How effective were the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments and/or how long did it take to be effective if not right away?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Thirteenth Amendment, because it was passed immediately in the wake of the Civil War, had almost immediate effect in the sense that it banned chattel slavery. However, as Reconstruction collapsed, African-Americans and many poor whites were often driven by necessity and by a white-controlled economy into arrangements that often resembled slavery. Many sharecropper contracts, in addition to establishing onerous economic terms, also gave property owners the ability to confiscate property and even, in some cases, physically punish sharecroppers. So the letter of the   Thirteenth Amendment had immediate effect, while its spirit was violated as a matter of course in the South.

It was precisely the existence of "vestiges of slavery," including these contracts and the emergence of so-called "Black Codes" that brought about the Fourteenth Amendment. It was designed to guarantee equal protection under law to all American citizens, which under its definition, included virtually all living slaves. But extremely limited readings of the Fourteenth Amendment by the Supreme Court in a series of decisions in the late nineteenth century opened a legal space for states to deny the protections of the amendment to African Americans. The "separate but equal" doctrine outlined in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) gave legal sanction to racial discrimination by state governments.

The Fifteenth Amendment was an acknowledgement of the reality that African-Americans could never achieve legal equality in the South without political power. It thus extended the franchise to all men regardless of race or condition of prior servitude. Yet, as is well known, southern governments found loopholes to avoid granting the franchise, and after Reconstruction collapsed in 1876, blacks were denied the vote both through legal devices such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and even selective gerrymandering, and through the use of terror and other repressive measures. The full benefits of the Fifteenth Amendment were not realized until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the result of a long civil rights struggle. 

Yojana_Thapa | Student

Primarily, The Thirteenth Amendment, 1865 abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. It completed the task of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Fourteenth Amendment, 1868 made the former slaves citizens. It provided for equal protection of the laws for all citizens. The Fifteenth Amendment, 1870 provided the right to vote for Black males. This itself brought political and economic equality to the former slaves. But the point is even though slavery was abolished, the treatment, the attitude towards them, African Americans didn’t change.

South formed the Black codes. Under these codes blacks didn’t not have the right to bear arms, be involved in any jobs other than farming. The south was a society where they couldn’t live without slaves. Slaves were a major labor source. For it to be take out, it would cause chaos. This is what exactly happened. The effectiveness of these constitutional amendments were hindered by these unnecessary rules imposed by the south. These often slowed down reconstruction. In addition, the KKK were groups that opposed Black having the right to vote. The weakness and hindrance is shown in the Supreme Court case United States v. Reese. It was a case in 1876 in which the Supreme Court upheld practices as the poll tax, the literacy test, and the Grandfather Clause. This case definitely helped undermine African American and their rights stated in the 15th Amendment. Sharecropper was another factor that was evolved from Reconstruction that put many African Americans in debt!

On the other hand, many rights and acts were passed to support the constitutional amendments. Freedmen’s Bureau, which was established in March of 1865 to care for refugees. Carpetbaggers went to the South to oppose the practice of slavery and they went to check on how the black were being treated. Civil Rights act of 1866 declared black as citizens of the United States, this strengthened the 13th Amendment.