The Cape Girardeau Weekly Argus of April 12, 1866 buried this one sentence at the very bottom of the first column on the second page: “The Senate has passed the Civil Rights Bill over the Presidents [sic] veto.” The bill in question, the 1866 Civil Rights Act, prefigured the 14th amendment by granting birthright citizenship and protecting all citizens equally under the law. Its first section:
To protect all Persons in the United States in their Civil Rights, and furnish the Means of their Vindication
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall have the same right, in every State and Territory in the United States, to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, to the contrary notwithstanding.
The remainder dealt with enforcement. Johnson vetoed it as an unconstitutional expansion of Federal power into what he viewed as the rights of states. The Senate overrode the veto on April 6, and the House on April 9.