After the end of the civil war, the Freedmen’s Bureau was established to assist former slaves to gain a footing in the workplace. The Reconstruction period ensured that black men were able to fairly secure jobs with good wages. They were also allowed to own and dispose property. While the Civil War abolished slavery, black men were pressured to sign labor contracts by a series of Black Codes that were established by the white Southerners. The codes had several loopholes to introduce what was admittedly slave labor through ambiguities like apprenticeship and vagrancy. Colored people were also not allowed to marry or cohabit with white people (McPherson 29). The political environment following the Civil War was riddled with vague laws that continued to oppress the freed black men.
The Black Codes outlined special clauses that only applied to black men, and they were vindictive. The codes impeded the freedom of former slaves and they were a veiled form of slavery because they controlled the labor provided by colored people. Moreover, the laws also restricted the movement of colored individuals as they had to get good behavior bonds to travel (McPherson 30). The Black Codes limited the jobs that freedmen could get by requiring written recommendations from their former masters, even so, very low wages were prescribed (Resolutions Adopted by a Meeting of Virginia Employers, May 31, 1865).
The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery; however, it allowed servitude in the condition that it was undertaken as a punishment for a crime. The Black Codes exploited the ambiguity of using slave labor as punishment for crimes by applying them to black offenders, whereas white criminals were easily let off the hook. Individuals who were regarded as vagrants like gamblers could be arrested and imprisoned with hard labor. Sheriffs were then allowed to hire out black these imprisoned vagrants to white farm owners who would force them to work to waive their sentences (McPherson 30).
The Black Codes were largely instigated by the provisions of the Tenth and the Thirteenth Amendments. The Tenth Amendment ensures the sovereignty of the states with regards to powers that were not conferred to the national government by the constitution. Consequently, individual states established their own rules to guide the conduct of individuals of color (McPherson 30). The states could establish these rules because the Black Codes were not delegated to the federal government under the constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment allowed a subtle form of slavery under the context of working off criminal sentences. The law only applied to black wrongdoers and the white masters exploited it to run their plantations with forced labor.
After the Civil War ended, former slaves sought to be treated equally in the society, they also wanted the similar economic benefits. The Fourteenth Amendment offered citizenship to people of color, it also provided them with equal protection under the law. The amendment instantly granted citizenship to people of color; however, it was soon overturned by the courts. The courts were driven by public pressure which was not always in favor of black citizens, and they buckled and created a set of bias that worked against black people. The codes also promoted arbitrary justice as blacks who were deemed to have broken them were left under the mercy of the “good citizens” (Resolutions Adopted by a Meeting of Virginia Employers, May 31, 1865). Laws were conjured on the pretext of providing opportunity, yet they exploited issues like the widespread illiteracy among blacks to prevent them from exercising their civil rights such as the right to vote.