A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution

By Harold M. Hyman | Go to book overview

Chapter XXVI
Wise Restraints to Make Men Free

H oward was oversanguine. But it is the essence of mid-1866 that so many other influential, informed Republicans also believed that an end to ideology had been won. The Freedmen's Bureau Act, the Civil Rights law, and the Habeas Corpus statute provided what appeared to be appropriately effective minimal mechanisms for protecting the nation's citizens and officials with respect to certain state relationships and policies. As a bonus, these laws would enforce the proposed Fourteenth Amendment as well as the still-new Thirteenth.

A conservative tradition flourished at once that the new statutes and Amendments were unconnected. Jeremiah Sullivan Black, Buchanan's former Attorney General, insisted to the United States Supreme Court that the Amendments were wholly self-executing and that enforcement, even of the sort the Bureau and Civil Rights laws provided, was neither required nor permitted.

The counterargument, offered by Thaddeus Stevens in Congress and United States Attorney Benjamin Bristow before the Supreme Court, was better. From what Bristow described as "the history of the time . . . [and] the objects to be accomplished" by the Reconstruction Amendments and statutes, the conclusion is justified that Congress created the statutes as machinery for the Amendments.1

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1
1.See CG, 39 Cong., 1 sess., 2459, for Thaddeus Stevens; for Benjamin Bristow, E. A. Webb, "Benjamin H. Bristow: Civil Rights Champion",

-465-

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