What Is the 14th Amendment?
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is one of the three Reconstruction Amendments introduced after the Civil War. It was ratified and adopted on July 9th, 1868.
The Fourteenth Amendment sought to address the question of newly-freed slaves’ status by providing that everyone born in the United States would automatically be granted citizenship, no matter their race.
Additionally, it echoed the language of the Fifth Amendment by mandating that none of the states could deprive citizens of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
It also provides “equal protection of the laws” to all citizens of the country.
All of the above is covered by Section 1 of the 14th Amendment.
Sections 2, 3, and 4 of the 14th Amendment are primarily relevant only in the context of the Civil War (specifically the reintegration of southern states).
In contrast, Section 5 gives Congress the power to enforce the provisions of the 14th Amendment through legislation.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the main points of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that everyone born in the United States or territories is a citizen. This concept is known as “birthright citizenship.”
During and after the Civil War, some 4 million slaves were freed. Suddenly, there were 4 million people in the country whose legal position was unclear.
The 14th Amendment changed this by making it so that everyone born in the United States or its territories would automatically be citizens, regardless of race or their former status as slaves.
Today, birthright citizenship is brought up most often related to children of illegal immigrants.
Due Process and Equal Protection
The Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment are among the most influential sections of the entire Constitution.
The Equal Protection Clause, which mandates that individual states must protect every group equally, has been relevant in many Supreme Court cases.
Some of these include Loving v. Virginia (1967), permitting people of different races to be married anywhere in the country, and Roe v Wade (1973), permitting a woman to have an abortion.
More recently, Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) permitted people of the same sex to marry one another.
Due process of law
As mentioned earlier, the Due Process clause states that the States may not curtail “life, liberty, or property without Due Process of law.”
What does this mean exactly?
Well, as one may guess through the many United States Supreme Court cases related to it, it’s open to interpretation. But, in general, it means that a defendant in a criminal case can expect fair treatment.
Today, however, it’s understood to mean much more.
Overturning the Three-Fifths Clause
The amount of representatives a state has in the House of Representatives is determined based on population. According to the Great Compromise, every state has at least one representative, even with a tiny populace.
For example, today, California has 53 representatives, while Alaska has just one (along with six other states).
In the early days of the United States, slavery was prevalent in the south.
How were African American slaves – if at all – counted towards a state’s population? How did this affect how many representatives a state had in Congress?
Of course, the states that had slaves wanted all their slaves to count to have more representatives and more voting power. But, on the other hand, the northern states weren’t so keen to grant them so much power.
From 3/5s to 5/5s
The Three-Fifths Clause was reached as a compromise. It established that 3/5 of slaves would count towards a state’s population for purposes of representation in Congress.
The Fourteenth Amendment laid out, in no uncertain terms, that this discrimination would no longer be the case. Freed slaves were citizens now and, as a result, would be 100% counted as part of a state’s population.
It stipulated, however, that if black men over the age of 21 were denied the right to vote, the state’s number of representatives would be reduced as punishment.
Unfortunately, this was not really enforced, and Jim Crow laws often denied the average African American citizen equal rights to vote until the 1960s.
Ex-Confederates in Office
After the Civil War, 11 states that had declared their intent to secede from the Union were reintegrated.
Naturally, after the war, the question arose whether or not those who had betrayed their oaths to the United States (such as former members of Congress or military officers) should be allowed to run for office in the United States federal government.
Section three of this constitutional amendment establishes that they can’t unless Congress votes by a two-thirds majority to allow the person in question to run.
Section 4 of the 14th Amendment prohibits the payment of any debt owed to the Confederacy. It also negates the idea that the United States federal government should pay former slave owners for their losses.
14th Amendment Quiz
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