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Thu, 04.20.1871

The Enforcement Act of 1871 passed

*On this date in 1871, the Enforcement Act of 1871, was passed by the 42nd United States Congress was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant.  

Also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1871, Force Act of 1871, Ku Klux Klan Act, Third Enforcement Act, or Third Ku Klux Klan Act, it empowered the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to combat the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy organizations. The act was the last of three Enforcement Acts passed by the United States Congress from 1870 to 1871 during the Reconstruction Era to combat attacks upon the suffrage rights of African Americans.  This bill brought; in its early history this act was used along with the Force Act to bring to justice those who were violating the Civil Rights of newly freed African Americans.  

In February 1871, Congressman Benjamin Franklin Butler of Massachusetts introduced his anti-Klan bill, intended to enforce both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Butler's bill was narrowly defeated in the House, whereupon Rep. Samuel Shellabarger, of Ohio, introduced a substitute bill, only slightly less sweeping than Butler's original.  The statute has been subject to only minor changes since then but has been the subject of roomy interpretation by courts.  The President’s request was a result of the reports he was receiving of widespread racial threats in the Deep South, particularly in South Carolina. He felt that he needed to have his authority broadened before he could effectively intervene.

After the act's passage, the president had the power for the first time to both suppress state disorders on his own initiative and to suspend the right of habeas corpus.  The President did not hesitate to use this authority on numerous occasions during his presidency, and as a result the first era KKK was completely dismantled and did not resurface in any meaningful way until the first part of the 20th century. Several of its provisions still exist today as codified statutes. The most important of these is 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Civil action for deprivation of rights. After the end of the Grant Administration, and the dismantling of Reconstruction under Rutherford B. Hayes, enforcement of the Act fell into disuse and few cases were brought under the statute for almost a hundred years.  

Reference:

History House.gov

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