Several amendments have been enacted from the time the United States Constitution was adopted. Although not all amendments were successfully implemented, in one way or the other they contributed to the development of a more inclusive society. Reconstruction Amendments also known as Civil War Amendments were the first amendments made to the United States Constitution. The primary purpose of these amendments was to provide political equality, especially for emancipated slaves by addressing slavery, citizenship, and voting rights. During this period, Radical Republicans were not very democratic in pursuing their goals which were also not propelled by the purest motives. Although the society did not instantly become perfectly equal, Civil War Amendments have significantly contributed to the creation of one of the freest and most democratic societies in the entire universe today. The essay discusses the 13th, 14th, and the 15th Amendments by first discussing the context of their adoption. The past and present influence and implications of each amendment will be highlighted, taking into account the redistribution of power in Congress by the Republican Party and the adoption of voter-ID laws in many states under Republican rule.
The Thirteenth Amendment
Senate passed the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1964 (Burgan 8). The amendments were adopted by the House in early 1965 and abolished slavery as a legal institution in late 1965 after ratification (Burgan 8). Before this amendment, the Constitution did not use slaves terminology but only addressed them as such persons or a person held to service or labor (Burgan 12). Therefore, this legislation was a significant milestone towards ending slavery as it used direct terminology in stating that Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, nor any place subject to their jurisdiction (US Const. amend. XIII, sec. 1). With regard to section two of the amendment, it gave Congress the enforcement mandate by stating that Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation (US Const. amend. XIII, sec. 2).
The context in which the 13th Amendment was passed and ratified is rather interesting, considering that Congress had passed an entirely different amendment that sought to guarantee the legality of slavery and its perpetuation within the slave states four years earlier (Aiello 384). In fact, this unfortunate legislation was motivated by the complicated sectional politics that preceded the Civil War (Burgan 8). Although the amendment was successfully implemented by the two houses, the Civil War began before its ratification in the states. Similarly, the final version of the 13th Amendment that declared slavery illegal was also passed during a complicated period since southern congressional representatives did not participate in the debates, which made the amendment look like an entirely Republican Party matter. However, in spite of less participation by Democrats, President Abraham Lincoln had to play an active role in ensuring that the amendment is accepted by the House of Representatives. Lincoln made use of his political skills to make sure that the bill was added to the Republican Party presidential election platform (Burgan 9). After its passage, Lincoln collaborated with Congress members in insisting that states from the South must adopt the amendment before being allowed to return to Congress with full rights.
Furthermore, the majority of historians hold the view that the Thirteenth Amendment cannot be fully put into context without mentioning the Emancipation Proclamation (Burgan 6). Nevertheless, a good number of modern students of history view the emancipation statement as a hollow document that had little to no effect on the efforts to end slavery (Aiello 383). Be that as it may, the intention of President Lincolns proclamation was to move all slaves from the southern region and provoke a need for constitutional amendment aimed at abolishing slavery (Aiello 383). Being aware that the Constitution had not granted him legal ground to end slavery, Lincoln carefully crafted the Emancipation Proclamation, thereby ensuring that his actions were within the law (Burgan 10). Moreover, the fact that Lincoln had to actively campaign for the passage and ratification of the amendment means that some people in the North were indifferent or directly opposed the abolition of slavery (Burgan 11).
Although the 1863 proclamation lacked theoretical effects on Border States slaves legal status or slaves in regions that were not under the control of the southern military, it had a reasonable deal of impact on the course of slavery in the entire country (Aiello 385). Moreover, Emancipation Proclamation was the only ground under which slaves could be separated from their master before the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (Aiello 385). For instance, the march by General Sherman through the South saw many slaves leave their masters and follow the army (Burgan 12). Therefore, those who hold the view that Lincolns Emancipation Proclamation had no effect on the efforts to end slavery form a wrong judgment or intentionally distort facts. As a matter of fact, the proclamation can be seen as the precursor to the Thirteenth Amendment and eventual abolishment of slavery in the United States. In addition to abolishing slavery, the amendment affected the economy by providing many job opportunities (Burgan 13). However, the majority of the African American did not experience the impacts of the increase in job opportunities as a result of lack of slaves, especially in the south primary due to the hatred that existed towards their race (Burgan 13).
In addition to social and economic impacts highlighted above, the 13th Amendment had several political implications, one of them being the re-election of President Lincoln (Richards 14). Moreover, the passage of other amendments related to rights and freedom and the politics surrounding them obtained their influence from the 13th Amendment. It was the genesis of the rights and freedom revolution in America, which led to significant political reforms and disagreements in the years that followed. In fact, the Republican Party that was formed to counter slavery is one of the major political parties that control Congress with significant influence on the lawmaking processes today.
Evidentially, the 13th Amendment succeeded in abolishing slavery but did not end slavery then. Tangible impact of this amendment in tackling discrimination of the African American has only been felt recently (Burgan 15). Nevertheless, people of color still experience some form of discrimination to date, especially from a small section of law enforcement officers. Unlike then, children can access education in the same institutions, regardless of their race. Although segregation remained at that time, the amendments social impact can be felt today because it forms the foundation for Civil and Human Rights Movements that continue to campaign for African American and women rights. The 13th Amendment was the first step towards equality, which has significantly influenced the way people view each other today. Presumably, if Lincolns efforts failed, slavery could still be part of the American society to date.
The Fourteenth Amendment
The Fourteenth Amendment came into effect in 1868 soon after the 13th Amendment. Although the amendment contained several clauses, only four principal clauses are considered to have had and still have the greatest impact. The four clauses are included in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment which states that.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws (US Const. amend. XIV, sec. 1).
