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US Civil War
History of the United States
US Constitution
Civil Rights Movement
Emancipation Proclamation

What is the Emancipation Proclamation and how does it relate to the 13th 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution and the civil rights movement in America?

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February 02, 2009 1:43PM

During the American Civil War (1861-1865) President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law, freeing African slaves held in areas that the Federal Government did not control. After the war, the congress made full freedom and citizenship of former slaves national law as part of the U.S. Constitution with what are called the three Reconstruction Amendments, the 13th, 14th 15th. These ultimately gave all people equal rights under law. They relate directly to the Civil Rights Movement, and may now be said to directly pertain to the election of President Barack Obama, the first American president of African decent.

The Emancipation Proclamation: Issued during the American Civil War in late 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation consisted of a pair of executive orders issued by President Abraham Lincoln which declared free any slaves held in the confederate states which did not return to the Union by January 1, 1863. Lincoln's order was a war measure and was controversial at the time and even down to the present because it did not free any slaves except where the federal government had no power. It was not a popular decision at the time, south or north. Even Lincoln, being a man of his times, once suggested that freed slaves should be repatriated to Africa. But what Lincoln and his Emancipation Proclamation bravely did was to commit the United States to permanently ending slavery. It wasn't perfect, but it was a start. Yet it would take more than a century before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, essentially completing what the Emancipation Proclamation began.

The Thirteenth Amendment: the first of the three "Reconstruction Amendments" legally ended slavery. The text reads, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." The amendment was proposed on January 31, 1865, signed by President Lincoln and ratified on December 6, 1865.

The Fourteenth Amendment is the citizenship amendment. It was proposed on June 13, 1866, and ratified on July 9, 1868. It effectively conferred full U.S. citizenship on former slaves. It requires the states to provide equal protection under the law to all people, regardless of race, color, creed, or national origin. The 14th Amendment was applied strongly in the famed Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) which helped to overturn so-called "Jim Crow" laws and outlawed racial segregation in the United States.

The Fifteenth Amendment guarantees all citizens the right to vote. It prohibits any state government from denying any citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color or previous condition of servitude" (that is, slavery). It was ratified on February 3, 1870 and also played a powerful role in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

The Civil Rights Movement: Taken together, the Emancipation Proclamation, the three Reconstruction Amendments and the Brown v. Board of Education supreme court decision of 1954 may be said to have led ultimately to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States which culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the National Voting Rights Act of 1965, but not without a great deal of heartbreak, bloodshed, terror, assassination and murder. Getting human beings to recognize one another as simply human turns out not to be simple. Yet we United States have just inaugurated our first nonwhite president, an event many of us from the Vietnam and Civil Rights generation never imagined we would live to see. Hope springs eternal ….