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The Reconstruction Amendments

The Essential Documents, Volume 1

Ratified in the years immediately following the American Civil War, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution—together known as the Reconstruction Amendments—abolished slavery, safeguarded a set of basic national liberties, and expanded the right to vote, respectively. This two-volume work presents the key speeches, debates, and public dialogues that surrounded the adoption of the three amendments, allowing us to more fully experience how they reshaped the nature of American life and freedom.

            Volume I outlines a broad historical context for the Reconstruction Amendments and contains materials related to the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, while Volume 2 covers the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments on the rights of citizenship and enfranchisement. The documents in this collection encompass a sweeping range of primary sources, from congressional debates to court cases, public speeches to newspaper articles. As a whole, the volumes meticulously depict a significant period of legal change even as they illuminate the ways in which people across the land grappled with the process of constitutional reconstruction. Filling a major gap in the literature on the era, The Reconstruction Amendments will be indispensable for readers in politics, history, and law, as well as anyone seeking a better understanding of the post–Civil War basis of American constitutional democracy.

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632 pages | 1 halftone | 8-1/2 x 11 | © 2021

History: American History

Law and Legal Studies: Legal History


"In his The Fourteenth Amendment and the Privileges and Immunities of American Citizenship, Kurt Lash demonstrated how thoroughly he owns the title deeds to understanding the key constitutional events of Reconstruction. Now, Lash has gone a long step beyond that, and in The Reconstruction Amendments: The Essential Documents, Volume One, he provides the most comprehensive collection ever assembled of original sources on the most famous of the three great Reconstruction-era amendments to the Constitution, the Thirteenth. Not only does Lash reach backwards to lay out a strategic sampling of the ‘background’ texts on federalism, slavery and secession, but he then assembles Congressional speeches, newspaper opinion, and state ratification procedures to form a veritable encyclopedia of Reconstruction constitutionalism – almost a day-by-day chronicle of “a new birth of freedom.”  

Allen Carl Guelzo, author of Reconstruction: A Concise History

"This remarkable work of scholarship is a gift to those who seek to understand the United States.  The debates over the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments confronted fundamental and enduring issues of justice and equality.  Kurt Lash’s masterful survey of the vast public discussion of the Amendments makes clear just how much was at stake.  Exploring the words of anonymous citizens as well as legendary lawmakers, Lash’s collection reveals this pivotal moment in American history as we have never seen it before."

Edward L. Ayers, recipient of the Lincoln Prize

"Lash is the nation’s leading authority on documents pertaining to civil rights in the Reconstruction era, and these volumes will be an indispensable source for scholars, abetted by Lash’s incisive commentary."

George White, author of Law in American History: Volume One, From the Colonial Years Through the Civil War

"I just finished teaching a course on the Reconstruction Amendments and Acts at Stanford Law School, using a judicious sub-set of Lash's marvelous set of original source materials. This opens up possibilities for teaching as well as research which never existed before. The students commented especially on how helpful Lash's introductory essays to each part of the materials were. This publication is a magnificent academic achievement and a public service.”

Michael W. McConnell, Stanford Law School

"[A] masterful two volume set. . . . Lash has produced a single, critical resource for understanding a profound moment in American constitution making—a resource that is long, long overdue. . . . Lash has produced a book that every constitutional scholar and historian needs to own."


“An impressive achievement: thorough, textured, and provocative… A service to the field.”


“[A] valuable collection of materials.”


“A collection of texts that are indisputably important to understanding the Amendments.”


“Lash has hit the Aristotelian mean, providing just the right amount of primary material to facilitate insight into the political and constitutional complexities leading up to and engulfing the Reconstruction period. Scholars, judges, and citizens who seek to investigate the intricacies of Reconstruction will find Lash’s The Reconstruction Amendments: The Essential Documents invaluable.”


