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The Reconstruction Amendments: Thirteenth Amendment, 1865, Fourteenth Amendment, 1868, and Fifteenth Amendment, 1870

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Guiding Question: To what extent did Founding principles of liberty, equality, and justice become a reality for African Americans from Reconstruction to the end of the nineteenth century?

  • I can interpret primary sources related to Founding principles of liberty, equality, and justice from the colonial era to the outbreak of the Civil War.
  • I can explain how laws and policy, courts, and individuals and groups contributed to or pushed back against the quest to end slavery.
  • I can create an argument using evidence from primary sources.
  • I can analyze issues in history to help find solutions to present-day challenges.

Essential Vocabulary

Naturalize To legally become a citizen of a country
Abridge In a legal or political context, to deprive someone of
something, usually a protected right
Privileges and
Wording in the first clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment that bans states from violating the rights of
any citizen
Due process of law The principle by which the government must interact
with all people according to the duly enacted laws and
apply these rules equally to all

Building Context

After the end of the Civil War, the United States was faced with huge challenges, including defining the status of the nearly 4 million freed African Americans. A group of Republican politicians in Congress, known as Radical Republicans, looked for permanent solutions to champion a formal end to slavery, as well as citizenship and civil rights for African Americans. Together, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments are referred to as the Reconstruction Amendments. The Fourteenth Amendment in particular has been invoked in landmark Supreme Court cases up to the present day.

The Reconstruction Amendments: Thirteenth Amendment, 1865, Fourteenth Amendment, 1868, and Fifteenth Amendment, 1870

Source link (all amendments):

The Thirteenth Amendment, 1865


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, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.


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

The Fourteenth Amendment, 1868


All persons born or naturalized [to legally become a citizen of a country] 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 [to deprive someone of something] the privileges or immunities [bans states from violating rights of a citizen] of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law [apply rules equally]; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws . . . .


The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

The Fifteenth Amendment, 1870


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.

Comprehension and Analysis Questions

  1. What important legal change is made by the Thirteenth Amendment?
  2. What legal status does the opening line of the Fourteenth Amendment confer upon all people born or naturalized in the United States?
  3. What limits does the Fourteenth Amendment place on states?
  4. How is securing the right to vote a significant factor in ensuring [or guaranteeing] legal status and full membership in civil society?