13 and 14 Amendments

Essay by Matt0773High School, 11th grade December 2002

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Life after the 13th/14th Amendments

With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865, slavery was officially abolished in the United States. The Reconstruction era was under way in the South and African Americans desperately needed an advocate. They looked to Fredrick Douglass to help and guide them. Douglas gladly took the role and did all he could to get ex-slaves on their way to a new life.

In many parts of the South, the newly freed slaves still worked under conditions similar to those existing before the war. The Union army could offer only limited protection to the ex-slaves, and Andrew Johnson clearly had no interest in ensuring the freedom of southern blacks. The "black codes" which were designed to keep African Americans in poverty prevented black men from buying land and were denied fair wages for their work. (Pgs. 35-38)

At a meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in May 1865, Douglas argued that, "Slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot".

In 1865, Douglass traveled throughout the North, speaking out for black suffrage and warning the country that the former slaveholders were regaining control of the South. In 1866, he addressed his most important audience, President Andrew Johnson. Douglass met with Johnson to show him the need for changes in the southern state governments. The president told the people that he intended to support the interests of southern whites and to block voting rights for blacks. Douglass and Johnson parted, both saying that they would take their cases to the American people. (Pgs. 40-45)

With President Johnson's supporters greatly outnumbered, in June 1866, Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The heart of Reconstruction was laid out in two pieces, the 14th Amendment and the Reconstruction Act. The...