The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Civil Rights Bills

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CIVIL RIGHTS BILLS. 1. An act to carry out the intention of the 13th Amendment, prohibiting slavery — which it was alleged the Southern States were attempting to nullify by public and private action — and secure the political equality of the ex-slaves with the whites. It provided that all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, were citizens of the United States and entitled to the same immunities, irrespective of race or color, or previous condition of servitude, except as punishment for crime; punished as a misdemeanor any deprival of such right under color of State law; transferred cognizance of such cases from the State to the Federal courts; entrusted the execution of the act to national officers only, and fined them for refusal; punished resistance to the officers; provided for fees; empowered the President to send officers to any district where the act was likely to be violated, and to call out the national forces to execute it; but permitted an appeal to the Supreme Court. Significantly, it employed somewhat the same means to emancipate the negro which the Fugitive Slave Law did to re-enslave him, especially in overriding or supplanting State officers; and for the same reason — they could not be trusted in the sections where it was to be enforced. The bill was passed in the Senate 2 Feb. 1866, 33 to 12; in the House 13 March, 111 to 38. Andrew Johnson vetoed it 27 March, and it was passed by the requisite two-thirds over his veto, in the Senate 6 April and in the House 9 April. Even so, the debate had brought out two grave doubts of its constitutionality that the protection of civil rights under the Constitution belonged not to Congress but to the States, and that under the Dred Scott decision (which stood as a precedent for the Supreme Court until reversed), negroes could not become citizens even by emancipation. This led to the proposal of the 14th Amendment (see Constitution, Amendments), which passed both Houses in June.

2. An act extending the foregoing to the exclusion of negroes from juries and from equal privileges in schools, public conveyances, hotels, theatres, etc. This had been persistently urged by Charles Sumner, for some years before his death; was offered as an amendment to the Amnesty Bill of 1872, and lost by only one vote; again introduced into the House in December, and referred to a committee; on 30 April 1874, a few weeks after Sumner's death, it passed the Senate, but the House rejected it; it finally passed both Houses in February 1875 and was signed 1 March. For an account of its partial invalidation, see next article.