Confederate capital of Richmond on March 27, and the Confederate president set out on the evening of April 10 to join them in Greensboro, North Carolina.  The Davis party continued southward toward Florida, where they hoped to catch a boat for Texas.  Once there, Davis would direct the continued fighting of the Confederate troops under General Kirby Smith. (Smith's Trans-Mississippi Department was the last Confederate force to surrender, June 2, 1865).

At the break of dawn on May 10, the Davis encampment was awakened by gunfire.  Union cavalry troops were seen approaching in the distance, and a pleading Varina Davis convinced her husband to escape while he could.  Inside the darkened tent, Jefferson Davis put on what he probably thought was his overcoat and departed for a nearby swamp.  He had accidentally donned his wife's raglan (a cloak-like overcoat).  Mrs. Davis threw her shawl over his head to obscure his identity, and then sent her female servant with a bucket to walk with her husband as if they were fetching water.  

The Union soldiers probably thought at first that the two figures were both women, but then a corporal noticed the spurs on Davis's boots.  The corporal rode over to the two, and pointed his gun at Davis, asking his identity.  The Confederate president considered lunging at the federal officer and making a break for it, but his wife ran to her husband and threw her arms around him.  The soldiers soon realized whom they had captured, and the Davis party was escorted to Macon, Georgia, the headquarters of General James Wilson, the Union commander of the region.

From Macon, Davis was transported to Fort Monroe in Virginia.  The arresting officers had not reported anything unusual, but gossip soon spread among soldiers not on the scene that Davis had been wearing women's clothing when he escaped.  By May 13, the rumor had reached the ears of Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War.  He obtained "eyewitness" accounts from men who wanted part of the $100,000 reward money offered for Davis's capture, and passed word of the incident along to the Union press.  Stanton recognized that the story, which threw suspicion on Davis's masculinity and bravery by depicting him as a cross-dressing coward, was an excellent opportunity to humiliate Davis and thus undermine any attempt to portray him as a hero or martyr.

On May 23, to gain more credence for the story, a U.S. army officer ordered Mrs. Davis to hand over her raglan and she innocently complied.  When he returned the next day for her shawl, she was suspicious of his motive but forced to surrender the garment.  Davis himself had already heard whispered remarks about his womanly flight, and both he and his wife soon saw the newspaper articles and cartoons. 

When Stanton viewed the clothing, though, he knew it would not be helpful for propaganda purposes.  Mrs. Davis's raglan was not only nearly identical to her husband's, but was similar to the standard raincoat worn by Union soldiers.  The shawl, too, was not unlike that worn by many men of the period, including the late President Abraham Lincoln, to keep warm in the poorly heated buildings of the day. Stanton therefore had the garments placed in a War Department safe, where they remained for decades.  

The War Secretary slightly altered his account of Davis's capture by stating that the former Confederate president tried to flee while wearing a woman's coat and shawl, but not a dress.  The Northern press, however, continued to depict Davis in hoop skirt, petticoat, and other clearly feminine articles of clothing.  Davis was mortified by the false accounts, and it added to his depression during his two-year incarceration.  

Davis was finally released on bail in May 1867.  He published his memoirs in 1881, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, still upholding the virtue of the Confederate "lost cause."  In October 1978, Congress and President Jimmy Carter posthumously restored Davis's American citizenship.  

November 10: The Execution of Captain Henry Wirz
The notorious superintendent of the Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia, was tried by a military commission presided over by General Lew Wallace from August 23 to October 24, 1865, and was hanged in the yard of the Old Capitol Prison.

December 18, 1865: Thirteenth Amendment to Constitution, abolishing slavery, ratified after approval by 27 states. The 13th amendment was proposed to the legislatures of the several States by the Thirty-eighth Congress, on January 31, 1865, and was declared, in a proclamation of the Secretary of State, dated December 18, 1865, to have been ratified by the legislatures of twenty-seven of the thirty-six States. The dates of ratification were: Illinois, February 1, 1865; Rhode Island, February 2, 1865; Michigan, February 2, 1865; Maryland, February 3, 1865; New York, February 3, 1865; Pennsylvania, February 3, 1865; West Virginia, February 3, 1865; Missouri, February 6, 1865; Maine, February 7, 1865; Kansas, February 7, 1865; Massachusetts, February 7, 1865; Virginia, February 9, 1865; Ohio, February 10, 1865; Indiana, February 13, 1865; Nevada, February 16, 1865; Louisiana, February 17, 1865; Minnesota, February 23, 1865; Wisconsin, February 24, 1865; Vermont, March 9, 1865; Tennessee, April 7, 1865; Arkansas, April 14, 1865; Connecticut, May 4, 1865; New Hampshire, July 1, 1865; South Carolina, November 13, 1865; Alabama, December 2, 1865; North Carolina, December 4, 1865; Georgia, December 6, 1865. Ratification was completed on December 6, 1865. The amendment was next ratified by Oregon, December 8, 1865; California, December 19, 1865; Florida, December 28, 1865 (Florida again ratified on June 9, 1868, upon its adoption of a new constitution); Iowa, January 15, 1866; New Jersey, January 23, 1866 (after having rejected the amendment on March 16, 1865); Texas, February 18, 1870; Delaware, February 12, 1901 (after having rejected the amendment on February 8, 1865); Kentucky, March 18, 1976 (after having rejected it on February 24, 1865). Mississippi rejected the amendment, December 4, 1865.

