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1865 - 1877: REBUILDING THE COUNTRY

After the Civil War, Congress developed plans to rebuild the nation, readmit the southern states and provide citizen rights to African Americans. This comprehensive plan to bring the Union physically and politically back together was known as “Reconstruction.” Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, conflicts arose almost immediately between Congress and President Andrew Johnson over Reconstruction plans. Though African Americans had gained many basic civil rights by the end of Reconstruction in 1877, opponents soon found means to erode these rights. While Congress focused on rebuilding the nation, work on the Capitol was completed by 1868, symbolizing the unity of the country even after its darkest days.

1865: The Apotheosis of Washington

Painted on the Capitol Rotunda’s canopy at the end of the Civil War, The Apotheosis of Washington fresco features George Washington rising to the heavens surrounded by female figures representing liberty/authority and victory/fame and the original 13 colonies. Paintings around the perimeter include scenes of War, Science, Marine, Commerce, Mechanics and Agriculture - subjects chosen to highlight American achievements.

"The Apotheosis of Washington", 1865

May - December 1865: President Johnson's Reconstruction Plan

President Andrew Johnson developed a plan for Southern reconstruction that pardoned rebels and restored their property, except for slaves. He declared that "white men alone must manage the South." When Congress met again, the Radical Republicans were outraged at Johnson’s lenient plan and the fact that he had taken over a job they felt only Congress should do.

President Andrew Johnson

President Andrew Johnson

December 6, 1865: The Thirteenth Amendment

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in the United States and in any place subject to its jurisdiction, and gave Congress the power to enforce it. The amendment passed the Senate on April 8, 1864, and the House on January 31, 1865. It then went before the state legislatures for ratification. Georgia’s ratification on December 6, 1865, brought the total number of state ratifications to 27, the minimum number required to amend the Constitution.

Ceremonial Copy of the Thirteenth Amendment, 1864-1865

Ceremonial Copy of the Thirteenth Amendment, 1864-1865

April 1866: Civil Rights Act of 1866

The Civil Rights Bill granted citizenship and civil rights to all male persons in the United States “without distinction of race and color.” The bill, introduced by Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull, tried to offer protection against state laws like the “Black Codes” that limited rights for African Americans in some southern states. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill, but Congress overrode the veto – the first major piece of legislation enacted over a presidential veto.

"Civil Rights Bill Passes, 1866"

June 13, 1866: Thaddeus Stevens and Reconstruction

In a speech to the House of Representatives on July 13, 1866, Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, a leader among the Radical Republicans, urged passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. Stevens viewed the amendment and Reconstruction as a means to create the “perfect republic,” where all citizens would enjoy equal rights and all institutions would be freed from “human oppression.” He became one of the most outspoken advocates for the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, whom he felt stood in the way of this ideal.

Representative Thaddeus Stevens

Representative Thaddeus Stevens

February 24, 1868: Impeachment Trial

Many in Congress, particularly the Radical Republicans, felt that President Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction plan failed to punish Confederate states adequately. They also criticized his plan’s lack of protection for the rights of former slaves. When the President tried to remove his Secretary of War without congressional approval, Radical Republicans and their allies impeached him. A month-long impeachment trial followed. Ultimately, Johnson was saved from removal from office when the Senate fell one vote short of the required two-thirds majority needed to convict. Johnson finished his term and later returned to Congress as a senator from Tennessee.

"The Senate as a Court of Impeachment for the Trial of President Johnson," 1868

Admission Ticket for Impeachment Trial, April 13, 1868

Admission Ticket for Impeachment Trial, April 13, 1868

July 9, 1868: The Fourteenth Amendment

Congress sent the Fourteenth Amendment to the states on June 13, 1866. It took more than two years for the necessary three fourths of the states to ratify this amendment to the Constitution. The amendment states that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are both national and state citizens. Most importantly, it prohibited states from depriving any person of life, liberty or property without legal due process or from denying them “equal protection of the laws."

Fourteenth Amendment, Passed June 13, 1866

Fourteenth Amendment, Passed June 13, 1866

February 3, 1870: The Fifteenth Amendment

The Fifteenth Amendment, passed by Congress and then ratified by the states on February 3, 1870, granted all male citizens, regardless of “race, color or previous condition of servitude,” the right to vote. Some southern states used literacy tests, poll taxes or outright violence and intimidation to deprive African Americans of this right.

