Civil Rights Act of 1875

Civil Rights Act of 1875
Great Seal of the United States
Long title An act to protect all citizens in their civil and legal rights.
Acronyms (colloquial) CRA 1875
Nicknames Enforcement Act, Force Act, and Sumner Civil Rights Bill
Enacted by the 43rd United States Congress
Statutes at Large 18 Stat. 335-337
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senate as S. 1 by Sen. Charles Sumner (R-MA) on May 13, 1870[1]
  • Committee consideration by Senate Judiciary
  • Passed the House on February 4, 1875 (162–99)
  • Passed the Senate on February 27, 1875 (38–26)
  • Signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1875
United States Supreme Court cases
Civil Rights Cases (1883)

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 (18 Stat. 335–337),[2] sometimes called Enforcement Act or Force Act, was a United States federal law enacted during the Reconstruction Era to guarantee African Americans equal treatment in public accommodations, public transportation, and to prohibit exclusion from jury service. The bill was passed by the 43rd United States Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1875. Several years later, the Supreme Court ruled in Civil Rights Cases (1883) that sections of the act were unconstitutional.


Legislative History

The drafting of the bill was performed early in 1870 by Senator Charles Sumner, a dominant Radical Republican in the Senate, with the assistance of John Mercer Langston, a prominent African American who established the law department at Howard University.[3] The bill was proposed by Senator Sumner and co-sponsored by Representative Benjamin F. Butler, both Republicans from Massachusetts, in the 41st Congress of the United States in 1870. The act was eventually passed by the 43rd Congress in February 1875 and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1875.[4]

Constitutional challenge

Main article: Civil Rights Cases

The Supreme Court, in an 8–1 decision, declared sections of the act unconstitutional in the Civil Rights Cases on October 15, 1883. Justice John Marshall Harlan provided the lone dissent. The Court held the Equal Protection Clause within the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits discrimination by the state and local government, but it does not give the federal government the power to prohibit discrimination by private individuals and organizations.[5] The Court also held that the Thirteenth Amendment was meant to eliminate "the badge of slavery," but not to prohibit racial discrimination in public accommodations. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was the last civil rights bill to be signed into law by the federal government until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 during the Civil Rights Movement.

Legacy of law

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 is notable as one of the major pieces of legislation related to Reconstruction that were passed by Congress after the American Civil War. These include the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the four Reconstruction Acts of 1867 and 1868, the three Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871, and the three Constitutional Amendments adopted between 1865 and 1870.[6]

Provisions contained in the Civil Rights Act of 1875 were later adopted by Congress during the Civil Rights Movement as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This legislation relied on the Commerce Clause contained in Article One of the Constitution of the United States.

See also


Further reading



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