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The Fiftfentr Amendment

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THE FIFTF.ENTR AMENDMENT.

Sscrtom I. 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 con dition of servitude.

2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Under the operation of the previous ques tion the House was able to secure an agree ment to this report as soon as submitted. 25 February. In the Senate, however, serious opposition developed among the friends of the measure. It was claimed that too great a sac rifice to expediency had been made in striking out the words °and hold office," and thus reduc ing the scope of the amendment to the matter of suffrage alone. On this account Mr. Ed munds, one of the managers at the conference, had refused to sign the report, and now opposed the amended measure on the floor of the Senate. The session was drawing to a close, and perhaps there was something in the taunt of the minority that the dominant party dare not trust the fate of the measure to the suc ceeding Congress. Though markedly earnest, the debate was not protracted. The Senate passed the resolution on 26 February. On 3 March Congress adjourned. In the unusual form of a special message from the President, com municating its promulgation by the Secretary of State, the last of the War Amendments was declared adopted on 30 March 1870.

Validity and Enforcement.— The charge of "irregularity,* of a departure from established constitutional methods, was made by the minor ity against all the legislation enacted by Con gress during the eventful years covering the period of Congressional Reconstruction. It was urged with greater force against the validity of the action by which the passage and adoption of these amendments were secured. Against the 13th was brought the charge that West Vir ginia, whose ratification was declared necessary, had been created a State in disregard of the loner and spirit of the Constitution. The ques tion of the right of a State to rescind a ratifica tion once given was raised in the case of the 14th and 15th, as also the constitutionality of the entire plan of Congressional Reconstruction. It was not long, however, before the minority realized the necessity and wisdom of accepting the amendments as a matter of public policy.

By February 1872 both parties in the House had gone on record as formally recognizing their validity, and the question ceased to possess more than a mere academic interest. The energy and earnestness of the Reconstruction statesmen were not exhausted with the adoption of the amendments. Immediately following the ratifi cation of each one they set to work to enforce its provisions with the same determination which had characterized their efforts to secure its incorporation into the organic law. Various acts, some directed against peonage in New Mexico, others against the kidnapping of negro children, were passed to render impossible the placing or retaining of anyone in a state of in voluntary servitude. The principal act for en forcing the 13th Amendment clearly anticipated important provisions of the succeeding amend ment. This was the Civil Rights Bill of 9 April 1866. The emancipating amendment left the late slaves in an anomalous position, and to meet the difficulties of their situation was the prime object of this elaborate measure. It de clared all persons born in the United States, not subject to a foreign power, except Indians not taxed, citizens of the United States. Here we have a near approach to the definition of national citizenship contained in the first section of the 14th Amendment. It gave to every citi zen so defined the same rights of property, and the same protection of person and property, en joyed by the white citizen. It provided extraor dinary means, judicial and executive, for its own enforcement, and for guaranteeing protec tion to all persons in their gconstitutional rights of equality before the law.° This act was passed over Johnson's veto more than two years before the adoption of the 14th Amendment, yet it served the purpose of an enforcing act for that amendment long after its ratification. Indeed, it answered that purpose, without even being amended, until after the ratification of the 15th Amendment. These enforcing acts themselves illustrate the process of develop ment through which the negro passed in His transition from slavery to citizenship. They reflect the views of their framers as to the sig nificance of each step taken in that movement.

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