Table of Contents

Volume 1
Introduction to the Collection
Part 1. The Antebellum Constitution
Introduction to Part 1
A.      Foundational Documents
1.         The Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776)
2.         The Northwest Ordinance (July 13, 1787)
3.         The Constitution of the United States and the First Twelve Amendments (1787–1804)
B.      Federalism and the Structure of Antebellum Constitutional Liberty
Introduction to Part 1B
1.         The Federalist, No. 32 (Hamilton) (Jan. 3, 1788)
2.         The Federalist, No. 33 (Hamilton) (Jan. 3, 1788)
3.         The Federalist, No. 39 (Madison) (Jan. [15–18], 1788)
4.         The Federalist, No. 43 (Madison) (Jan. 23, 1788)
5.         The Federalist, No. 44 (Madison) (Jan. 25, 1788)
6.         The Federalist, No. 45 (Madison) (Jan. [25–29], 1788)
7.         James Madison, Speech Introducing Proposed Amendments (June 8, 1789)
8.         The Alien and Sedition Acts (July 6, July 14, 1798)
9.         The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 (Nov. 10, 1798)
10.       The Virginia Resolutions (Dec. 24, 1798)
11.       The Kentucky Resolutions of 1799 (Nov. 22, 1799)
12.       James Madison, Report on the Virginia Resolutions (Jan. 7, 1800)
13.       St. George Tucker, A View of the Constitution (1803)
14.       Louisiana Purchase Treaty (Apr. 30, 1803)
15.       Report and Resolutions of the Hartford Convention (Jan. 4, 1815)
16.       McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
17.       James Madison, Detached Memoranda (1819)
18.       Corfield v. Coryell (1823)
19.       James Kent, Commentaries; Of the Absolute Rights of Persons (1827)
20.       John C. Calhoun, South Carolina Exposition (Dec. 1828)
21.       James Madison to Edward Everett (Aug. 28, 1830)
22.       South Carolina, Ordinance of Nullification (Nov. 24, 1832)
23.       Daniel Webster, The Constitution Is Not a Compact (Feb. 16, 1833)
24.       James Madison to Daniel Webster (Mar. 15, 1833)
25.       Barron v. Baltimore (1833)
26.       Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution (1833)
27.       William Yates, Rights of Colored Men (1838)
28.       Woman’s Rights Convention, Seneca Falls, New York, Declaration of Sentiments (July 19, 1848)
29.       Luther v. Borden (1849)
30.       John C. Calhoun, A Discourse on the Constitution (I) (1851)
31.       Campbell v. Georgia (1852)
32.       Address of the Colored National Convention to the People of the United States, Rochester, New York (July 6–8, 1853)
33.       John Bingham, Speech Opposing the Admission of Oregon (Feb. 11, 1859)
C.      Slavery: Antebellum Law and Politics
Introduction to Part 1C
1.         Virginia, An Act concerning Servants and Slaves (Oct. 1705)
2.         Sommersett’s Case (1772)
3.         Pennsylvania, An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery (Mar. 1, 1780)
4.         Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1785)
5.         The Northwest Ordinance (July 13, 1787)
6.         Debates in the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention (June, July, Aug. 1787)
7.         Constitutional Provisions Relating to Slavery (1787)
8.         Charles C. Pinckney, South Carolina House of Representatives, The Three-Fifths Clause (Jan. 18, 1788)
9.         Debates in the Virginia Ratifying Convention (Article I, Section 9, Clause 1) (June 15, 1788)
10.       Fugitive Slave Act (Feb. 12, 1793)
11.       St. George Tucker, A Dissertation on Slavery (May 20, 1796)
12.       US Congress, Debate on the Tallmadge Amendment (Feb. 15, Mar. 2, 1819)
13.       Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes (“A fire bell in the night”) (Apr. 22, 1820)
