The ending of the civil war marked the end of slavery for a lot of black southerners. However, with the aim of controlling the already freedmen, the whites developed the “black codes”-special state law codes which limited the rights and freedom of the former slaves and to make sure that the blacks still provided cheap labour (Berlin et al.) Restrictive codes were passed with the aim of controlling their behaviours and labour of the African American at the whole. Under the black codes, the blacks were pressured to sign labour contracts; they were viewed as a source of labour and there freedom and rights cut short. The codes eroded the support for the presidential reconstruction and in turn transpired to a significant rise in the radical wing of the Republicans. Although radical reconstruction had freed 4 million slaves, their status during the postwar was still unresolved and questioned.
After the end of the war, the freedmen bureau was formed. The bureau extended the rights of the freedmen in that, churches, social institutions and schools thrived. Black literacy surged, hence surpassing those of the whites. For the first in history, the enfranchised blacks were granted the right to participate in elections and hold public offices. The freedmen, therefore, acquired social, economic and political gains. The right to justice was also granted to them through which special courts were established to oversee disputes between the whites and the black southerners and intervened in cases which sought to threaten the freedmen rights. However, in less than a decade after the civil war, changes brought about by the radical reconstruction were reversed, restoring the white southerners’ supremacy. The blacks’ initial rights and freedom were compromised(Woodward and Vann). Public schools began to exclude blacks, the right to vote was retrieved from the emancipated blacks, freedom of movement, serving the juries and work were termed as outside the law by the state legislatures.
The 13th amendment might have limited the freedom of the ex-slaves. The whites took advantage of the provision in the 13th amendment which allowed for slavery and involuntary vassalage to progress as a form of punishing crimes (Vorenberg and Michael). They also bend the penal system which predated civil war to their advantage. The provisions in the 13th amendment allowed for unwanted serfdom from the blacks. The Virginia” black codes exploited the potential limit on the black freedom through forcing the blacks to enter into labour contracts; they heavily punished the blacks for mere crimes, racially different court systems were established, occupation restrictions were also set forth (Wilson and Theodore) Both the 1oth and 13th amendment regulated and limited the rights of the blacks to some extent. They both imposed taxes, duties and excises to the black tribes.
The 14th amendment to the constitution was ratified with the aim of granting all citizens equal rights and protection by the law to respond to the freedmen issues after the civil war (Kaczorowski and Robert 67) However the amendment was a failure in that, the freed slaves were still subjected to poor conditions and inhumane treatment even after they were freed. Despite the ratification, it failed to create a means of abolishing the “black codes” and racial disparities. This was due to its failure to encompass the bill to the federal bill of rights. Most leaders felt that the immunities and privileges set forth by the amendment were not binding with the bill of rights and hence did not support it. Additionally, the change did not define how the former slaves were to be treated but merely stated their rights.
Berlin, Ira, Joseph Patrick Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, eds. Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War. Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Wilson, Theodore Brantner. The black codes of the South. No. 6. University of Alabama Press, 1965.
Woodward, C. Vann. Reunion and reaction: The compromise of 1877 and the end of reconstruction. Oxford University Press, 1991.
Kaczorowski, Robert J. “To Begin the Nation Anew: Congress, Citizenship, and Civil Rights after the Civil War.” The American Historical Review 92.1 (1987): 45-68.
Vorenberg, Michael. Final freedom: The Civil War, the abolition of slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment. Cambridge University Press, 2001.