Civil Rights Act of 1866

(Very Short Version)

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In March 1866, the Republican United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act Of 1866, which gave further rights to the freed slaves after the end of the American Civil War.

This act was the Republicans' counterattack against the Black Codes in the South. Included in these were the rights to: make contracts, sue, witness in court, and own private property.

President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill, saying that blacks were not qualified for United States citizenship and that the bill would "operate in favor of the colored and against the white race." The Republicans in Congress overrode the presidential veto on April 9, 1866.

The act declared that all persons born in the United States were now citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous condition, excluding Indians not taxed. As citizens they could make and enforce contracts, sue and be sued, give evidence in court, and inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property. Persons who denied these rights to former slaves were guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction faced a fine not exceeding $1,000, or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both.

A far-reaching consequence of this act is that since 1866 it has been illegal to discriminate in housing based on the race of the individuals involved.

Federal solutions were not provided for, however, and remedies were left to the individuals involved. Because those being discriminated against had limited access to legal help, this left many victims of discrimination without recourse. Since the latter half of the 20th century, however, there have been an increasing number of remedies provided for under this act, including the landmark Jones v. Mayer decision in 1968.

The activities of organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan also undermined the workings of this act and it failed to guarantee the civil rights of African Americans.

This was the first of several pieces of legislation called the Civil Rights Act.

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