Reconstruction Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

The three amendments to the U.S. Constitution which addressed repealing slavery and the rights of African-Americans (Amendments XIII, XIV and XV) are referred to as the "Reconstruction Amendments." Here is a summary of all twenty-seven Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The Thirteenth Amendment (Amendment XIII) to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. It was passed by the House and Senate after the end of the Civil War and before President Lincoln's assassination. It was ratified by the States six months following Lincoln's death, December 6, 1865.

The Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) was adopted July 9, 1868, which addressed citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws for all African-Americans, particularly former slaves following the American Civil War. It was bitterly contested by the former Confederate states, but they were forced to ratify it in order to regain representation in Congress. It remains one of the most litigated parts of the Constitution, including Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Roe v. Wade (1973), and Bush v. Gore (2000).

The Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV) was ratified on February 3, 1870, prohibiting the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
You may also be interested in our African American Library for literary context.

Amendment XIII

Section 1.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Amendment XIV

Section 1.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2.

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3.

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4.

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5.

The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Amendment XV

Section 1.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2.

The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Check out our collection of Civil War Stories for literary context before and after slavery was abolished. You may also appreciate our African American Library.

Reference documents of interest:

  • U.S. Bill of Rights for the first ten amendments
  • Here's a summary of all Amendments to the U.S. Constitution
  • United States Constitution
  • U.S. Declaration of Independence
  • Emancipation Proclamation
  • Frederick Douglass' 1866 speech, Reconstruction

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