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Fourteenth Amendment

  • Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 1868
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted citizenship to the formerly enslaved inhabitants of the United States.
Related documents:
  • Thirteenth Amendment
    Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 1865
  • Andrew Johnson Political Cartoon
    Andrew Johnson Political Cartoon, September 1, 1866
  • Lee-Jackson Camp Resolution
    Lee-Jackson Camp Resolution, January 31, 1958
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Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 1868

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was the second of the three so-called Reconstruction amendments to settle constitutional questions that the Civil War created. The Thirteenth Amendment, ratified in 1865, abolished slavery forever in all of the United States; and the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, granted all adult men the right to vote regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, is the longest and most complex of the amendments and has had the most wide-ranging and controversial influence on American politics and society.

The Fourteenth Amendment consists of five sections that conferred citizenship on former slaves and protected the rights of citizens from state abridgement thereof. Section 1 defined as citizens of the United States and of the states where they resided all "persons born or naturalized in the United States." It also prohibited states from abridging the privileges and immunities of citizenship, depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or denying any person "the equal protection of the laws" as forbidden by the Fifth Amendment, and required the states to treat all citizens equally.

The effect of Section 2 was to repeal the three-fifths clause in the original Constitution that took slave property into account in the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives and required Congress to apportion seats "among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed." It also specified that if any state denied "any of the male inhabitants" who were citizens and twenty-one years of age or older the right to vote in federal elections, "except for participation in rebellion, or other crime," that state's representation in the House of Representatives was to be reduced in proportion to the number of men denied the vote.

Section 3 disqualified from military service or federal elective office any person who had taken an oath of allegiance to the United States but had taken part in the "insurrection or rebellion, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof." It also allowed Congress by a two-thirds' vote of both Houses to remove any man's disability to hold federal or state office.

Section 4 gave constitutional protection to the public debt that the United States government had incurred during the Civil War, and it forbade the United States or any state government from honoring any of the public debts that any of the states created to finance the rebellion.

Section 5 specifically empowered Congress to pass legislativion to enforce the provisions of the amendment.

Together, the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment enabled the federal government to protect the rights of freedpeople, but during the twentieth century the wording of Sections 1 and 5 have also permitted Congress to pass civil rights and voting rights laws and allowed federal courts to invalidate state laws that required segregation or discriminated against people because of race or color. Federal courts have also ruled that the privileges and immunities of citizenship that states may not abridge include most of the individual liberties that the Bill of Rights originally stated that Congress could not abridge, including freedoms of speech, of the press, and of religion. As a result, the Fourteenth Amendment not only conferred citizenship on former slaves and protected their civil rights, but it also has enlarged the power of the federal government to protect those and other rights from possible infringement by the states.

For Educators

Questions

1. What is the importance of the Fourteenth Amendment?

2. In what year was in ratified?

Further Discussion

1. What are some of the controversies surrounding the Fourteenth Amendment? Why does it provoke such strong debate?

Suggested Reading

Bond, James E. No Easy Walk to Freedom: Reconstruction and the Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997.

Epps, Garrett. Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post–Civil War America. New York: H. Holt, 2006.

Berger, Raoul. The Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.

APPENDIX.

'JOINT RESOLUTION PROPOSING AN AMENDMENT TO THE
CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES.

"Be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two thirds of both Houses concurring), That the following articles be proposed to the legislatures of the several States as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which, when ratified by three fourths of said legislatures, shall be valid as part of the Constitution, namely :—

"ARTICLE XIV.
"SECTION 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
"SECTION 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a State, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
"SECTION 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two thirds of each House, remove such disability.
"SECTION 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations, and claims shall be held illegal and void.
"SECTION 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
      "SCUYLER COLFAX,
       "Speaker of the House of Representatives.
      "LA FAYETTE S. FOSTER,
       "President of the Senate pro tempore.

"Attest :
 "EDWD. MCPHERSON,
  "Clerk of the House of Representatives.
 "J. W. FORNEY,
  "Secretary of the Senate."

And whereas the Senate and House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, on the twenty-first day of July, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-eight, adopted and transmitted to the Department of States a concurrent resolution, which concurrent resolution is in the words and figures following, to wit :—
     "IN SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES,
       "July 21, 1868.