Today is the 151st anniversary of the beginning of U.S. Civil War. The war between the states redefined our nation and still has an enormous effect on our lives today. And some incredibly important legislation, the Reconstruction amendments, was born out of the conflict.
The 13th Amendment officially outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. Then-President Abraham Lincoln and other Republicans were concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation, which in 1863 declared the freedom of slaves in the ten rebellious Confederate states, would be seen as a temporary war measure. The proclamation also did not free any slaves in the border states nor itself make slavery illegal.
“The 13th Amendment, when it abolished slavery, did so except for convicts. Through the prison system, the vestiges of slavery have persisted,” Angela Davis wrote, likening the U.S. criminal justice system to modern-day slavery as it keeps over 2 million black men in bondage. For more on slavery and the prison industrial complex, watch video of Davis below or read this blog post discussing some of Davis’s ideas.
The 14th Amendment contained three important clauses:
- The citizenship clause overruled the Dred Scott v. Sandford precedent that blacks could not be citizens of the United States.
- The due process clause prohibits state and local governments from depriving people of life, liberty or property without certain steps being taken to ensure fairness. This clause has been used to make most of the Bill of Rights applicable to the states, as well as to recognize substantive and procedural rights.
- The equal protection clause requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction. This clause was the basis for Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court decision which precipitated the dismantling of racial segregation in education.
Many LGBT civil rights lawsuits cite the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, including Obama and the Department of Justice in their decision not to defend DOMA. And corporate personhood was also born out of the 14th Amendment, when the U.S. Supreme Court afforded corporations the same rights as natural people.
The 15th Amendment prohibits the government from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” During the time it was ratified in 1870, citizen only applied to men.Follow @QueerKnowledge