14.       State v. Mann (1829)
15.       Walker’s Appeal (Sept. 28, 1829)
16.       North Carolina, An Act to Prevent the Circulation of Seditious Publications (1830)
17.       American Anti-Slavery Society, Declaration of Sentiments (Dec. 6, 1833)
18.       Letter of Postmaster General Amos Kendall Regarding the Delivery of Anti-Slavery Literature, Richmond Whig (Aug. 11, 1835)
19.       South Carolina, Resolutions on Abolitionist Propaganda (Dec. 16, 1835)
20.       Commonwealth v. Aves (1836)
21.       US House of Representatives, The “Gag” Rules (May 26, 1836)
22.       Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842)
23.       Liberty Party Platform (Aug. 30, 1843)
24.       Wendell Phillips, The Constitution: A Pro-slavery Compact (1844)
25.       South Carolina, Resolutions Relating to the Exclusion of Samuel Hoar, Charleston Courier (Dec. 7, 1844)
26.       Lysander Spooner, The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845)
27.       Pennsylvania, Personal Liberty Act (Mar. 3, 1847)
28.       Free Soil Party Platform (Aug. 9–10, 1848)
29.       Joel Tiffany, A Treatise on the Unconstitutionality of American Slavery (1849)
30.       Fugitive Slave Act (Sept. 18, 1850)
31.       John C. Calhoun, A Discourse on the Constitution (II) (1851)
32.       “No Union with Slaveholders,” Liberator (July 7, 1854)
33.       Massachusetts, Personal Liberty Act (May 21, 1855)
34.       Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856)
35.       Susan B. Anthony, Make the Slave’s Case Our Own (1859)
36.       In re Booth (1854)
37.       Ableman v. Booth (1859)
38.       Wisconsin, Resolutions in Defiance of Ableman v. Booth (Mar. 19, 1859)
39.       Lemmon v. People (1860)
40.       Frederick Douglass, The Constitution of the United States: Is It Pro-slavery or Anti-slavery? (Mar. 26, 1860)
D.      Secession and Civil War
Introduction to Part 1D
1.         Abraham Lincoln, Address at the Cooper Institute (Feb. 27, 1860)
2.         Republican Party Platform (May 17, 1860)
3.         Democratic Party Platform (June 18, 1860)
4.         President James Buchanan, Fourth Annual Message, New York Herald (Dec. 5, 1860)
5.         South Carolina, Declaration of the Causes Which Justify Secession (Dec. 24, 1860)
6.         US Senate, Speech of Judah P. Benjamin Defending the Secession of South Carolina (Dec. 31, 1860)
7.         US Congress, The “Corwin Amendment” (Mar. 2, 1861)
8.         Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address (Mar. 4, 1861)
9.         Constitution of the Confederate States of America (Mar. 11, 1861)
10.       Abraham Lincoln, Message to Congress in Special Session (July 4, 1861)
11.       District of Columbia, Compensated Emancipation Act (Apr. 16, 1862)
12.       Abraham Lincoln to Horace Greeley (Aug. 22, 1862)
13.       Attorney General Edward Bates, on Citizenship (Nov. 29, 1862)
14.       Abraham Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation (Jan. 1, 1863)
15.       Abraham Lincoln, Address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (Nov. 19, 1863)
16.       Abraham Lincoln to Albert G. Hodges (Apr. 4, 1864)
17.       Republican (Union) Party Platform (June 7, 1864)
18.       Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address (Mar. 4, 1865)
19.       “Union Victory! Peace! The Correspondence between Grant and Lee,” New York Times (Apr. 10, 1865)
Part 2. The Thirteenth Amendment
A.      Drafting
Introduction to Part 2A
1.         The Thirty-Eighth Congress, Membership (1863–1865)
2.         US House of Representatives, Proposed Abolition Amendments (Ashley, Wilson) and Abolition Bill (Lovejoy) (Dec. 14, 1863)
