United States v. Cruikshank

(1876)

United States v. Cruikshank et al. involved an effort to bring to justice three men accused of participating in the slaughter of some one hundred blacks in Colfax, Louisiana, on April 13, 1873, one of the most sensational incidents of Reconstruction political violence. During Reconstruction, the decade-long period after the Civil War, the federal government passed laws to protect blacks from violence and intimidation as they sought to exercise the right to vote. Nonetheless, in Cruikshank, the Supreme Court affirmed a lower federal court’s decision to invalidate the result of a previous verdict of guilty and ordered the release of the defendants.

While the Court’s decision rested in large part upon its criticism of a poorly drafted indictment, the narrow grounds upon which it based its decision hampered federal efforts to protect blacks from violence. Coupled with another Court decision, United States v. Reese, the Cruikshank decision marked a significant step in the federal...

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Morrison R. Waite (Library of Congress)

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