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The Second Freedmen’s Bureau Bill’s Constitution

Essay - Volume 94 - Issue 7

Mark Graber, by contrast, focuses our attention on a single statute: the Second Freedmen’s Bureau Bill of 1866.13 From it, however, he draws some very broad and striking lessons about the actual practice of American constitutionalism. The Second Freedmen’s Bureau Bill implemented the Thirteenth Amendment as the Reconstruction Republicans understood that Amendment. The bill provided people of all races with various goods and services that the Republicans viewed as necessary in order to unwind the economic order of slavery and provide for the full and equal citizenship of both blacks and whites. Part of what Graber explores in this fascinating snapshot of constitutional politics is its partisan nature: it was really the Republican Party, and certainly not the courts, that the Reconstruction Congress imagined would interpret and enforce the guarantees of the Thirteenth Amendment—and the party would do this through legislation that explicitly attempted to intervene in American political economy.

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