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Presentation U.S. History Primary Source Timeline

Reconstruction and Rights

Radical Members of the First Legislature After the War, South Carolina, ca. 1876.

When the Civil War ended, leaders turned to the question of how to reconstruct the nation. One important issue was the right to vote, and the rights of black American men and former Confederate men to vote were hotly debated.

In the latter half of the 1860s, Congress passed a series of acts designed to address the question of rights, as well as how the Southern states would be governed. These acts included the act creating the Freedmen's Bureau, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and several Reconstruction Acts. The Reconstruction Acts established military rule over Southern states until new governments could be formed. They also limited some former Confederate officials' and military officers' rights to vote and to run for public office. (However, the latter provisions were only temporary and soon rescinded for almost all of those affected by them.) Meanwhile, the Reconstruction acts gave former male slaves the right to vote and hold public office.

Congress also passed two amendments to the Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment made African-Americans citizens and protected citizens from discriminatory state laws. Former Confederate states did not get congressional representation until they adopted this amendment. The Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed African American men the right to vote.

Most of the documents in this section are related to the right to vote and how voting actually occurred in Southern states. Other rights are also discussed in some of the documents. As you read the documents, weigh the various arguments that are made. Also, look for similarities with issues or concerns that have been raised in more recent U.S. history.