The 14th Amendment was ratified in the context of concerns that the Southern states would become more powerful as a result of representation increase once the Three-Fifths Compromise was no longer in effect (Burgan 18). The majority of the Republicans shared concerns that stronger Democratic representation from the South might reduce or entirely eliminate the achievements made in relation to African Americans liberties after the Civil War (Burgan 19). However, the amendment was a calculated move to prevent such eventualities. Therefore, the primary goal of the amendment was to ensure that the Civil Rights Act passed in 1866 remained valid, regardless of the party holding control of the Congress and the Senate (Lewis 14). However, the amendment achieved far more than handling the concerns of party politics primarily due to the direct mention of the role of the states which expanded civil rights protection to all Americans.
Although the majority of Southern states rejected the amendment, it was still ratified providing answers to questions related to the rights of people freed from slavery by the 13th Amendment (Burgan 20). In addition to categorically stating that all people are equal in the eyes of the law, regardless of their gender or race, it also introduced the Due Process Clause which remains significant to date (US Const. amend. XIV, sec. 1). However, Supreme Court judgments such as Plessy v. Ferguson placed restriction on the amendment (Lewis 25). Thus, several concerns related to this amendment led to the adoption of equal but separate doctrine.
Also, the amendment has paramount contributions to the success of the Human Rights Movements and lawsuits that have shaped the kind of democracy practiced in the United States today (Aiello 385). After overturning some of the restrictive Supreme Court rulings, the 14th Amendment became one of the fundamental building blocks of democracy as demonstrated in its reference during legal proceedings today. Moreover, the interpretation of the word person, as used in the Due Process Clause to include corporations, established equal protection for organizations that continue to protect businesses operating in the United States (Lewis 27). Moreover, the significance of this amendment continues to be of influence on growth and history of the nation by upholding the promise that all are equal under the law.
The Fifteenth Amendment
The 15th Amendment was the last adopted Reconstruction Amendment. Its ratification was supposed to combat voters discrimination on the basis of race or other servitude conditions (US Const. amend. XV, sec. 1). Before its enactment, states had full control of people and conditions that voters had to meet for them to be allowed to participate in elections. The amendment states 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 (US Const. amend. XV, sec. 1). Nevertheless, the promises contained in the amendment were not fully realized for almost a century after ratification.
The reasons that motivated Congress to support and pass the amendment are not clear; however, grounded on the political climate of that time, they exceeded a genuine desire to share the fruits of democracy with African Americans who experienced the brutality of slavery (Richards 77). There is a high possibility that the primary motivation was to ensure a win in the 1868 election (Richards 77). In fact, the presidential election was won by a small margin which would not have been possible without African American support. Therefore, the main impetus surrounding the ratification of the 15th Amendment appears to have been the political desire by Republicans to exert an influence on the South and the North (Burgan 32). Considering that Republicans controlled states governments in the South at that time as a result of the congressional redistribution, the amendment was successfully adopted without much opposition (Aiello 384). However, ill motivation behind this amendment contributed to its lack of effectiveness for close to a century since it did not encourage black voters in the North to participate in the election and the influence of the South was short-lived. For the decades that followed, black voters were susceptible to discrimination through literacy tests, poll taxes, intimidation, and violence.
The implications of the 15th Amendment felt today came after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The Act aimed at eliminating the barriers that prevented African Americans from participating in election under the 15th Amendment. By abolished literacy test, giving the federal government oversight of voter registration and giving the attorney general mandate to investigate polls taxation and other discriminatory regulations explain why men and women similarly exercise their right to vote today (Burgan 43). Even though the promise of the 15th Amendment to black voters was not realized for many years, the fruits are real today. The foundation laid through the ratification of the 15th Amendment contributed to the rights to vote enjoyed by all Americans today, regardless of their race or gender. Probably, if this legislation was not enacted, the country would not have had Obama as the first African American president.
Unfortunately, the gains made as a result of the 15th Amendment and voting rights are being eroded by the unprecedented reintroduction of some kind of restrictive voting registration. Just before the 2012 general election, 41 states had introduced such restrictive laws, with 18 of them being successfully adopted (McKee 3). The need to alter the voting laws has been related to the small margin victory recorded in 2000 which made political parties view restrictive laws an excellent strategy to tilt the elections outcomes (McKee 7). Surprisingly, the party that led the campaign culminating in the ratification of the 15th Amendment has been seen to work against the same laws, as evidenced in voter ID Suppression laws (Aiello 385). In fact, 12 out of the 18 states that had ratified the laws are controlled by Republicans. In addition, 10 out of 18 of these states had the highest black voter turnout in 2008 (McKee 7). These same states have experienced a growth in Latino population. As a result, some of those laws that seek to reintroduce voter discrimination by requiring some forms of photo identification have been termed unconstitutional taking into account the gains made after the 15th Amendment ratification (McKee 8).
The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were designed to ensure equality for previously emancipated United States citizens. Although people who championed the amendments had other personal objectives, the gains of these constitutional clauses remain useful and protect the rights and freedoms that make the United States the most popular nation on earth. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and all servitude practices except during punishment for convicted crimes. On the other hand, the 14th Amendment gave citizenship to aliens or persons born in the U.S. Lastly, the 15th Amendment sought to protect the right to vote by prohibiting governments from denying citizens the opportunity to vote due to their skin complexion or past servitude status. Regardless of how long it took for the promise of the three amendments to be fully realized, these are the foundations of todays democracy. Equality is yet to be fully achieved, but such history provides hope for a more inclusive and tolerant future society.