Race and Gender in the Post-Civil War Period

At first sight, one may think that race and citizenship as concepts are at odds with each other; so is gender. Citizenship is premised on the equality of individuals while race is a collective inequality. All over the world, or at least in a majority of the word’s governments, people celebrate citizenship as a cultural achievement. Citizenship is regarded as the hallmark of a developed stage in civilization with race being a preeminent natural condition. Despite these contradictions, the modern concepts on race and citizenship emerged in close historical proximity, and this relationship did not end that fast as they have remained to be constant companions since then. To understand the semblance we should look beyond the semblance of inconsistency that we see today and understand the basis of this compatibility (Goldman, 2001). There is no better way to do this than by understanding the relation between race, gender, and citizenship in the post-civil war period in the United States. In the aftermath of the Civil War, race restored the social inequality that had been theoretically abolished by citizenship.

In the late nineteenth century, two questions were hotly contested and remained unresolved: who is a right citizen of the United States, and what right should such a citizen enjoy. The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments had been among the first Amendments made to the Constitution of the US in six decades (Hull, 2012). These two are collectively known as the Civil War Amendments and were drafted as an effort to permanently enshrine the equality for all the recently emancipated slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation was the last strike to the ten states that had persisted in slavery rebellion as many citizens shared the concern of rights that had been granted to war time citizens being overturned. Congress at around this time was being controlled by the Republican Party, and they ensured that legislation was pushed to lobby for constitutional amendments that were more binding and permanent.

The three constitutional amendments during the Emancipation Proclamation granted citizenship rights through naturalization of all people who would be born on US soil regardless of race and gender. Secondly, the amendments prohibited slavery and barred the government from infringing the voting rights on the basis of race or past servitude. The 13th Amendment issued an explicit ban on slavery and any form of involuntary servitude with the exception only for the punishment of committed crimes, which should be punished legally (Goldman, 2001). The 14th Amendment defined citizenship and confirmed the rights to due process, property, and liberty. The 15th Amendment barred the government from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote because of their color, race or even past servitude.

The 14th Amendment established a criterion to determine citizenship in the United States. To do this, the Amendment stated that any person born or naturalized in the United States was a citizen of the United States and the state wherein he resided. However, birth or naturalization in the United States did not equal into rights. If enfranchisement, a right to have a voice in the process of making laws and exercise other citizen responsibilities, is a basic and essential right of every citizen, women could not be considered to have had full citizenship until later in 1920 (Hull, 2012). The 15th Amendment granted African American males the right to vote, however, several laws restricted their access to the ballot box. Additionally, there was a lot of physical intimidation in the polls, and this greatly compromised citizenship and freedoms (Goldman, 2001). The liberties of Americans who had gradually attained to their voting rights at the start of the 19th century remained unclear though these guys were white working class males. Native Americans’ and immigrants’ right to reside in America and become citizens were open questions.

Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848 is regarded as the origin of the American women’s suffrage movement, during this time women held some public meetings and protested to have equal rights with their male counterparts (Hull, 2012). In this very historic meeting, women cried and rallied to demand to have the same rights as men did. This is what raised the eyebrows of the several hundred men and women who attended this meeting. Senior reformers recounted the events of that day and distinguished Lucretia Mott feeling that this particular demand was very advanced for their time, if not morally questionable. On that day Stanton argued for the need to have equal voting rights and the need of women to have full equality with men in all the levels of rights that the law had accorded to men. This seemed like a very lofty ideal, and not many people were willing to join the cause as Stanton was only supported by an abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass. In the end, suffrage resolution was passed. Since then, it took 75 years till ratification of the 19th Constitutional Amendment in 1920, which clearly barred the states from any disfranchisement to vote on the basis of sex (Goldman, 2001).

Women’s suffrage in America was one of the most prolonged of all constitutional wars on record. As seen above, the first crusade and meeting took place in 1848, but the actual realization of these rights happened only in 1920, almost a century later (Hull, 2012). One of the actual materialization of the constitutional battles that took place occurred in the postwar Reconstruction. During the Reconstruction, the suffrage movement adopted a majority of the characteristics that it would keep for the next 50 years. Political equality for women was an issue that emerged out of the just finished Civil War and was closely tied to the unsettled issue of undefined political status of former slaves. By pinning a state’s number of seats to the proportion of adult population allowed to vote in the House of Representatives, the 14th Amendment had in a very indirect manner regarding the question of enfranchisement (Hull, 2012). Two qualifications were, however, necessary to determining the basis on which representation would occur: as Indians were not taxed they would not get any representation, and for the first time the Amendment had specifically mentioned the electorate to be male. For the very first time, there was reference to the word ‘male’ in this Amendment to the Constitution. As the women rights movement was in its second decade, one of its objectives was an establishment of political equality demanded on its platform. The people amending the Constitution could in no way assume that the reference “we the people” meant only men and excluded women. Sometimes later, the 14th Amendment was found quite weak in encouraging black enfranchisement, and therefore a third postwar Amendment was designed (Goldman, 2001). This was the 15th Amendment, and it addressed the issue of suffrage directly prohibiting the states and government to discriminate and forbid any person to vote on the basis of race, color and previous servitude..


Goldman, R. M. (2001). Reconstruction and black suffrage: Losing the vote in Reese and Cruikshank. (1st ed.). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

Hull, N. E. H. (2012). The woman who dared to vote: The trial of Susan B. Anthony. Lawrence, KA: University Press of Kansas.