From 1861 to 1865, there was a civil war between the southern and northern states in the United States of America. The issues leading to the war mainly revolved around slavery which was widespread in the south and generally opposed in the north. The civil war led to the reconstruction era which was aimed at restoring civil and human rights for all and focus on building a new and better America. The paper in part outlines the roles of the federal government and Supreme Court in enhancing the civil rights of African Americans during the 1870s, but mainly emphasizes how and why they retreated from defending the civil rights of African Americans during the same era.
After the civil war, there was an era known as reconstruction. During this time, the United States federal government helped the newly freed slaves get jobs, shelter, and education. Racism was however a huge stumbling block for the achievement of this. It was widespread and posed a challenge to most black people.
Black people had no right to free movement, were not allowed to participate in elections or even acquire property. Abuse and murder of African Americans were also a frequent occurrence. The federal government grew less and less effective at giving support and protection to African Americans, but they began to build their institutions that played a key role in the struggle for freedom and equal rights (Smith 3).
Congress established the bureau of refugees to help the freed slaves and whites who did not have homes. The agency, also called the freedmen’s bureau, worked from 1865 to 1872. It provided food and supplies to black people, built a big number of hospitals, settled thousands of people, and founded thousands of schools (Kent 26).
African Americans however continued to suffer in terms of economic power even with the bureau in place. They were subjected to barbaric laws, racism, and blackmail. They were free, but their freedom was turning out to be nothing more than neo-slavery. Southern state governments made it illegal for colored people to have land title deeds and their unemployed were subject to punishment by imprisonment. These pieces of legislation were unacceptable to congressmen from the north, allied to the Republican Party, who pushed for the civil rights act that allowed blacks full citizenship without any discrimination.
Blacks now participated more actively in national politics and could now vote in the south. However, by the early 1870s, the whites in the north had lost their zeal in ensuring equal rights for all and no longer offered solid support to their associates down in the south. The federal government then gradually withdrew Federal troops sent to the South to protect blacks (Smith 9). Blacks and whites allied to the Republican Party soon lost control of government and its institutions in the south as a result of the reduced support from their northern counterparts. In 1877, the federal government withdrew the final federal troops from the south; an indication that they were not as committed to the reconstruction ideology.
The Supreme Court also caused even more strife in civil rights because of some of its rulings. It ruled against the 1873 Slaughterhouse Cases that sought to block the centralization of slaughterhouses in the United States of America. The decision restricted the power of the federal government to protect black people by confining its power to influence the states on behalf of individual rights. The Supreme Court also put down the 1875 Civil Rights Bill and declared the law, not by the constitution in the Civil Rights Cases. It ruled that the 13th and 14th amendments did not give the state powers to prosecute individuals for discriminating against colored people. This was an obvious blow to the civil rights of black people as they lost all five cases presented to the court. The majority submitted that individuals were relegated to charming state governments, which proved unpopular to blacks in the south, to end such discrimination (Rosen 12). The two blacks serving at the time, James O’Hara and Robert Smalls tried in vain to revive parts of the civil rights bill thereafter.
These Supreme Court decisions limiting the power of congress to effect the amendments made during reconstruction led to deeper civil strife as the states in the south passed laws that kept white and black people apart in both public and private circles. Racially discriminative policies were later enacted into laws especially in the southern states following the loss of the civil rights cases.
.An amendment was made to the commerce bill banning discrimination in the public transport system. Backed by representative Smalls on December 17, they made arguments fighting for the Civil Rights Bill. However, many congressmen of the republican party downplayed the racial issue deeming it too sensitive for discussion.
The Supreme Court made many amendments to the law to ensure equal rights for all. However, there were some loopholes because after the fifteenth amendment; only black males were allowed to vote.
In brief conclusion, the federal government and the Supreme Court certainly did less than they could have done to ensure African Americans had their civil rights. They could have done more in terms of legislation and goodwill to ensure equal rights for all. The ruling by the supreme court against the civil cases was also an impairing move to the achievement of an equal America. The central government and supreme court instead acted with neglect and carelessness in some instances, leading to delayed justice in terms of empowering the black man. The black man, therefore, took a much longer time to fully enjoy equal civil and human rights.
Kent, J.African Americans during the civil war New York: Macmillan publishers.2001.15-19.
Robert N. Rosen.Confederate Charleston: an illustrated history of the city and the people. University of South Carolina Press, 1994.
Smith. Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era. UNC Press. 2003, p 2-5.