Freedom for All Americans
On this day in 1866, the Republican-majority 39th Congress overrode a veto by the Democrat president, Andrew Johnson, to enact the 1866 Civil Rights Act. Every Democrat in Congress voted against it.
The purpose of the 1866 Civil Rights Act was to defend African-Americans from their Democrat oppressors in the post-Civil War South. There, Democrats had enacted black codes to impose near-slavery on African-Americans who had just been emancipated by the Republican Party’s 13th Amendment.
Senator Lyman Trumbull (R-IL) wrote the 1866 Civil Rights Act, which conferred U.S. citizenship on former slaves and other African-Americans. The law guaranteed African-Americans “full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens.” Republicans thereby granted African-Americans the right to own property, engage in business, sign contracts and file lawsuits.
This was the first time that Congress overrode a veto of a significant bill. Also, the 1866 Civil Rights Act contradicted the notorious Dred Scott decision, in which the seven Democrat Justices on the Supreme Court had decreed that black people did not have constitutional rights. To prevent Democrats from someday repealing the Act, Republicans later enshrined its provisions as Article I of the 14th Amendment.
Sadly, Democrats defied the 1866 Civil Rights Act and other Republican reforms. Democrat oppression of African-Americans would not be overcome until the 1960’s civil rights movement.