The Reconstruction Congress of 1867
Picture Description from "Freedmen Voting in New Orleans" 1867 engraving showing African Americans who were enslaved but a couple years earlier participating in election.
In honor of Black History Month, all month long we will be sharing the legacies and stories of the heroes, sheroes, and events in the fight for Black suffrage on social media under the hashtag #VRABlackHistory. Follow us on Twitter (@VRAmatters) to share your own facts.

Today we honor the Reconstruction Congress of 1867, which passed several measures to promote the Black franchise.

"Following the end of the Civil War, the United States Congress forged a plan to reconstruct the war-torn country. Three dynamic measures were passed in 1867."

The District of Columbia Suffrage Bill

"The District of Columbia Suffrage Bill, 'a bill granting all adult male citizens of the District of Columbia the right to vote', passed the Senate on December 13, 1866, and then passed the House the next day." "The bill, vetoed by President Johnson on January 5, was overridden by a vote of 29 to 10 in the Senate". The Reconstruction Congress of 1867 also overrode “President Andrew Johnson’s veto", "by a vote of 112 to 38",  causing the bill to become law. It also becomes the “first [federal] law in American history that granted African-American men the right to vote."

The Territorial Suffrage Act

Two days after this bill granting Black (male) citizens in DC the right to vote, Congress passed the Territorial Suffrage Act, which allowed African Americans in the Western territories to vote. The Territorial Suffrage Act section 9 said: “From and after the passage of this act there shall be no denial of the elective franchise in any of the Territories of the United States, now or hereafter to be organized, to any citizen thereof on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; and all acts or part of acts, either of Congress or of the Legislative Assemblies of said Territories, inconsistent with the provisions of this act, are hereby declared null and void.”

What may have led to the passage of the Territorial Suffrage Act was a group of Colorado Blacks who were angry with Colorado’s suffrage restriction. They petitioned the territorial governor and members of Congress for the right to vote. This agitation eventually helped Congress pass the Territorial Suffrage Act in 1867. Don’t let anyone say that petitioning doesn’t work. It has always been small groups of people who started big movements. Just 3 years after these 2 bills were law, the 15th Amendment would grant suffrage to all male voters, regardless of race or previous condition of servitude.

The Reconstruction Acts of 1867

"The fundamental points of the Reconstruction of 1867 included:

  • The Reconstruction Act created five military districts in the seceded states (with the exception of Tennessee, which ratified the 14th Amendment and was thus re-admitted to the Union)

  • The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 implemented regulations regarding voter registration; all freed individuals were allowed to vote along with white persons who took extended oaths.

  • Each district in the Union was now headed by a military official empowered to remove and subsequently anoint state leaders/officials. All states were required to employ a military leader from the North (Marshall Law). 

  • All states were required to ratify the 14th Amendment prior to readmission into the Union.

  • State constitutional conventions were required to draft new governing documents that included laws on black male suffrage. The Reconstruction Act required all southern states to eliminate their black codes and ratify the 14th amendment. The act also disabled confederate leaders and any individual who did not pledge their allegiance to the United States from voting."
To find out more about this Reconstruction Era and what lead to this historic bill, watch the video below: