Reconstruction Era

Thaddeus Stevens

- Member of the United States House of Representatives from Pennsylvania and one of the leaders of the Radical Republican faction of the Republican Party during the 1860s.

- A fierce opponent of slavery and discrimination against African-Americans, sought to secure their rights during Reconstruction, in opposition to President Andrew Johnson. As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee during the American Civil War, he played a major part in the war's financing.

- As the war progressed towards a northern victory, Stevens came to believe that not only should slavery be abolished, but that African-Americans should be given a stake in the South's future through the confiscation of land from planters to be distributed to the freedmen.

- He also influenced the 13th Amendment, and was the Representative for the republican party in the jury when the law of the 13th Amendment was passed.

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Andrew Johnson

- 17th President of the United States, serving from 1865 to 1869. Johnson became president as he was Vice President at the time of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

- A Democrat who ran with Lincoln on the National Union ticket, Johnson came to office as the Civil War concluded. The new president favored quick restoration of the seceded states to the Union. His plans did not give protection to the former slaves, and he came into conflict with the Republican-dominated Congress, culminating in his impeachment by the House of Representatives. The first American president to be impeached, he was acquitted in the Senate by one vote.

- Johnson opposed the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave citizenship to African-Americans. As the conflict between the branches of government grew, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, restricting Johnson in firing Cabinet officials. This all lead up the impeachment of Johnson.

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14th Amendment

- July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. The amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws, and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War.

- The amendment was bitterly contested, particularly by Southern states, which were forced to ratify it in order for them to regain representation in Congress. The Fourteenth Amendment, particularly its first section, is one of the most litigated parts of the Constitution, forming the basis for landmark decisions.

- The Equal Protection Clause requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction.

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15th Amendment

- Prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's race, color, or previous condition of servitude. It was ratified on February 3, 1870, as the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments.

- In the final years of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era that followed, Congress repeatedly debated the rights of the millions of black former slaves. By 1869, amendments had been passed to abolish slavery and provide citizenship and equal protection under the laws, but the election of Ulysses S. Grant to the presidency in 1868 convinced a majority of Republicans that protecting the franchise of black voters was important for the party's future.

- After rejecting more sweeping versions of a suffrage amendment, Congress proposed a compromise amendment banning franchise restrictions on the basis of race, color, or previous servitude on February 26, 1869. The amendment survived a difficult ratification fight and was adopted on March 30, 1870.

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