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How Effectively Did the Three Branches of the Federal Government Protect the Rights of African Americans from Before the Civil War to the End of Reconstruction?

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Elizabeth Buckley

Donald Reuker

10 May 2015

US History Honors

How Effectively Did the Three Branches of the Federal Government Protect the Rights of African Americans From Before the Civil War to the End of Reconstruction?

From the start of the United States, it has been stated that all men are created equal and that they are given unalienable rights since birth and yet slavery was prominent in American culture and politics at the time. Each branch of the federal government, legislative, executive, and judicial, dealt with the rights of African Americans differently from the period of time from before the Civil War to the end of Reconstruction. The legislative branch had its ways change over the course of the years, the executive branch was mostly ineffective in its attempts to protect the rights of African Americans, and the judicial branch had done a consistently terrible job in protecting African American rights, and all of these are evident in the documents that have been attached.

Directly after the Civil War, the legislative branch still held its overly biased mindset and this is evident in document E. In this document, Congressman Benjamin Boyer, a democrat from Pennsylvania, has made a speech regarding bill intended to give freedmen the right to vote in the District of Columbia. In this speech, Boyer makes the claim that Congress should deny the freedmen suffrage because the lack the ‘mental caliber’ making them inferior to the white man. Clearly the bill this speech is referring was not passed as the 15th Amendment that would give the African American man suffrage was not passed until 1869, three years later. As this document demonstrated, the legislative branch of the federal government held extreme bias towards African Americans, withholding the chance of suffrage for them and calling them inferior to the white male, a common sight. At this time the legislative branch did little to nothing to protect the rights of African Americans.

In document H, directly one year after document E, there is yet another example of the legislative branch of the federal government doing a poor job to protect the rights of the newly freed African Americans. Document H talks of the reinstating of former Confederate officials to their previous office holding positions as well restoring their voting rights in the federal government, with former Confederates now officially able to once again participate in government actions and hold office in places such as Congress or the House, all bills regarding protecting African Americans and their rights will now have to go through a much larger obstacle to get passed, making it nearly impossible to pass such laws/bills. This is nevertheless another example of the legislative branch doing a pitiable job to protect the rights of African Americans at the time.

However, in 1872, we see a change in the legislative branch’s attitude towards protecting the black man’s rights, and this came with something called the Joint Committee on Reconstruction. Document I centers around a testimony of a former slave regarding an organization known as the Ku Klux Klan before the Joint Committee of Reconstruction. This Committee was to aggressively assert congressional leadership to implement equal civil and political rights for the newly freed slaves in the former Confederate states before their readmission to the Union. At this point, there is a successful attempt by the legislative branch to protect the black man’s rights, a change in their outlook and a plus for freedmen.

The executive branch of the federal government saw many attempts come and go, few successful at protecting freedmen’s rights. During the Civil War, after the victory of Antietam President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a quote of this happens to be Document B. In this Emancipation Proclamation declared that "all persons held as slaves … shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free"—but it applied only to states designated as being in rebellion, meaning that it had no effect of any kind. By having no influence to the Confederate states, this did not at all protect the rights of the current slaves.

Document C is an excerpt from General William

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