The main goal in creating these acts was to improve conditions for blacks, and freed slaves. The main target was the Ku Klux Klan, a racist organization, which was targeting blacks, and, later, other groups. Although this act was meant to fight against the KKK and help blacks, and freedmen, many states were reluctant to take such relatively extreme actions, for several reasons. Some politicians at the state and federal levels were either members of the Klan, or did not have enough strength to fight the Klan. Another goal of these acts was to achieve national unity, by creating a country where all races were considered equal under the law.
The Enforcement Acts did many things to help freedmen, the main purpose under this act was the prohibited use of violence or any form of intimidation to prevent the freedmen from voting and denying them this right. There were many provisions placed under this act, many with serious consequences. The Enforcement Acts were created as part of the reconstruction era in the United States following the American civil war, and in order for full national unity, all citizens had to be accepted and viewed equally and violence must be prohibited.
The Enforcement Act of 1870 (Formally, "An Act to enforce the Right of Citizens of the United States to vote in the several States of this Union, and for other Purposes," 41st Congress, Sess. 2, ch. 114, 16 Stat. 140, enacted May 31, 1870, effective 1871) was an act that restricted the first wave of the groups that made up the Klan. In this act, the government banned the use of terror, force or bribery to prevent people from voting because of their race. Other laws banned the KKK entirely. Hundreds of KKK members were arrested and tried as common criminals and terrorists. The first Klan was all but eradicated within a year of federal prosecution.
"Sec. 2.And be it further enacted, That if by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of any State, or the laws of any Territory, any act is or shall be required to be done as a prerequisite or qualification for voting, and by such constitution or laws persons or officers are or shall be charged with the performance of duties in furnishing to citizens an opportunity to perform such prerequisite, or to become qualified to vote, it shall be the duty of every such person and officer to give to all citizens of the United States the same and equal opportunity to perform such prerequisite, and to become qualified to vote without distinction of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; and if any such person or officer shall refuse or knowingly omit to give full effect to this section, he shall, for every such offence, forfeit and pay the sum of five hundred dollars to the person aggrieved thereby, to be recovered by an action on the case, with full costs, and such allowance for counsel fees as the court shall deem just, and shall also, for every such offence, be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall, on conviction thereof, be fined not less than five hundred dollars, or be imprisoned not less than one month and not more than one year, or both, at the discretion of the court."
The section from the Enforcement Act of 1870 states that every person despite race, color, or previous condition of servitude must be granted equal opportunity to become qualified to vote. If any person or government official fails to recognize this as the law, there will be a minimum fine of five hundred dollars, and at the discretion of the court, could be sentenced to jail for a period of one month up to one year.
"Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That whenever, by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of any State, or the laws of any Territory, any act is or shall be required to [be] done by any citizen as a prerequisite to qualify or entitle him to vote, the offer of any such citizen to perform the act required to be done as aforesaid shall, if it fail to be carried into execution by reason of the wrongful act or omission aforesaid of the person or officer charged with the duty of receiving or permitting such performance or offer to perform, or acting thereon, be deemed and held as a performance in law of such act; and the person so offering and failing as aforesaid, and being otherwise qualified, shall be entitled to vote in the same manner and to the same extent as if he had in fact performed such act; and any judge, inspector, or other officer of election whose duty it is or shall be to receive, count, certify, register, report, or give effect to the vote of any such citizen who shall wrongfully refuse or omit to receive, count, certify, register, report, or give effect to the vote of such citizen upon the presentation by him of his affidavit stating such offer and the time and place thereof, and the name of the officer or person whose duty it was to act thereon, and that he was wrongfully prevented by such person or officer from performing such act, shall for every such offence forfeit and pay the sum of five hundred dollars to the person aggrieved thereby, to be recovered by an action on the case, with full costs, and such allowance for counsel fees as the court shall deem just, and shall also for every such offence be guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall, on conviction thereof, be fined not less than five hundred dollars, or be imprisoned not less than one month and not more than one year, or both, at the discretion of the court."
This section states that the President of the United States had full rights to use the United States armed forces and trained army to put down any rebellions which took place as a result of these acts, or to disable any freedmen.
"Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That if any person, by force, bribery, threats, intimidation, or other unlawful means, shall hinder, delay, prevent, or obstruct, or shall combine and confederate with others to hinder, delay, prevent, or obstruct, any citizen from doing any act required to be done to qualify him to vote or from voting at any election as aforesaid, such person shall for every such offence forfeit and pay the sum of five hundred dollars to the person aggrieved thereby, to be recovered by an action on the case, with full costs, and such allowance for counsel fees as the court shall deem just, and shall also for every such offence be guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall, on conviction thereof, be fined not less than five hundred dollars, or be imprisoned not less than one month and not more than one year, or both, at the discretion of the court."
