The Reconstruction amendments are the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments to the United States Constitution, adopted between 1865 and 1870, the five years immediately following the Civil War.
The Amendments were important elements in implementing the Reconstruction of the American South after the war. Their proponents saw them as transforming the United States from a country that was (in Abraham Lincoln's words) "half slave and half free" to one in which the constitutionally guaranteed "blessings of liberty" would be extended to the entire male populace, including the former slaves and their descendants.
The Thirteenth Amendment (both proposed and ratified in 1865) abolished slavery. The Fourteenth Amendment (proposed in 1866 and ratified in 1868) included the Privileges or Immunities Clause, Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. The Fifteenth Amendment, (proposed in 1869 and ratified in 1870 under the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant) grants voting rights regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." This amendment did not include women. It took another amendment—the Nineteenth, ratified in 1920— to grant women the right to vote.
These amendments were intended to guarantee freedom and civil rights to African-Americans. The promise of these amendments was eroded by state laws and federal court decisions. The states passed Jim Crow laws that limited the rights of African-Americans. Important Supreme Court decisions that undermined these amendments were the Slaughter-House Cases(1873), which prevented rights guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment's privileges or immunities clause being extended to rights under state law; and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which gave federal approval to Jim Crow laws. The full benefits of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments were not realized until Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education(1954) and laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
See also 
- Foner, Eric. "The Reconstruction Amendments: Official Documents as Social History." Gilderlehrman.org. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2012. <http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/reconstruction/essays/reconstruction-amendments-official-documents-social-history>.
- "13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery." Archives.gov. National Archives, n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2012. <http://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/document.html?doc=9&title.raw=13th%20Amendment%20to%20the%20U.S.%20Constitution%3A%20Abolition%20of%20Slavery>.
- Kelly, Martin. "14th Amendment Summary - What Is the Fourteenth Amendment." About.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.
- "Primary Documents in American History." 15th Amendment to the Constitution: Primary Documents of American History (Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress). N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2012.
- "The Constitution: The 19th Amendment." Archive.gov. National Archives, n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2012. <http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/amendment_19/>.
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