"The First Vote, November 16, 1867"

February 25, 1870: Hiram Revels

A hearty round of applause greeted Mississippi Senator-elect Hiram Revels as he entered the Senate Chamber to take his oath of office and become the first African American in Congress. A former teacher, Revels served on the Committee on Education and Labor and was an advocate for the education of former slaves.

Senator Hiram Revels

Senator Hiram Revels

July 15, 1870: Last Confederate State Readmitted to the Union

In the Reconstruction Act of 1867, Congress outlined many conditions for readmission to representation in the Union, including the formation of new state constitutions that confirmed voting rights for African Americans. All former Confederate states also had to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to be eligible for readmission. On July 24, 1866, Tennessee was the first Confederate state to be readmitted to representation, prior to the Reconstruction Act. Georgia was the last state to be readmitted, on July 15, 1870.

Former Confederate States Rejoin Union

Former Confederate States Rejoin Union

December 12, 1870: Joseph Rainey

South Carolina Representative Joseph Rainey was the first African American elected to the House of Representatives. During Reconstruction, 14 African Americans served in the House and two in the Senate. Eight of these men had been born into slavery, while six were born free. After 1901, however, because of Jim Crow laws in the South that disenfranchised blacks, no African Americans sat in either house of Congress for nearly three decades.

"The First Colored Senator and Representatives," 1872

April 20, 1871: The Ku Klux Klan Act

Between May 1870 and February 1871, Congress passed three bills called the “Enforcement Acts” to protect African Americans on a state and local level. The third in that series, the Ku Klux Klan Act, empowered the federal government to protect African-American voters intimidated by the violent actions of the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups. Anyone attempting to prevent a person from voting would be fined or imprisoned and the president could utilize federal military action to enforce the law.

"Mississippi Ku-Klux in the Disguises in Which They Were Captured," 1872

November 17, 1873: Kate Brown’s Winning Case

In 1868, Kate Brown, an African-American attendant in the Senate ladies’ retiring room, boarded a train in Virginia bound for Washington, D.C. Though segregation was illegal on this rail line, officials tried to force her into a separate car for African Americans. She refused and was thrown off the train. Senators Charles Sumner and Justin Morrill demanded an investigation. Brown sued the railroad company for illegal segregation and won her case in the Supreme Court in 1873. Nearly two decades later, in the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896), the Supreme Court supported the “separate but equal” argument, thereby legitimizing segregation in public transportation and other facilities. The Court revised this ruling in the landmark 1954 case of Brown vs. the Board of Education.

Bridge Over the Potomac River on the Washington, Alexandria and Georgetown Railroad

Bridge Over the Potomac River on the Washington, Alexandria and Georgetown Railroad

Report of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, June 17, 1868

Report of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, June 17, 1868

March 1875 - 1881: Blanche Bruce

Mississippi Senator Blanche K. Bruce, born into slavery, advocated for the fair treatment of African-American servicemen and even tried to desegregate the U.S. Army, though this attempt failed. He is the only person born into slavery ever to preside over the Senate floor.

Blanche Kelso Bruce

Blanche Kelso Bruce

March 1875: The Civil Rights Act of 1875

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 protected the rights of all Americans, regardless of race, to use public facilities including restaurants, theaters and trains. Its great failure was that it failed to provide equal access to education. The act was not enforced and major portions of it were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1883. The next federal bill to protect civil rights would not be passed until 1957.

"The Shackle Broken – By the Genius of Freedom, 1874"

Charles Sumner Mortuary Token, 1874

Charles Sumner Mortuary Token, 1874

1877: The Compromise of 1877

The 1876 election was rife with controversy. Democrat Samuel J. Tilden won the popular vote over Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, but electoral ballots were disputed from four states. The deadlock sent the decision to a special electoral commission, consisting of representatives, senators and Supreme Court justices, for resolution. The commission gave Hayes the disputed votes. Hayes’s supporters then won southern support by promising that, as president, he would remove federal troops from occupied southern states. This removal officially ended Reconstruction and opened the door for southern states to pass “Jim Crow” laws enforcing segregation and barring African Americans from political office and the polls.

"Louisiana—The Withdrawal of the Federal Troops from the State House in New Orleans, at Noon, on April 24th, 1877"

1880s-1890s: Increase in Contested Congressional Elections

The number of contested elections in Congress increased after the Civil War due to fraud at ballot boxes, restrictions on African-American voters, and the difficulties associated with readmitting former Confederate states to representation in the Union.

Representative George Murray

Representative George Murray