In the aftermath of the American Civil War, several amendments to the U.S. Constitution were needed to correct several important issues. The first was slavery which was outlawed by the 13th Amendment. Another question was about who qualifies as a citizen under the law. It may seem obvious now, but a clear and concise definition was not in the Constitution. Without such a definition, a state could pass a law that would declare person or a group of people as non-citizens on their own. Some laws already existed in the South that severely limited or completely denied African Americans citizenship. Some newly readmitted Confederate states enacted laws that severely restricted their legal rights, angering Northern states.
President Andrew Johnson, who had succeeded Lincoln after his assassination, supported emancipation but as a former slaveowner, did not support the 13th (Congress overturned his veto) and likewise did so on the 14th as well. The 14thamendment not only granted full citizenship to the former slaves, but it also rescinded the three-fifths rule of those enslaved for congressional representation. Now every person counted in determining congressional representation rather trying to make fractions out of people. Everyone age 21 and over was granted the right to vote as well. The amendment had enforcement provisions in it as well if a state chose to ignore the law and impose laws contrary to it. Confederate states had to approve both the 13th and 14th Amendments to rejoin the United States.
When Louisiana and South Carolina ratified the amendment on 9 Jul 1868, that gave it the necessary three-fourths majority to ratify. It was then sent back to Congress for formal certification and became law on 28 Jul 1868. Due to Jim Crow Laws, which many Southern states enacted to make it difficult to vote, those laws would have to be addressed by later court decisions and federal laws. Segregation, where blacks and whites could have separate but equal facilities, was made constitutional in 1897 in Plessy vs. Ferguson. It was overturned by the 1954 case Brown vs Board of Educationending segregation.
Today with our vast networks of freeways, highways and transportation systems it is hard to remember a time when it did not exist. Outside of the major cities and the areas around them, traveling long distance was difficult and often dangerous. When gold was discovered in California in 1849, the need for cross-country shipping increased. On 18 March 1852 Henry Wells and William Fargo along with several investors created a freight service called Wells Fargo & Company . At the time, sending important documents were often sent by courier rather than the U.S. Postal Service as it was faster. The second option was to use stagecoach drivers, railroad conductors or steamship crews to deliver your letters or packages. You really had to hope for the best with the second option, which was cheaper than hiring a private courier. This is where Wells Fargo fit in by having a dedicated service that would deliver documents and freight securely as paid courier for multiple customers.
While messenger services were well established on the East Coast and had penetrated the Midwest, the discovery of gold in California meant people were migrating in large numbers to seek their fortunes. This meant the need for reliable shipping from coast-to-coast was needed along with better communications between them. The telegraph had already been developed but it would take a while to set up the lines between east and west coasts. Ships took a long while to sail either around South America and up to California (or drop you off on the eastern side and you would walk to the west to catch a northbound ship, a perilous journey on its own!). Wells and Fargo wanted to set up a system of messengers that would convey freight to the Pacific Coast. The approached the American Express Company but they did not think it would be profitable. So Wells and Fargo established Wells Fargo & Co on their own with investors.
The first shipment was in July 1852 by shipping freight from the East Coast to mining camps in Northern California. Using contracted stagecoach companies, they were able to establish a service that was known for its fast delivery of freight, important documents, and other valuables. Wells Fargo also served as a bank providing loans, bank notes, and buying gold dust from miners. In 1857 Wells Fargo formed the Overland Mail Company that became knows as the Butterfield Line. This provided regular mail and passenger service along many routes during this time. During this time of boom and busts, they became a standard that people could rely on. They also had a premium service that would deliver and pick up mail or packages. By 1866 they had become the largest stagecoach company around. When the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, they used it to ship freight to locations where the company would receive the shipment and transport it to the destination. By 1910, it had established a large shipping network that stretched from large cities on the East Coast to farm towns in the Midwest, to ranches and mines in Texas and California, and up into the Pacific Northwest where lumber camps were. It was a huge network and showed how valuable such companies were to the growth of the United States.
The bank would split away from the freight business in 1905 and be headquartered in San Francisco. Although the bank’s offices were destroyed in the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, it was able to recover as its vaults were untouched. Wells Fargo Company Express was nationalized with other shipping companies during World War I into American Railway Express. An overseas armored car service with the Wells Fargo name would operate overseas but ultimately merge with Loomis in the 1990’s.