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Fourteenth Amendment: About

Amendment XIV: 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.

Why is the Fourteenth Amendment Important?

United States that granted citizenship and equal civil and legal rights to African Americans and slaves who had been emancipated after the American Civil War, including them under the umbrella phrase “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” In all, the amendment comprises five sections, four of which began in 1866 as separate proposals that stalled in legislative process and were later amalgamated, along with a fifth enforcement section, into a single amendment. 

This so-called Reconstruction Amendment prohibited the states from depriving any person of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” and from denying anyone within a state’s jurisdiction equal protection under the law. Nullified by the Thirteenth Amendment, the section of the Constitution apportioning representation in the House of Representatives based on a formula that counted each slave as three-fifths of a person was replaced by a clause in the Fourteenth Amendment specifying that representatives be “apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed.” The amendment also prohibited former civil and military office holders who had supported the Confederacy from again holding any state or federal office—with the proviso that this prohibition could be removed from individuals by a two-thirds vote in both Houses of Congress. Moreover, the amendment upheld the national debt while exempting the federal government and state governments from any responsibility for the debts incurred by the rebellious Confederate States of America. Finally, the last section, mirroring the approach of the Thirteenth Amendment, provided for enforcement. Continue reading from Britannica

Understanding the Sections of the Fourteenth Amendment

The opening sentence of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment defined U.S. citizenship: “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.”

This clearly repudiated the Supreme Court’s notorious 1857 Dred Scott decision, in which Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote that a black man, even if born free, could not claim rights of citizenship under the federal constitution.

Section 1’s next clause was: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” This greatly expanded the civil and legal rights of all American citizens by protecting them from infringement by the states as well as by the federal government.

The third clause, “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law,” expanded the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to apply to the states as well as the federal government.

Over time, the Supreme Court has interpreted this clause to guarantee a wide array of rights against infringement by the states, including those enumerated in the Bill of Rights (freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, right to bear arms, etc.) as well as the right to privacy and other fundamental rights not mentioned elsewhere in the Constitution.

Finally, the “equal protection clause” (“nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”) was clearly intended to stop state governments from discriminating against black Americans, and over the years would play a key role in many landmark civil rights cases.  

In its later sections, the 14th Amendment authorized the federal government to punish states that violated or abridged their citizens’ right to vote by proportionally reducing the states’ representation in Congress, and mandated that anyone who “engaged in insurrection” against the United States could not hold civil, military or elected office (without the approval of two-thirds of the House and Senate).  Continue reading from History

Link to The Second Founding by Eric Foner in the catalog
Link to On Account of Race by Lawrence Goldstone in the catalog
Link to America's Constitution by Akhil Reed Amar in the catalog
Link to Accused!: the trials of the Scottsboro Boys : lies, prejudice, and the Fourteenth Amendment by Larry Dane Brimner in the catalog
Link to Reconstruction edited by Brooks Simpson in the catalog
Link to Into the Land of Freedom by Meg Greene in the catalog

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