Study Guide

Constitution - 14th Amendment

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14th Amendment

Passed by Congress: 13 June 1866
Ratified: 9 July 1868

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.

The second of the three "Civil War Amendments," the Fourteenth Amendment is probably the most important amendment added to the Constitution at any time since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. A Congress dominated by Radical Republicans passed the amendment specifically to protect against the threat that white southerners, defeated in the Civil War, would figure out how to use the powers of their state governments to effectively re-enslave recently liberated blacks by passing racially discriminatory laws. (Ironically, the failure of Reconstruction after 1876 led more or less exactly to this result, as the Fourteenth Amendment largely failed to protect black rights during the long Jim Crow Era.) While the amendment was passed with the rights of recently freed slaves specifically in mind, it was written in more universal terms; the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection has since been invoked by all kinds of different groups of citizens seeking to ensure equal treatment under the law.

The first section of the amendment includes four crucial elements. First, anyone born on American soil is guaranteed full American citizenship. Second, no state can strip any of its residents of the full privileges of American citizenship. Third, all citizens are guaranteed "due process of law," which means that states cannot pass arbitrary or unfair laws. Fourth, all citizens are guaranteed "equal protection of the laws," which means that states cannot discriminate against particular groups of citizens. These broad guarantees of citizens' rights form (together with the Bill of Rights) the heart of American civil liberties and civil rights law.

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.

The second section of the Fourteenth Amendment repealed the three-fifths clause (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3) of the original Constitution, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of apportioning congressional representation. With slavery outlawed by the Thirteenth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment here clarified that all residents, of whatever race, should be counted as one whole person. This section also guaranteed that all male citizens over age 21, no matter their race, had a right to vote. (In practice, many southern states devised schemes to effectively deny blacks the vote during the Jim Crow era. Later amendments to the Constitution extended the right to vote to women and lowered the voting age to 18.)

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.

The Fourteenth Amendment passed Congress at a moment when leading Republican lawmakers were feuding with President Andrew Johnson over how to treat the southern states of the former Confederacy in the aftermath of the Civil War. Johnson favored lenient treatment, while Congress wanted for the national government to impose stricter control over the states that had waged rebellion against it. Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment made it impossible for the president to allow the former leaders of the Confederacy to regain power within the US government after regaining full citizenship rights via blanket presidential pardon; instead, the amendment required a vote of a two-thirds majority of Congress itself to allow former Confederate leaders to regain the rights of American citizenship. Unless and until they received that two-thirds vote, former Confederate leaders were barred from voting in federal elections or holding federal office.

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 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited payment of any debt owed to the defunct Confederate States of America and also banned any payment to former slaveholders as compensation for the loss of their human property.

Section 5. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 5 pretty much speaks for itself.

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