From the Klan Trials and
Hearings through the End of the
Civil Rights Revolution
FIRST AND FOURTH AMENDMENTS
After passage of the 1870 Enforcement Act,1 which protected rights “granted or secured” by the Constitution, federal prosecutors began bringing indictments alleging interference with the right to vote on account of race and violations of Bill of Rights freedoms. After federal courts in Alabama and Mississippi upheld such indictments, a concerted effort was made to bring similar indictments against members of the Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina.
In May 1871 Circuit Judge William Woods of the Southern District of Alabama upheld an indictment charging that the defendants conspired to injure persons “with intent to prevent and hinder their free exercise and enjoyment of the right of freedom of speech, the same being a right and privilege granted and secured to them by the constitution of the United States.”2 Another count alleged interference with “the right and privilege to peaceably assemble.”3 The government conceded that these rights preexisted the Constitution’s adoption and hence were not “granted’ by the Constitution, but contended that the rights to free speech and assembly were “secured” by the Constitution and thus were protected by the Enforcement Act.
Observing that the Bill of Rights originally only limited federal action, Judge Woods explained that the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to