Tag Archives: 14th Amendment

Remembering History: 14th Amendment Adopted Ending Citizenship Question (28 Jul 1868)

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, several amendments to the U.S. Constitution were needed to correct several important issues. The first was slavery which was outlawed by the 13th Amendment. Another question was about who qualifies as a citizen under the law. It may seem obvious now, but a clear and concise definition was not in the Constitution. Without such a definition, a state could pass a law that would declare person or a group of people as non-citizens on their own. Some laws already existed in the South that severely limited or completely denied African Americans citizenship. Some newly readmitted Confederate states enacted laws that severely restricted their legal rights, angering Northern states.

President Andrew Johnson, who had succeeded Lincoln after his assassination, supported emancipation but as a former slaveowner, did not support the 13th (Congress overturned his veto) and likewise did so on the 14th as well. The 14thamendment not only granted full citizenship to the former slaves, but it also rescinded the three-fifths rule of those enslaved for congressional representation. Now every person counted in determining congressional representation rather trying to make fractions out of people. Everyone age 21 and over was granted the right to vote as well. The amendment had enforcement provisions in it as well if a state chose to ignore the law and impose laws contrary to it. Confederate states had to approve both the 13th and 14th Amendments to rejoin the United States.

When Louisiana and South Carolina ratified the amendment on 9 Jul 1868, that gave it the necessary three-fourths majority to ratify. It was then sent back to Congress for formal certification and became law on 28 Jul 1868. Due to Jim Crow Laws, which many Southern states enacted to make it difficult to vote, those laws would have to be addressed by later court decisions and federal laws. Segregation, where blacks and whites could have separate but equal facilities, was made constitutional in 1897 in Plessy vs. Ferguson. It was overturned by the 1954 case Brown vs Board of Educationending segregation.

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