3.         US Senate, Proposed Abolition Amendment (Henderson) (Jan. 11, 1864)
4.         Women’s Loyal National League, Petition for a Law Abolishing Slavery (Jan. 25, 1864)
5.         US Senate, Proposed Abolition Amendment (Sumner); Debates (Feb. 8, 1864)
6.         US Senate, Notice of Two-Sectioned Abolition Amendment (Trumbull) (Feb. 10, 1864)
7.         US Senate, Notice of Amended Proposal (S. No. 16) (Trumbull); Notice of Abolition Amendment (Sumner) (Feb. 17, 1864)
8.         US House of Representatives, Speech of James Wilson (R-IA) Introducing Abolition Amendment (Mar. 19, 1864)
9.         US Senate, Speech of Lyman Trumbull (R-IL) Reporting Amended Version of Abolition Amendment (Mar. 28, 1864)
10.       US Senate, Speech of Henry Wilson (R-MA) (Mar. 28, 1864)
11.       US Senate, Speech of Garrett Davis (U-KY) (Mar. 30, 1864)
12.       US Senate, Debate on Abolition Amendment (Mar. 31, 1864)
13.       US Senate, Speech of Reverdy Johnson (D-MD) (Apr. 5, 1864)
14.       US Senate, Abolition Amendment, Amended Language Approved for Debate (Apr. 6, 1864)
15.       US Senate, Debate on Abolition Amendment (Apr. 7, 1864)
16.       US Senate, Debate and Passage of Abolition Amendment (Apr. 8, 1864)
17.       Radical Democracy Party Platform, Cleveland, Ohio (May 31, 1864)
18.       US House of Representatives, Debates on Abolition Amendment (May 31, 1864)
19.       National Union (Republican) Party Convention, Baltimore, Maryland (June 7, 1864)
20.       Abraham Lincoln, Letter to the National Union Convention (June 9, 1864)
21.       US House of Representatives, Debates and Failed Vote on Abolition Amendment (June 14–15, 1864)
22.       “Rejection of the Anti-Slavery Constitutional Amendment,” New York Times (June 17, 1864)
23.       “The Great Victory: Lincoln Triumphantly Re-elected!,” Washington Reporter (Nov. 9, 1864)
24.       Frederick Douglass, “The Final Test of Self-Government” (Nov. 13, 1864)
25.       Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress (Dec. 6, 1864)
26.       US House of Representatives, Debates on Abolition Amendment (Jan. 6–12, 1865)
27.       “Fernando Wood and the Peace Rumors,” Reaction to Speech of Samuel Cox (D-OH), New York Herald (Jan. 13, 1865)
28.       Missouri, “Emancipation Ordinance Adopted Almost Unanimously,” New York Daily Tribune (Jan. 12, 1865)
29.       US House of Representatives, Debates on Abolition Amendment (Jan. 13, 1865)
30.       Tennessee, “Slavery Declared Forever Abolished,” New York Times (Jan. 15, 1865)
31.       US House of Representatives, Debates and Passage of Abolition Amendment (Jan. 28–31, 1865)
32.       “Exciting Scene in the House of Representatives, Jan. 31, 1865,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (Feb. 8, 1865)
33.       US Senate, Notice of House Vote and Presidential Signature (Feb. 1, 1865)
B.      Ratification
Introduction to Part 2B
1.         “The Constitutional Abolition of Slavery—The Great Measure of the Age,” New York Herald (Feb. 2, 1865)
2.         “Speech of Mr. Lincoln on the Constitutional Amendment,” New York Herald (Feb. 3, 1865)
3.         New York, Governor Fenton’s Message, Speeches and Vote on the Abolition Amendment, Albany Evening Journal (Feb. 1–4, 1865)
4.         “The Great Amendment; Progress of Ratification,” New York Tribune (Feb. 4, 1865)
5.         “Dr. Lieber’s Letter to Senator E. D. Morgan on the Amendment of the Constitution Extinguishing Slavery,” New York Tribune (Feb. 4, 1865)
6.         Massachusetts, Unanimous Ratification of Abolition Amendment, Salem Register (Feb. 6, 1865)
