Constitutional Amendments

In the years immediately following the American Civil War, there were three significant Amendments to the United States Constitution that were created.  They became known as the Reconstruction Amendments.  These three Amendments basically helped to create a new way of life for the United States and helped to “reconstruct” the southern states, as well as the northern states after the war.  The Amendments were the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.

The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865.  This amendment declared slavery and involuntary servitude illegal.  Although many slaves were set free by President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the future of once-enslaved people was still a bit unstable.  Hence, the development of the Thirteenth Amendment.  The northern states quickly ratified this Amendment, with many bordering states following.  With the support of President Johnson, who followed President Lincoln after Lincoln’s assassination, the southern states of Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina also adopted the new Amendment quite quickly.

The second of the Reconstruction Amendments was the Fourteenth Amendment that was formed in 1868.  This Amendment discusses the rights of citizens and equal protection of the laws for all, as well as citizenship within the United States.  This Amendment is arguably one of the most litigated issues in our country.  The right of citizenship following the Civil War was a controversial topic, especially regarding former slaves.  This Amendment has been very influential on more recent, popular trials, such as Brown vs. the Board of Education (regarding race discrimination) and Roe vs. Wade (regarding abortion rights).

The last of the Reconstruction Amendments was the Fifteenth Amendment.  It was created in 1870.  This Amendment guaranteed citizens the right to vote, with indifference to a persons’ race, color, or previous condition of servitude.  A person who has the right to vote can be a very powerful tool, in relation to choosing leadership that benefits the policies a person believes in and the outcome of that person’s everyday life.   

Although the Reconstruction Amendments were ratified during this five-year timespan (1865-1870), not all of the changes occurred easily or without bitterness and arguments.  Initially, these three Amendments were formed in order to create freedom for former slaves and to ensure that their rights, and those of all citizens in the United States, would be protected.  Some of these Amendments were altered by the intervention of state laws and future federal court decisions.  One thing is certain, though, and that is that these three Reconstruction Amendments helped to form a more unified country in the immediate years following the American Civil War.