President Ulysses S. Grant issued this proclamation a few weeks after passage of what is known as the Second Enforcement Act. The aims of the Enforcement Acts were to provide the national government with sufficient law enforcement powers to bring to justice individuals and groups who deprived their fellow citizens of their civil rights and, more specifically, their voting rights. Only if freedmen and Union men could feel confident that they could act in politics without fear of personal retribution would the vote be an effective guarantor of safety and liberty in the South. Grant understood that law enforcement would not be enough to make civil and voting rights effective. Citizens would also have to participate as jurors and witnesses, if members of the Ku Klux Klan and other groups who sought to deprive their fellow citizens of civil rights were to be charged and convicted under the law.
Source: Ulysses S. Grant: “Proclamation 199 – Enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution” May 3, 1871. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. https://goo.gl/1vQo6Y.
The act of Congress entitled “An act to enforce the provisions of the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other purposes,” approved April 20, A. D. 1871, being a law of extraordinary public importance, I consider it my duty to issue this my proclamation calling the attention of the people of the United States thereto, enjoining upon all good citizens, and especially upon all public officers, to be zealous in the enforcement thereof, and warning all persons to abstain from committing any of the acts thereby prohibited.
This law of Congress applies to all parts of the United States and will be enforced everywhere to the extent of the powers vested in the Executive. But inasmuch as the necessity therefore is well known to have been caused chiefly by persistent violations of the rights of citizens of the United States by combinations of lawless and disaffected persons in certain localities lately the theater of insurrection and military conflict, I do particularly exhort the people of those parts of the country to suppress all such combinations by their own voluntary efforts through the agency of local laws and to maintain the rights of all citizens of the United States and to secure to all such citizens the equal protection of the laws.
Fully sensible of the responsibility imposed upon the executive by the act of Congress to which public attention is now called, and reluctant to call into exercise any of the extraordinary powers thereby conferred upon me except in cases of imperative necessity, I do, nevertheless, deem it my duty to make known that I will not hesitate to exhaust the powers thus vested in the executive whenever and wherever it shall become necessary to do so for the purpose of securing to all citizens of the United States the peaceful enjoyment of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution and laws.
It is my earnest wish that peace and cheerful obedience to law may prevail throughout the land and that all traces of our late unhappy civil strife may be speedily removed. These ends can be easily reached by acquiescence in the results of the conflict, now written in our Constitution, and by the due and proper enforcement of equal, just, and impartial laws in every part of our country.
The failure of local communities to furnish such means for the attainment of results so earnestly desired imposes upon the National Government the duty of putting forth all its energies for the protection of its citizens of every race and color and for the restoration of peace and order throughout the entire country.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of May, A. D. 1871, and of the Independence of the United States the ninety-fifth.
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