7.         Charles Sumner, Resolutions Regarding the Number of States Necessary for Ratification, New York Tribune (Feb. 6, 1865)
8.         “Is the Union Destroyed?” (On Sumner’s Resolutions), New York Times (Feb. 6, 1865)
9.         Virginia, News of Ratification, Press (Feb. 9, 1865)
10.       Delaware, Governor William Cannon’s Message; Legislature Rejects Amendment (Feb. 7–8, 1865)
11.       Indiana, Debates and Ratification (Feb. 8–13, 1865)
12.       Speech of Frederick Douglass, Liberator (Feb. 10, 1865)
13.       Kentucky, Governor Thomas Bramlette’s Address to the Legislature (Calling for Conditional Ratification), Cincinnati Daily Enquirer (Feb. 11, 1865)
14.       Vice President Elect Andrew Johnson, Speech at the Tennessee State Constitutional Convention, Washington Reporter (Feb. 15, 1865)
15.       “The Abolition Amendment,” Crisis (Feb. 15, 1865)
16.       Kentucky, “The Constitutional Amendment Rejected,” New York Daily Tribune (Feb. 24, 1865)
17.       Louisiana, Ratification of Amendment; Call for Black Suffrage, Salem Register (Feb. 27, 1865)
18.       New Jersey, Debates and Failure to Ratify (Feb. 9–Mar. 1, 1865)
19.       “The Constitutional Amendment,” Daily Age (Mar. 7, 1865)
20.       Abraham Lincoln, Speech on the Status of Louisiana (Lincoln’s Last Public Address) (Apr. 11, 1865)
21.       Assassination of President Lincoln, New York Times (Apr. 15, 1865)
22.       “This Hour Belongs Exclusively to the Negro,” Speeches at the Thirty-Second Anniversary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, New York Times (May 10, 1865)
23.       Andrew Johnson, Proclamation Creating a Provisional Government for the State of North Carolina (May 29, 1865)
24.       Andrew Johnson to Provisional Mississippi Governor William L. Sharkey (Aug. 15, 1865)
25.       Equal Suffrage, Address from the Colored Citizens of Norfolk, Va., to the People of the United States (June 26, 1865)
26.       Provisional South Carolina Governor Benjamin F. Perry to Secretary of State William Seward (Nov. 1, 1865)
27.       Secretary of State William Seward to Provisional South Carolina Governor Benjamin F. Perry (Nov. 6, 1865)
28.       South Carolina, Ratification and Accompanying Resolution (Nov. 13, 1865)
29.       “South Carolina,” New York Times (Nov. 16, 1865)
30.       Andrew Johnson to Provisional Mississippi Governor William L. Sharkey (Nov. 17, 1865)
31.       “The Amendment to the Federal Constitution,” Daily Eastern Argus (Nov. 17, 1865)
32.       “The Meaning and Scope of the Great Amendment,” New York Tribune (Nov. 17, 1865)
33.       “Manhood, the Basis of Suffrage,” Speech of Hon. Michael Hahn of Louisiana at the National Equal Suffrage Association of Washington, DC (Nov. 17, 1865)
34.       “What the Amendment Amounts to in South Carolina,” New York Daily Tribune (Nov. 18, 1865)
35.       “Power Given to Congress by the Constitutional Amendment,” New York Times (Nov. 20, 1865)
36.       General Benjamin Butler to Henry Wilson (Nov. 20, 1865)
37.       Mississippi, Joint Committee Report and Rejection of Proposed Amendment (Nov. 27–Dec. 2, 1865)
38.       Alabama, Ratification and Statement of Understanding (Dec. 2, 1865)
39.       Georgia, Message of Provisional Governor James Johnson on the Proposed Amendment, Press (Dec. 11, 1865)
40.       Georgia, “Ratification of the Constitutional Amendment” (and Statement of Understanding), New York Times (Dec. 17, 1865)
41.       Secretary of State William Seward, Proclamation of Ratification (Dec. 18, 1865)
42.       “The Consummated Amendment,” New York Times (Dec. 20, 1865)


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