School Improvement in Maryland
Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 1.0 Political Science

Topic A. The Foundations and Function of Government

Indicator 2. Analyze the impact of historic documents and practices that became the foundations of the American political system during the early national period

Objective g. Evaluate the significance of the Civil War Amendments (13th, 14th and 15th) and how they protected individual rights


After the Civil War, the states approved the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. These Amendments are known as the Civil War Amendments. The addition of the Civil War Amendments marked the start of an effort to guarantee basic rights for African Americans, particularly those who had been enslaved.

Adopted on December 6, 1865, The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution banned and continues to prohibit all slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States. It effectively filled a loophole that was left open by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, a wartime measure which only banned slavery in areas of active rebellion against the Union. Following the amendment’s ratification, southern states enacted public policies known as Black Codes that continued to subject African Americans to conditions similar to slavery and involuntary servitude. For example, some policies required African Americans to sign restrictive labor contracts with land owners that called for “fugitives from labor” to be returned to work. Black Codes also enforced segregation of public facilities. Voter outrage over the Black Codes was a factor in the Republican Party’s victory in the congressional elections of 1866 and Congress’s imposition of military rule in the South.

The Fourteenth Amendment was adopted on July 9, 1868. Its overall purpose was to define U.S. citizenship and to protect African Americans and other citizens of the United States from unfair treatment by individual state governments.

Section I of the 14th amendment contains the equal protection clause. Declaring that “no State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” this clause is the most important constitutional protection enjoyed by the people against discrimination by state and local governments. The Supreme Court’s initial interpretations of the equal protection clause permitted states to maintain de jure (legal) segregation (the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson). In the 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, however, the Court determined that forced school segregation denied African American children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Over time, the Supreme Court has extended the meaning of the equal protection clause to restrict state and local governments from drawing distinctions between groups of people based upon age, gender, disabilities, and other characteristics.

The due process clause of the 14th Amendment prohibits states from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This clause is designed to ensure that all persons are treated fairly by state and local governments. It has been applied both substantively and procedurally, meaning that both the content of the laws passed by states and localities and the procedures they follow when enforcing the laws must be fair to all persons. Beginning with the 1925 case of Gitlow v. New York, a series of Supreme Court decisions during the 20th century applied the guarantees of the Bill of Rights to state and local governments by incorporating them into the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

The Fifteenth Amendment, ratified on February 3, 1870, guarantees the right to vote to men regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But many people did not want black people to vote or hold public office. Some Southern states passed laws that made it very difficult or even impossible for African Americans to vote. Hurdles such as literacy tests, the grandfather clause, and the poll tax were used to limit African American voting rights even after the passage of the 15th Amendment. As a result of the civil rights movement, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1964. This amendment states that the right to vote in national elections may not be denied because of an individual’s failure to pay a poll tax. In addition, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to place further restrictions on the states’ power to deny citizens of the right to vote.

It is important to note that the 15th Amendment did not guarantee voting rights for women, Native Americans, and thousands of eighteen-year olds across the United States. Suffrage rights for these groups were provided by the 19th Amendment (ratified in 1920), the Indian Citizenship Act (1924), and the 26th Amendment (1971), respectively.

Resources for Objective 1.A.2.g:
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