July 9, 1868: Fourteenth Amendment to Constitution ratified. The Fourteenth Amendment was originally ratified to protect the freedman from the abrogation of his rights by the Southern states. Looking to protect the African American, the amendment made him a citizen and forced the federal government to be responsible for him. The Fourteenth Amendment prohibited the States from denying or abridging the fundamental rights of every citizen and required them to grant all persons equal protection and due process. Southern states were required to ratify it in order to be readmitted into the Union. However, the Supreme Court's ruling in the 1873 Slaughterhouse cases diluted the amendment so much that all federal control over state police powers was virtually eliminated.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the states wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The Fourteenth Amendment was also very important much later on, in the 1950s and 1960s. While originally constructed to deal with the rights of freedmen, cases such as Brown v. Board of Education turned to a quite similar issue. Its interpretation came to be the legal heart of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The Fourteenth Amendment was arguably the most important of all. It radically changed the definition of the United States citizen.

February 3, 1870: Fifteenth Amendment ratified. The last of the Reconstruction Amendments, the Fifteenth Amendment was designed to close the last loophole in the establishment of civil rights for newly-freed black slaves. It ensured that a person's race, color, or prior history as a slave could not be used to bar that person from voting. Though a noble idea, it had little practical effect for quite some time, as the Southern states found myriad ways to intimidate blacks to keep them from voting. Many women were upset that the Fifteenth Amendment did not include them. Reconstruction Plans: ↓

Lincoln And Johnson's Plans for Reconstruction

Radical Republicans' Plans

"With malice toward none, with charity for all" Lincoln
Both Lincoln and Johnson supported lenient plans for Reconstruction.
10% Plan (Lincoln): Once ten percent of a southern state's 1860 voters had taken an oath of loyalty, the state could rejoin the Union.
Both Lincoln and Johnson provided for a generous amnesty to allow Southerners to retain their property and reacquire their political rights.


Johnson supported the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery but was reluctant to support Black suffrage believing this was an issue for states.

"Congress alone can do it... Congress must create states and declare whether they are to be represented." -- Thaddeus Stevens

Believed the South should be punished for starting the war and hoped to protect the rights of Freedmen.

Extended the Freedmen's Bureau (Over Johnson's Veto) to provide food, clothing, shelter, and education to freedmen.

Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Passed over Johnson's Veto) designed to grant freedmen legal equality, undercutting the Black Codes

Reconstruction Act of 1867 (Passed over Johnson's Veto)

  • Divided the South into 5 districts and placed them under military rule (disbanded governments readmitted under Lincoln/Johnson plans)

  • Required southern states to ratify the 14th Amendment

  • Guaranteed freedmen the right to vote in conventions to write new state constitutions

Failures under Lincoln and Johnson:

Black Codes: Many states passed laws restricting the rights of freedmen

Little attempt was made to address the economic hardships facing freedmen

Southern States admitted under Lincoln/Johnson plan refused to ratify 14th Amendment

These failures contributed to growing support for Radical Republicans

Reconstruction Amendments

13th Amendment: Abolished Slavery

14th Amendment:

  • Declared all person "born or naturalized in the United States" to be citizens.

  • Required "Equal Protection of the Laws"

  • Citizens cannot be denied life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

  • Reduced the representation in Congress of states that did not grant Black Suffrage

  • Banned Confederate officials from taking office

  • Forbade the repayment of confederate War Debt

15th Amendment: The right to vote shall not be denied on the basis of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude"

Black Codes was a name given to laws passed by southern governments established during Reconstruction under the presidency of Andrew Johnson. These laws imposed severe restrictions on freed slaves such as prohibiting their right to vote, forbidding them to sit on juries, limiting their right to testify against white men, carrying weapons in public places and working in certain occupations.

After the Civil War the *Radical Republicans advocated the passing of the Civil Rights Bill, legislation that was designed to protect freed slaves from southern Black Codes. In April 1866, President Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Bill. Johnson told Thomas Fletcher, the governor of Missouri: "This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men." His view on racial equality was clearly defined in a letter to Benjamin French, the commissioner of public buildings: "Everyone would, and must admit, that the white race was superior to the black, and that while we ought to do our best to bring them up to our present level, that, in doing so, we should, at the same time raise our own intellectual status so that the relative position of the two races would be the same."

Radical Republicans re-passed the Civil Rights Bill in 1866 and were also able to get the Reconstruction Acts passed in 1867 and 1868. Despite these acts, white control over Southern state governments was fully restored after the Compromise of 1877, allowing such organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan to frighten blacks from voting in elections.

*Some members of the Republican Party were not only in favor the abolition of slavery but believed that freed slaves should have complete equality with white citizens. This group became known as Radical Republicans. Members included Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, Joshua Giddings, Benjamin Wade, William D. Kelley, Owen Lovejoy, Henry Winter Davis, George W. Julian, John P. Hale, Benjamin Butler, Joseph Medill, Horace Greeley, Oliver Morton, John Logan, James F. Wilson, Timothy Howe, George H. Williams, James Ashley, George Boutwell, John Covode, James Garfield, Hannibal Hamlin, James Harlan, John Andrew, Lyman Trumbull, Benjamin Loan, Wendell Phillips, Charles Drake and Henry Wilson.

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