With the Assassination of Lincoln, the Presidency fell upon an old-fashioned southern Jacksonian Democrat of pronounced states' rights views. Although an honest and honorable man, Andrew Johnson was one of the most unfortunate of Presidents. The Radicals' first step was to refuse to seat any Senator or Representative from the old Confederacy. Next they passed measures dealing with the former slaves. Johnson vetoed the legislation. The Radicals mustered enough votes in Congress to pass legislation over his veto--the first time that Congress had overridden a President on an important bill. They passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which established Negroes as American citizens and forbade discrimination against them.
Thaddeus Stevens as an ardent abolitionist who championed the rights of blacks for decades—up to, during, and after the Civil War. With other Radical Republicans, he agitated for emancipation, black fighting units, and black suffrage. After the war, he favored dividing up Southern plantations among the freed slaves, embracing William Tecumseh Sherman’s “forty acres and a mule.” After their congressional election victory in 1866, Stevens and the Republicans nullified Andrew Johnson's Presidential Reconstruction plan and passed groundbreaking Civil Rights legislation and the Fourteenth Amendment over his veto. Stevens was also instrumental in the Congressional Reconstruction plan to place the South under military occupation, and to grant black men the vote.
The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified on July 9, 1868 during theReconstruction era. It, along with the 13th and 15th amendments are collectively known as the Reconstruction amendments. However, of those three, the 14th is the most complicated and the one that has had the more unforeseen effects. Its broad goal was to ensure that the Civil Rights Act passed in 1866 would remain valid ensuring that "all persons born in the United States...excluding Indians not taxed...." were citizens and were to be given "full and equal benefit of all laws.
- State and federal citizenship for all persons regardless of race both born or naturalized in the United States was reaffirmed.
- No state would be allowed to abridge the "privileges and immunities" of citizens.
- No person was allowed to be deprived of life, liberty,or property without "due process of law."
- No person could be denied "equal protection of the laws."
The 15th Amendment to the Constitution granted African American men the right to vote by declaring that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Although ratified on February 3, 1870, the promise of the 15th Amendment would not be fully realized for almost a century. Through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means, Southern states were able to effectively disenfranchise African Americans. It would take the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the majority of African Americans in the South were registered to vote