The 14th Amendment and the Rebirth of The United States during Reconstruction

The 14th Amendment turns 145 years old today, it was first adopted by congress on July 9th, 1868, and declared ratified on July 28th, 1868.  The 14th amendment granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, especially the freed slaves.   Section 1 states:

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 14th Amendment is one of the most cited amendments in litigation even today.  There is often one forgotten fact or should I state, neglected to mention fact about the 14th amendment is that it was spearheaded and driven by Republicans, notably Rep. John Bingham of Ohio.   The republican’s sole purpose was to protect blacks and ensure their properties and right to life, liberty, and their fair due process was ensured by the law of the land.   The equal protection clause was written to protect those freed slaves that had no fair due process or legal rights in states with black codes.   States with black codes, mainly southern states, blacks could not sue, bear witness, provide evidence, and received server penalties and punishments than whites under the same laws.  The equal protection clause demanded that the states enforce the same laws with equal treatment.  The framers for the 14th amendment also ensured that the states were subject to the Bills of Rights. 

The key clauses to the 14th Amendment are:

  1. State and federal citizenship for all persons regardless of race both born or naturalized in the United States was reaffirmed.
  2. No state would be allowed to abridge the “privileges and immunities” of citizens.
  3. No person was allowed to be deprived of life, liberty,or property without “due process of law.”
  4. No person could be denied “equal protection of the laws.”

The fourteenth amendment is a ‘reconstruction amendment’, meaning it is one of the 2 other amendments that were adopted after the civil war.  All three of the reconstruction amendments, the 13th, 14th, and 15th, eradicated discrimination in some form, be it race, color, sex, creed, to be used as a form to block a U.S. citizen enjoying the same rights as any other  citizen.  The 13th abolished slavery, the 14th gave Due process, and the 15th granted the right to vote (with the exception to women, which was the 19th amendment).   While the 14th Amendment did not provide the freedom that the Republicans wanted, because the true civil rights, especially in states that found ways to continue to use black codes to discriminate did not occur until the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed into law, the 14th amendment laid the foundation and some like Constitutional Scholar Garrett Epps, considers the 14th Amendment on of the most important Amendment to the Unite States Constitution.

Some notable legal cases citing the 14th Amendment are:

  1. Pleassy v. Ferguson 1896
  2. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka 1954
  3. Bolling v. Sharpe 1954
  4. Mcdonald v. Chicago (cited 2nd Amendment and 14th Amendment).

For further readings on equal rights and the 14th amendment I suggest these links:

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_14th.html

http://billofrightsinstitute.org/resources/educator-resources/americapedia/amendments/fourteenth-amendment-general/equal-protection/

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