07Feb 2022 by
The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments are often referred to the as the “Civil War Amendments.” Explain the connections between the Civil War and these three amendments. What is the purpose of each? Consider how effectively each amendment was implemented and whether or not the 1877 presidential election influenced their implementation.
INTRO: Introductory Remarks: The amendments were intended to help with restoring the country, essentially through reform and reconstruction. We often hear that Reconstruction was important on the one hand, but had critical areas of failure. Rebuilding the South and bringing it back into the Union was not an easy task. The amendments were intended to help with the general process of Reconstruction. Interestingly, each of these three Amendments recently have been controversial. The debate about the 13th amendment: the Amendment banned slavery “except as a punishment for crime….” This phrase has been seen as a loophole to enslave those charged of a crime. Because of this Kanye West, who has often over-simplified history, has stated that the amendment should be abolished, from what I understand based on his misreading of its purpose. Others have pointed out that the authors intended the amendment to help the United States reconstruct after the Civil War and the current argument using the amendment to justify any form of slavery even by those in prison, is wrong. But they say it would be worse to abolish Amendment. See https://time.com/5411662/kanye-west-13th-amendment-tweets-fact-check/ (Links to an external site.)
The 14th amendment: the wording of the 14th Amendment, states that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” are citizens. This has been understood to mean birthright citizenship, particularly of children of migrants. There is an argument however, that the amendment did not intend that outcome. Instead its language came from the 1866 Civil Rights Act, stating that “[a]ll persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power” would be considered citizens. That definition, it is argued would not include children of migrants. Since the debate over migrants did not exist in the mid-19th century, at least as it is playing out today, it is hard to understand the author’s intent. Here is an article that opposes the birthright position, see it at https://www.heritage.org/immigration/commentary/birthright-citizenship-fundamental-misunderstanding-the-14th-amendment
In fact the 15th Amendment has been arguably the most important. It has also long been the most controversial. In particular it is the second section that gives US Congress the right to enforce the legislation. It was celebrated in the streets by African Americans and number were sent to Congress. Then nothing, and worse, state legislatures started passing literacy laws, as you note, and the right was never made true. Should the courts have been more involved from the start? Although they too, were not pro-active when it came to enforcing laws to ensure equality between the races. Some scholars too suggest the Amendment was too weak from the start, and “the right to vote” should have been clarified. Hence the need for the 19th, 24th, and 26th Amendments (respectively guaranteeing women, outlawing poll tax, and establishing 18 as the voting age). What do you think? See, https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/interpretation/amendment-xv/interps/141
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