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What Are the Civil War Amendments?

By S. McNesby
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Civil War Amendments include the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution. Amendments are used to make changes to official documents, and each of the Civil War Amendments introduced a change to the way the United States was governed. While these amendments did not all happen at the same time, they were all ratified after the Civil War and dealt with issues raised by the conflict. The 13th Amendment outlawed slavery, the 14th sought to protect the rights of freed slaves, and the 15th sought to guard former slaves' ability to vote.

Each of the Civil War Amendments addressed the issue of slavery and the treatment of individuals at a federal rather than state level. Making amendments to the Constitution meant that all of the United States treated their residents the same way. Before the Civil War Amendments were enacted, each state could make its own rules about how its citizens were treated and regarded. The Civil War Amendments marked the beginning of the civil rights movement.

The 13th Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, prohibited slavery in the United States. The first of the Civil War Amendments, the 13th Amendment freed any current slaves and outlawed the use of slave labor. This amendment also gave Congress the authority to create laws and legislation that would enforce the 13th Amendment. While outlawing slavery was a start, further amendments were needed due to the reaction of states and businesses in the North and the South.

Three years later, the 14th Amendment was created to ensure the rights of all United States citizens. Ratified on July 9, 1868, the second of the Civil War Amendments made it impossible for states to treat citizens of different races with different laws. The 14th Amendment sought to ensure that all states treated their citizens equally regardless of race, and was used in 1954 in the famous civil rights case, Brown vs. Board of Education, which outlawed racial segregation.

Enacted on February 3, 1870, the last of the Civil War Amendments sought to ensure former slaves the right to vote. The 15th Amendment prohibits states from barring citizens from voting based on race or color or on their former status as slaves. While this amendment did give African-American men the right to vote, it did not provide voting privileges for women of any race; women would not be granted the right to vote until 1920, 50 years later.

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Discussion Comments
By Melonlity — On Feb 28, 2014

Out of all of those amendments, the 14th is perhaps the most significant in terms of curbing how states could and could not treat their citizens. Think of it -- prior to the War Between the States, the nation was typically referred to as "these United States," but the terminology shifted to "the United States" sometime after the war.

The 14th Amendment, then, is truly the embodiment of the notion that the nation functions better as a strong, centralized union that offers certain rights and benefits to all of its citizens rather than as a loose collection of states that have more power of their citizens and affairs than the federal government does.

The 14th Amendment, then, can be seen as turning point in the nation's view on federalism -- the question of whether states or the federal government should wield the most authority.

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