"An Act to Establish and Regulate the Domestic Relations of Persons of Color..." or the Black Codes of South Carolina, December 1865



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At the end of the Civil War, South Carolina’s legislature drafted a new constitution in December 1865.  The constitution included a section now referred to as the Black Codes – articles that regulated and restricted the lives of African Americans.  These Codes stipulated where blacks could travel, what professions they could choose, and greatly restricted the use of firearms.  The period of Reconstruction was a time of great resentment and uncertainty, and many white South Carolinians were unsure how to feel about the new status of black men and women in their lives.

The federal government rejected South Carolina’s Constitution of 1865, and because of this, a turnover occurred within South Carolina’s state government.  Radical Republicans, many of them African Americans, took control of the legislature and created the Constitution of 1868.  This constitution established local governments, created a Declaration of Rights giving equal treatment to all races, mandated statewide public education, established a welfare program for the poor, elderly and disabled, and removed the property ownership-voting requirement.  These new provisions were a radical departure from previous constitutions, and though they were in the public’s best interest, the programs established in the Constitution of 1868 were met with much resistance from those who formerly had been in places of power.  These actions on the part of the Radical Republicans only seemed to spur the old establishment into action, and by 1876 they had regrouped enough to elect Wade Hampton III as governor of South Carolina.  By this time, many whites had brought back the old order and eventually blacks were disenfranchised and stripped of their rights once again. 

The Constitution of 1865 enacted strict legislation regarding the actions of black citizens in South Carolina, and the Black Codes offer a foreshadowing to the Jim Crow era.


Constitutional Convention (1865).  Constitution of 1865.  S 131071.  State Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.

The Statutes at Large of South Carolina Vol. XII containing the Acts from December 1861 to December 1866An Act to Establish and Regulate the Domestic Relations of Persons of Color and to Amend the Law in Relation to Paupers and Vagrancy, Act No. 4733. General Assembly, 19 December 1865 (Columbia, SC: Republican Printing Corp., 1875): 269-285.  South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.

Correlating SC Social Studies Academic Standards:

Standard 5-1: The student will demonstrate an understanding of Reconstruction and its impact on racial relations in the United States.

Indicator 5-1.1 Summarize the aims of Reconstruction and explain the effects of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on the course of Reconstruction.

Indicator 5-1.2 Summarize the provisions of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, including how the amendments protected the rights of African Americans and sought to enhance their political, social, and economic opportunities.

Indicator 5-1.3 Explain the effects of Reconstruction on African Americans, including their new rights and restrictions, their motivations to relocate to the North and the West, and the actions of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Indicator 5-1.5 Explain the purpose and motivations behind the rise of discriminatory laws and groups and their effect on the rights and opportunities of African Americans in different regions of the United States.

Standard 8-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the impact of Reconstruction on the people and government of South Carolina.

Indicator 8-4.1 Explain the purposes of Reconstruction with attention to the economic, social, political, and geographic problems facing the South, including reconstruction of towns, factories, farms, and transportation systems; the effects of emancipation; racial tension; tension between social classes; and disagreement over voting rights.

Indicator 8-4.2 Summarize Reconstruction in South Carolina and its effects on daily life in South Carolina, including the experiences of plantation owners, small farmers, freedmen, women, and northern immigrants.

Indicator 8-4.3 Summarize the events and the process that led to the ratification of South Carolina’s constitution of 1868, including African American representation in the constitutional convention; the major provisions of the constitution; and the political and social changes that allowed African Americans, Northerners, “carpetbaggers,” and “scalawags” to play a part in South Carolina state government.

Indicator 8-4.4 Explain how events during Reconstruction improved opportunities for African Americans but created a backlash that, by the end of Reconstruction, negated the gains African Americans had made, including the philanthropy of northern aid societies, the assistance provided by the federal government such as the Freedmen’s Bureau, and their advancement in politics and education.

Indicator 8-4.5 Summarize the successes and failures that occurred in South Carolina during Reconstruction, including the bribery of legislators, corruption in political parties, the development of public education, and violence during the election of 1876.

Standard 8-5: The student will demonstrate an understanding of major social, political, and economic developments that took place in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Indicator 8-5.1 Summarize the political, economic, and social conditions in South Carolina following the end of Reconstruction, including the leadership of Wade Hampton and the so-called Bourbons or Redeemers, agricultural depression and struggling industrial development, the impact of the temperance and suffrage movements, the development of the 1895 constitution, and the evolution of race relations and Jim Crow laws.

Standard USHC-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes and the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction in America.

Indicator USHC-4.1 Summarize the effects of Reconstruction on the southern states and the roles of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments in that era.

Indicator USHC-4.2 Summarize the progress made by African Americans during Reconstruction and the subsequent reversals brought by Reconstruction’s end, including the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau, gains in educational and political opportunity, & the rise of anti–African American factions and legislation.


Related Documents

South Carolina Constitution of 1868

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Related Lessons

SC Black Codes: Reconstruction Legislation and Amendments


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