Post-Civil War America
The highest court in the United States (the Supreme Court) made a ruling in 1857 that Africans (blacks) had no rights, could not become U.S citizens, and that Congress had no powers to abolish slavery. The aftermath of the ruling saw the United States suffer one of the bloodiest wars in world history – the Civil War. In less than ten years since the ruling was made, Congress together with the Northern states addressed the biases in the ruling. The biases were addressed through the amendment of the constitution and the civil rights statute. Through the 13th Amendment, slavery was abolished in all parts of the United States. The 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 guaranteed citizenship for all qualified, natural-born, and naturalized Americans, inclusive of former slaves and free blacks. The civil rights statute, in addition, authorized the transfer of cases from state to federal courts in cases where citizens’ rights could not be enforced through state systems of justice. The 14th Amendment also prohibited states from infringing the rights enjoyed by American citizens, as well as, ensuring every citizen had the right to due process and equal protection of the law (Kaczorowski, 1987, p. 45).
The Congressional Republicans held the view that the14th Amendment and Civil Rights Act of 1886 provided a good ground for revolutionary change in the constitution of the United States. In observance of the 19th century concept of federalism, there was a need for Congress to legislate for the protection of civil rights. Had the status and fundamental rights of citizenship been the rights enjoyed by individuals owing to their state citizenship, the Congress would have had no authority to ensure for their protection. The fundamental rights would have been out of the jurisdiction of the states. The Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Statute that conferred citizenship on all Americans, and expanded its federally enforceable guarantees to include civil rights protection was surely a revolutionary twist in American federalism (Kaczorowski, 1987, p. 47).
The radical change in constitutionalism saw the congressional Republicans develop a legal framework delegating Congress the authority to protect the status and civil rights of American citizens. The Republicans maintained that the national government was sovereign. Thus, the national government would work with state governments in protecting the status and rights of American citizens – whites and blacks. They emphasized on U.S citizenship rather than state citizenship. Following the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, the constitutional revolution on citizenship and civil rights was completed (Kaczorowski, 1987, p. 47).
By 1866 all moderate and a significant number of conservative Republicans had thrown their weight behind the Congress’ efforts to protect civil rights. This was a clear indication of how serious the Civil war had changed American politics. Had this revolution yielded its full potential, it would have seen a change in the national government. America would have moved from a federal republic with divided authority to a unitary state. The Democrats moved to reject the proposed Fourteenth Amendment and Civil Rights Bill with a view that the amendments could have been used to deny states civil and criminal authority over their citizens (Kaczorowski, 1987, pp. 48-50).
From the proponents (Republicans) point of view, the Congress could exercise some exclusive powers over civil rights. The federal law could suppress the state laws, and the federal government could absorb “all reserved state sovereignty and rights” (Kaczorowski, 1987, p. 50). Senator Garret Davis was quick to note that the principles involved in the Civil Rights Bill would have given Congress the authority to pass civil and criminal laws for all states of the Union. As Kaczorowski puts it, this was a mere continuation of the constitutional battle than had trouble the United States for many years.