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04/22/2021

Kurt Lash Guest-Blogging on his "The Reconstruction Amendments: The Essential Documents"
Michael Ramsey

At Volokh Conspiracy, Kurt Lash is guest-blogging on his edited 2-volume set The Reconstruction Amendments: The Essential Documents (Univ. of Chicago Press 2021).  Here are his posts so far:

The Reconstruction Amendments: Essential Documents, a Follow-up to The Founders' Constitution

"The Reconstruction Amendments: Essential Documents," Vol. 1: The Antebellum Constitution and The Thirteenth Amendment

Framing and Ratifying the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments: "The Reconstruction Amendments: Essential Documents," Vol. 2

From the most recent post, on Vol. 2:

One of the most extraordinary moments in American constitutional history occurred on December 4, 1865. On this, the opening day of the Thirty-Ninth Congress, congressional Republicans made the extraordinary decision to refuse admission to representatives from the former Confederate States. The bewildered southern representatives were left standing in the aisles, their pleas to be recognized by the Chair ignored. Republicans instead proceeded to create the Joint Committee on Reconstruction and tasked it with determining the constitutional changes that had to be made before the Union could safely allow the return of the former rebel States.

Thus began a constitutional drama that would not be complete until after the passage of two more constitutional amendments. The Fourteenth Amendment would solve the problem of southern state representation created by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment and define the scope of post-bellum constitutional liberty. The Fifteenth Amendment would prohibit states from denying the right to vote on the basis of race.

At no point was it certain that either amendment would be passed, much less be ratified. The effort to pass the Fourteenth Amendment almost failed, and its ratification triggered a second civil war (one between Republicans and Democrats). It took the impeachment of an American President and the enforcement of the Reconstruction Acts before ratification was assured. Passing Fifteenth Amendment almost failed due to procedural chaos between the two houses of Congress, and securing its ratification involved kicking a readmitted state out of the Union.

The newly published collection of original historical documents, The Reconstruction Amendments: Essential Documents, Volume Two presents the historical record of this remarkable, and remarkably public, constitutional event. The documents include the key congressional speeches and debates, state ratification debates and reports, newspaper essays, campaign speeches and documents, and efforts by women's suffrage advocates and black civil rights organizations to shape the scope and content of constitutional reconstruction.

Unlike the secret Philadelphia Constitutional Convention debates of 1787, the debates over the framing of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were open to the public. Newspapers published transcripts of the speeches and debates on a daily basis and politicians circulated their speeches in pamphlet form as campaign documents. In short, members of the public could follow the arguments supporting or opposing proposed amendments, arguments that included lengthy debates over the scope of the Thirteenth Amendment, the privileges and immunities of national citizenship, the natural rights of all persons and the nature and limits of federal power.