This section states that the habeas corpus would be suspended. A writ of habeas corpus is an important right granted to individuals of America. It is a judicial mandate which requires prisoners to be brought to court in order to determine whether the government has the right to continue to imprison them. The habeas corpus was suspended only twice, during the civil war, and reconstruction, during times of rebellion and the invasion of public safety.
"Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That if any person shall prevent, hinder, control, or intimidate, or shall attempt to prevent, hinder, control, or intimidate, any person from exercising or in exercising the right of suffrage, to whom the right of suffrage is secured or guaranteed by the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, by means of bribery, threats, or threats of depriving such person of employment or occupation, or of ejecting such person from rented house, lands, or other property, or by threats of refusing to renew leases or contracts for labor, or by threats of violence to himself or family, such person so offending shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall, on conviction thereof, be fined not less than five hundred dollars, or be imprisoned not less than one month and not more than one year, or both, at the discretion of the court."
This section taken from the Enforcement Act of 1870 states that jurors in the United States courts must not be involved in any conspiracies, and are required to swear that they didn’t have any allegiances to any groups which were aiming and dedicated to overthrow the government or act in deny and constitutional rights given to citizens.
"Sec. 6. And be it further enacted, That if two or more persons shall band or conspire together, or go in disguise upon the public highway, or upon the premises of another, with intent to violate any provision of this act, or to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any citizen with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise and enjoyment of any right or privilege granted or secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having exercised the same, such persons shall be held guilty of felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be fined or imprisoned, or both, at the discretion of the court,—the fine not to exceed five thousand dollars, and the imprisonment not to exceed ten years,—and shall, moreover, be thereafter ineligible to, and disabled from holding, any office or place of honor, profit, or trust created by the Constitution or laws of the United States."
This section states that if any two or more people work together to deliberately violate the act, or to intimidate any citizen with intents to prevent and restrict one’s freedom, they will be charged with a maximum fine of five thousand dollars, and a maximum prison sentence of ten years, with discretion of the court. Also, they will be ineligible and prohibited from holding any office, place of honor, profit or trust which were created by the United States Constitution or the laws of the United States.
The Enforcement Act of 1871 (formally, "an Act to enforce the rights of citizens of the United States to vote in the several states of this union"), permitted federal oversight of local and state elections if any two citizens in a town with more than twenty thousand inhabitants desired it.
The Enforcement Act of 1871 (second act) and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 are very similar to the original act as they all have the same goal, but revised first act with the intention of being more effective. The Act of 1871 has more severe punishments with larger fines for disregarding the regulations, and the prison sentences vary in length. The final act, and the most effective, was also a revision. Although the fines lowered again, and the prison sentences remained approximately the same, this act was the best enforced by the government.
The Enforcement Act of 1871, the third Enforcement Act passed by Congress and also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act (formally, "An Act to enforce the Provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other Purposes"), made state officials liable in federal court for depriving anyone of their civil rights or the equal protection of the laws. It further made a number of the KKK's intimidation tactics into federal offenses, authorized the president to call out the militia to suppress conspiracies against the operation of the federal government, and prohibited those suspected of complicity in such conspiracies to serve on juries related to the Klan's activities. The Act also authorized the president to suspend the writ of habeas corpus if violence rendered efforts to suppress the Klan ineffective. It was passed at the request of Ulysses S. Grant.
As a response to this act, Klansmen in South Carolina were put on trial, in front of juries mainly made up of blacks. Amos T. Akerman was largely involved with the prosecutions of these Klansmen. He worked to make America aware of Klan violence and how much of a problem it was becoming. His work led to trials and jail sentences of a few hundred members of the KKK. Many others who were put on trial either fled or were only given a warning. Also, in 1872 the KKK as an organization was officially broken.
Enforcement Acts were a series of acts, but it wasn’t until the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, the third Enforcement Act, that their regulations to protect blacks, and to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution were really enforced and followed. It was only after the creation of the third Enforcement Act that trials were conducted, and perpetrators were convicted for any crimes they had committed in violation of the Enforcement Acts.
After the Colfax massacre in Louisiana, the federal government brought a civil rights case against nine men (out of 97 indicted) who were accused of paramilitary activity intended to stop Black people from voting. In United States v. Cruikshank (1876), the Court ruled that the federal government did not have the authority to prosecute the men because the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments provide only for redress against state actors. However, in Ex Parte Yarbrough (1884) the Court allowed individuals who were not state actors to be prosecuted because Article I Section 4 gives Congress the power to regulate federal elections.
In Hodges v. United States (1906) the Court addressed a possible Thirteenth Amendment rationale for the Enforcement Acts, and found that the federal government did not have the authority to punish a group of men for interfering with Black workers through whitecapping.
In 1964 the US Justice Department charged eighteen individuals under the 1870 US Force Act, with conspiring to deprive Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman of their civil rights by murder because Mississippi officials refused to prosecute their killers for murder, a state crime.