The Cruikshank suit emerged
as a result of a massacre at the Colfax Courthouse in Grant Parish, Louisiana
on Easter Sunday in 1873. The road to Reconstruction in the state of Louisiana indeed
had not been an easy one. Following the Civil War, many white confederates
remained bitter and even destructive. Similarly, there existed a large
population of educated and vocal free blacks passionate about the right to
enfranchisement and political equality within the city of New Orleans (Goldman, 42-43). Tension in Colfax first
began as an election dispute between white Democrats and black Republicans and
soon intensified as racial tensions in the area began to build. Black voters,
uneasy that whites were attempting to take control of the county government gathered
at the local courthouse, began to dig trenches and drill with shotguns. Finally,
on Easter Sunday 1873, after three weeks of intermittent gunfire, a group of
whites armed with rifles and a cannon blasted the courthouse, set it on fire,
and completely massacred the African Americans who tried to flee waving a white
flag of surrender. The total number of casualties remains contested depending
on who was doing the counting and when ranging from as low as 50 to over 400 (Goldman, 49). Almost all of the victims
were black, and the few whites that were killed were Republicans.  Local officials ultimately did not take action
to indict the attackers. Federal investigators, however, identified ninety-six
men, who were prosecuted for violating the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1870. In the
end, only nine men were taken into custody and brought to stand trial, and six
were acquitted by jurors who heard conflicting testimony about their presence
at the massacre. William Cruikshank was one such man convicted of conspiring to
prevent two black men – Levi Nelson and Alexander Tillman – from “the free
exercise and enjoyment of the right to peacefully assemble” – and depriving
them of ‘life and liberty without due process of law’ rights guaranteed by ‘the
Constitution and laws of the United States’. While Nelson and Tillman had been
murdered at Colfax, federal officials ultimately could not prosecute Cruikshank
for murder, because that was a state crime. (Irons, 203).

Cruikshank and his
cohorts were officially charged with conspiring together “with the unlawful and
felonious intent and purpose to deprive, injure, oppress, threaten, and
intimidate”, Section 6 of the 1870
Enforcement Act. In separate counts, the indictment specified the rights
violated which consisted of the right to peacefully assemble, the right to bear
arms, and the right not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without
due process of the law. Of course, these are known famously as the First,
Second, and Fifth Amendments. However, the strategy that was used in these
separate counts is easily one of the most revolutionary ideas at the time. It
gave the assumption that the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment had
“nationalized” the rights of citizens, meaning that the language of the
Fourteenth Amendment granted the federal government the responsibility of
protecting the rights 

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