The Ratification of the 14th Amendment

Categories: Events

Following the American Civil War’s end on May 9th, 1865, the United States Federal Government had it’s work cut out for them. Though the War had been concluded, much remained unfinished. The first order of business was the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Ratified on December 6th, 1865 the amendment legislatively enacted a nationwide ban on slavery and involuntary servitude. During the period of Reconstruction, the South saw an influx of Northern cash and labor – as well as politicians.

However, this raised a new question. What was a citizen? Who became a citizen, and how? Prior to the Civil War, it was common for a resident of a State to say, “I’m a citizen of Mississippi,” or “I’m a citizen of Virginia.” There was no mechanism in place, or definition by law, of what made a citizen – or more importantly, what being a citizen meant. Some states simply required residence in order to be considered a “citizen”. Others, required that you own land, or a business – almost exclusively white men.

To settle the debate and create an easy answer, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution passed the United States House of Representatives on June 13th, 1866. The Amendment clearly 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.” Just like that, the U.S. Congress placed a large blanket across the entirety of the population in the country, positively affirming their status as citizens.

 

However, they knew that simply making them citizens wasn’t going to be enough – that in the current climate of the Nation, more clarification and protection was required, as to prevent States from creating laws to circumvent the Amendment. The next portion of the Amendment 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 last five words are clearly the most important – equal protection of the law. This confirmed that the rights guaranteed and insured by the Constitution apply to all “persons” – not strictly citizens – in the United States.

The 14th Amendment is still important today, as it affirms non-citizens within the United States borders still maintain the basic rights outlined in the U.S. Constitution, and are afforded the same protections under the law – such as the 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments, etc.

The 14th Amendment followed very shortly after the 13th Amendment, and was quickly followed by the 15th Amendment – that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” These three Amendments are known as the “Reconstruction Amendments”, the intention of these Amendments was to guarantee the legal protection and civil rights, and extend the “blessings of liberty” to the entirety of the United States populace.

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