Chapter 8

Activity 1: Primary Source Reading
Activity 2: Expanding democracy: the period of Reconstruction

Activity 1: Primary Source Reading

Protest of the Freedmen of Edisto Island , South Carolina to General Howard, October 1865 (with original spelling)

General IT Is with painfull Hearts that we the Committee address you, we Have thurougholy considered the order which you wished us to Sign, we wish we could do so but cannot feel our rights Safe If we do so.

General we want Homesteads; we were promised homesteads by the government; If It does not carry out the promises Its agents made to us, If the government Haveing concluded to befriend Its late enemies and to neglect to observe the principles of common faith between Its self and us Its allies In the war you said was over, now takes away from them all right to the soil they stand upon save such as they can get by again working for your late and thier all time enemies—If the government does so we are left In a more unpleasant condition than our former.

we are at the mercy of those who are combined to prevent us from getting land enough to lay our Fathers bones upon. We Have property In Horses, cattle, carriages, & articles of furniture, but we are landless and Homeless, from the Homes we Have lived In In the past we can only do one of three things Step Into the public road or the sea or remain on them working as In former time and subject to their will as then. We can not resist It In any way without being driven out Homeless upon the road.

You will see this Is not the condition of really freemen

You ask us to forgive the land owners of our Island , You only lost your right arm. In war and might forgive them. The man who tied me to a tree & gave me 39 lashes & who stripped and flogged my mother & sister & who will not let me stay In His empty Hut except I will do His planting & be Satisfied with His price & who combines with others to keep away land from me well knowing I would not Have anything to do with Him If I Had land of my own—that man, I cannot well forgive. Does It look as if He Has forgiven me, seeing How He tries to keep me In a Condition of Helplessness

General, we cannot remain Here In such condition and If the government permits them to come back we ask It to Help us to reach land where we shall not be slaves nor compelled to work for those that treat us as such. We have not been treacherous, we Have not for selfish motives allied to us those who suffered like us from a common enemy & then Haveing gained our purpose left our allies In their Hands  There is no rights secured to us there Is no law likely to be made which our Hands can reach. The state will make laws that we shall not be able to Hold land even If we pay for It Landless, Homeless, Voteless, we can only pray to god & Hope for His Help, your Influence & assistance With consideration of esteem your Obt Servts

In behalf of the people

Committee:   Henry Bram, Ishmael Moultrie, Yates Sampson

Classroom activity

Distribute the reading. Ask the class to explain the arguments used by the freedmen in each paragraph of the document. The class should read this article about "Forty Acres and a Mule" and reparations:

Divide the class into three groups and ask each group to create a role-play around the “Forty Acres and a Mule” theme.

(Suggestions: they might want to role play a meeting of freedmen and the representative of the freedmen’s Bureau who come to tell them they have to give up their land; or they might want to illustrate the position and mindset of Andrew Johnson and the white planters to whom he returns the land, or confrontation between freemen and the restores planters, etc.)

  • How might our society might have been different if they federal government and maintained its policy of ensuring freedmen a measure of economic independence?
  • What are the "reparations”? Ask the students whether they think that Congress should pass a law giving reparations for slavery. You may want to arrange for a debate on the issue.

Activity 2: Expanding democracy: the period of Reconstruction


  • To examine the relationship between Constitutional change and the expansion of rights and democracy.
  • To help students understand the importance – and limitations – of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Brainstorm what “Reconstruction” means in terms of the possibility of new beginnings. Reconstruction provided a new vision of the Constitution which:

  • Includes formerly excluded groups;
  • Protects persons, not property;
  • Resolves the incompatibility between the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”) and a Constitution sanctioning slavery;
  • Redefines federalism to make the nation or federal government the guardian of civil rights and liberties. If the original Bill of Rights protected the individual against the Congress or federal government (“Congress shall make no law”), post-Civil War amendments and legislation were intended by Congress to protect the individual against the states by giving the federal courts new areas of jurisdiction.
  • Offers the Supreme Court a new role, outlined by Fredrick Douglass when he called for “a Supreme Court which shall be true, as vigilant, as active, and exacting in maintaining laws enacted for the protection of human rights, as in other days was that Court for the destruction of human rights!”

The Fourteenth Amendment was introduced in 1866 and ratified as part of the US Constitution in 1868:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States , and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States ; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of the law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of Electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a State, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty- one years of age and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one of age in such State.

Section 3.  No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or Elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of an State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.  Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each house, remove such disability.

Section 4.  The validity of the public debt of the United States , authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.  But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States , or any claim for the loss of emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations, and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have no power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.


  1. What is meant by “due process of law”
  2. What is meant by “equal protection of the law”?
  3. Look at a copy of the Constitution. Does the term “male citizens” appear anytime before the Fourteenth Amendment? (Answer no, before this time the constitution used gender-neutral nouns like ‘persons’, ‘inhabitants’ and ‘citizens’)
  4. Look at Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which gives the government the power to reduce the number of representatives from those states that deny male citizens the vote. Do you think it was ever used? (Answer: no – although it could have been used to prevent the emergence of the Jim Crow system which disenfranchised the black voting population)

Group Project
By the time of the Centennial of the Constitution, the Fourteenth Amendment was being used to protect corporations, not people, and civil rights laws were either forgotten or declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Despite the fact that the Fourteenth Amendment gave the federal government power over the states to enforce voting rights for black people, they were being disenfranchised around the South.

What if the Supreme Court had enforced the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Acts during the period of Reconstructions and its aftermath? How could our history have been different? What might our society by like today?

The class can be divided into groups which can brainstorm and share lists of ways our history may have been different, and create a skit illustrating one or more of those ways.

Copyright 2006, ACLU of Massachusetts