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Historical Highlights

The Civil Rights Bill of 1866

April 09, 1866
The Civil Rights Bill of 1866 Image courtesy of Library of Congress A New York state politician for more than a decade, Representative Henry Raymond served only one term in the House of Representatives.
On this date, the House overrode President Andrew Johnson’s veto of the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 with near unanimous Republican support, 122 to 41, marking the first time Congress legislated upon civil rights. First introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, the bill mandated that "all persons born in the United States," with the exception of American Indians, were "hereby declared to be citizens of the United States." The legislation granted all citizens the “full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property.” To Radical Republicans, who believed the federal government had a role in shaping a multiracial society in the postwar South, the measure seemed the next logical step after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 18, 1865 (which abolished slavery). Representative Henry Raymond of New York noted that the legislation was “one of the most important bills ever presented to this House for its action.” President Johnson disagreed with the level of federal intervention implied by the legislation, calling it “another step, or rather a stride, toward centralization and the concentration of all legislative power in the national Government” in his veto message. The Civil Rights Bill of 1866 proved to be the opening salvo of the showdown between the 39th Congress (1865–1867) and the President over the future of the former Confederacy and African-American civil rights.

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