Civil Rights Act of 1866

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In March 1866, the Republican United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which gave further rights to the freed slaves after the end of the American Civil War. This act was the Republicans' counterattack against the Black Codes in the South. Included in these were the rights to: make contracts, sue, witness in court, and own private property. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill, saying that blacks were not qualified for United States citizenship and that the bill would "operate in favor of the colored and against the white race". The Republicans in Congress overrode the presidential veto on April 9, 1866. The act declared that all persons born in the United States were now citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous condition. As citizens they could make and enforce contracts, sue and be sued, give evidence in court, and inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property. Persons who denied these rights to former slaves were guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction faced a fine not exceeding $1,000, or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both. The activities of organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan undermined the workings of this act and it failed to guarantee the civil rights of African Americans.

This was the first of several pieces of legislation called the Civil Rights Act.

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