S. 61, An Act to protect all persons in the United States in their civil rights, and furnish the means of their vindication (Civil Rights Act of 1866), March 13, 1866
Investigations of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction helped Congress shape the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the first legislative effort to secure African Americans’ rights after the Civil War. It conferred citizenship on freedmen and confirmed their rights to property and protection by the courts. It was the first major legislation to pass Congress over a presidential veto.
Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration
Congress Overrides President Andrew Johnson
The Joint Committee on Reconstruction, created by Congress in 1865, investigated conditions in Southern states after the Civil War. Six senators and nine representatives took testimony from military officers, former Confederate leaders, and freedmen. The committee’s final report influenced Reconstruction-era legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and three Reconstruction Acts. The investigation’s findings increased tensions between Congress and President Andrew Johnson over Reconstruction policies. In 1868, the House impeached President Johnson; the Senate voted to acquit him.
Through all the past struggle these [formerly enslaved people] had remained true and loyal, and had, in large numbers, fought on the side of the Union. It was impossible to abandon them, without securing them their rights as free men and citizens.
Final Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, ca. 1865–1866