In the 1840s and 1850s, slave Dred Scott lived in free states for a number of years and then went to court to claim his freedom. His case went all the way to the US Supreme court which on March 6, 1857, denied Scott his freedom. In their infamous ruling, the high court stated that blacks cannot be US citizens and therefore Scott had no legal basis with which to even file his lawsuit. The Supreme Court’s ruling was devastating to the thousands of free blacks living in the northern states and many of them felt disenfranchised from the country.
Following the Civil War, many Republicans believed that they needed to take action to rectify the ruling of the Dred Scott decision, especially since hundreds of thousands of black slaves were being freed.
On January 31, 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery.
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On December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment was ratified by the states and added to the US Constitution.
On June 13, 1866, Congress passed the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship and all the rights that go along with citizenship, to anyone born in the US, including blacks. None of the southern states would ratify the 14th Amendment and it didn’t help that President Andrew Johnson came out against it also.
After the Civil War, the Confederate States were divided into five military districts as part of the southern reconstruction. The Republican controlled Congress began passing a series of Reconstruction Act from 1866 to 1877 to help rebuild the south and reconnect them with the rest of the country.
The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 spelled out the process for re-admitting the southern states back into the Union. One of those provisions was the ratification of the 14th Amendment. Many of the southern states were desperate to rejoin the Union for economic purposes so knowing that the ratification of the 14th Amendment was a prerequisite for their re-admittance to the Union, they reluctantly ratified it one state at a time.
On this day, July 28, 1868, enough states had ratified the 14th Amendment and it became part of the US Constitution. Since its ratification, the 14th Amendment has been used in many legal cases, including the famous Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education which ended school segregation.
On February 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed US citizens, including blacks, the right to vote.
Sources for the above includes: Amendments 11-27 to the US Constitution; Today, March 6, 1857: SCOTUS Rules Blacks Cannot be US Citizens; 14th Amendment Adopted; 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; The Fourteenth Amendment Ratified (1868); The 14th Amendment Clarified; Reconstruction (1866-1877);