President’s Day has come and gone, which inspired me to provide some of the history surrounding the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, as it pertains to housing. It states, in part, “All citizens of the United States shall have the same right in every state and territory as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey real property.” In 1968, the Supreme Court ruled in Jones V. Mayer against any exceptions to this law. Fair Housing Laws have been added to ever since by federal, state, and local governments.
That we are in a period of political divisiveness, exacerbated by a presidential election and an opening on the Supreme Court, is one of the few issues upon which we all agree. How the Civil Rights Act of 1866 came about may provide some comfort that our nation has and will survive such political acrimony.
The Act was actually passed by the United States Congress in 1865, only to be vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, the hand-picked successor to the “Great Emancipator,” Abraham Lincoln. Congress passed it a second time, again vetoed by Johnson. Congress finally overcame the veto by a two-third majority and the bill became law on April 9, 1866.
Another interesting irony of history is that when Lincoln ran for re-election in 1864, in an attempt at bi-partisanship he chose as his running mate, Andrew Johnson, a southern Democrat. He and Lincoln ran as candidates of the National Unity Party against Democrat, George B. McClellan, former commander of the federal troops, selected and fired by Lincoln. The Republicans chose John C. Fremont as their candidate, who subsequently withdrew and supported Lincoln.
To further demonstrate that political acrimony is not without precedent in our nation, on February 24, 1868 Andrew Johnson was the first president to be impeached by the House of Representatives for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Johnson was acquitted after Senate fell just one vote short of earning the two-thirds majority required for conviction. (The only other president to be impeached was William Jefferson Clinton who was also acquitted by the Senate). But what were the “high crimes and misdemeanors” for which Johnson was impeached? It was the violation of the “Tenure of Office Act.” When Johnson, a Democrat, removed Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, a Lincoln appointed Republican from the Cabinet, Congress contended that the Tenure of Office Act prohibited the removal by the President of a Senate-approved office holder from his position without the consent of the Senate. The Act was repealed by Congress in 1887. And just to add further irony, the presiding judge over the removal from office proceedings against Johnson was Chief Justice Samuel P. Chase, the former Secretary of the Treasury under Abraham Lincoln, who then appointed him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
So where is the encouragement for our times? Can you imagine how all of this might have played out in the 21st Century? If our nation could survive the tumult of those times, do we not have reason to be optimistic?
By the way, Lincoln nominated Samul P. Chase as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on December 6, 1864. He was confirmed by Senate that very day.