Fourteenth Amendment Is Ratified Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The most important addition to the U.S. Constitution since adoption of the Bill of Rights, the Fourteenth Amendment was prompted by the need to protect the rights of former slaves; it defined citizenship and established a principle that would later be used to apply the protections of the Bill of Rights to actions by state governments.

Summary of Event

Ratified on July 9, 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was part of the Reconstruction plan formulated by the Republican Republican Party;and Fourteenth Amendment[Fourteenth Amendment] majority in the Thirty-ninth Congress. Before Congress met in December, 1865, President Andrew Johnson had authorized the restoration of white self-government in the former Confederate states, and congressmen and senators from those states waited in Washington to be seated in Congress. Fourteenth Amendment Constitution, U.S.;Fourteenth Amendment African Americans;and Fourteenth Amendment[Fourteenth Amendment] Reconstruction;and Andrew Johnson[Johnson] Johnson, Andrew [p]Johnson, Andrew;and Reconstruction[Reconstruction] Citizenship, U.S.;and Fourteenth Amendment[Fourteenth Amendment] Citizenship, U.S.;and African Americans[African Americans] [kw]Fourteenth Amendment Is Ratified (July 9, 1868) [kw]Amendment Is Ratified, Fourteenth (July 9, 1868) [kw]Ratified, Fourteenth Amendment Is (July 9, 1868) Fourteenth Amendment Constitution, U.S.;Fourteenth Amendment African Americans;and Fourteenth Amendment[Fourteenth Amendment] Reconstruction;and Andrew Johnson[Johnson] Johnson, Andrew [p]Johnson, Andrew;and Reconstruction[Reconstruction] Citizenship, U.S.;and Fourteenth Amendment[Fourteenth Amendment] Citizenship, U.S.;and African Americans[African Americans] [g]United States;July 9, 1868: Fourteenth Amendment Is Ratified[4210] [c]Civil rights and liberties;July 9, 1868: Fourteenth Amendment Is Ratified[4210] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;July 9, 1868: Fourteenth Amendment Is Ratified[4210] Stevens, Thaddeus [p]Stevens, Thaddeus;and Fourteenth Amendment[Fourteenth Amendment] Sumner, Charles [p]Sumner, Charles;and Fourteenth Amendment[Fourteenth Amendment]

Meanwhile, southern state legislatures elected under Johnson’s program had met to develop a series of laws called black codes, which restricted the rights of the former slaves. Although the Republican majority in Congress had no intention of permitting the Johnson approach to Reconstruction to prevail or allowing the seating of the unrepentant white southern representatives, they had no comprehensive counterproposal. To gain time and to work out a positive approach, Republicans in the House and the Senate created the Joint Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction. This committee was composed of six senators and nine representatives.

The Republican majority rejected Johnson’s plan because, as the black codes demonstrated, the old Confederate politicians could not be trusted to respect the rights of the freedmen. Moreover, the Republicans had no intention of permitting white southerners, whom they regarded as rebels and traitors, to increase the representation in the House of Representatives of the southern Democrats. The abolition of slavery had destroyed the old compromise under which five slaves counted as three free persons in apportioning representation in the House and the electoral college, and the Republicans wanted to make sure that the South did not add to its numbers in the House and thereby profit from rebellion.

Between December, 1865, and May, 1866, Republicans attempted to hammer out a program that would accomplish their purposes in the South, unite members of their party in Congress, and appeal to northern voters. Given the diversity of opinion within the Republican Party, this undertaking proved to be difficult. The radical wing of the party wanted African American suffrage, permanent political proscription of former Confederate leaders, and confiscation of the property of former Confederates. Some Republicans maintained they were authorized in these actions by the Thirteenth Amendment Thirteenth Amendment Constitution, U.S.;Thirteenth Amendment , which, they believed, gave Congress the power to abolish the “vestiges of slavery.” Moderate Republicans, on the other hand, feared political repercussions from African American suffrage, as such a requirement would result in beginning the Reconstruction process over again. Many moderates also believed that an additional amendment to the Constitution was needed to provide precise authority for Congress to enact civil rights legislation.

From Congress, U.S.;Fourteenth Amendment deliberations of the joint committee and debate on the floor of the House came the Fourteenth Amendment. Many Republicans believed that the proposal was in the nature of a peace treaty, although this view was not explicitly stated. According to this view, if the South accepted the amendment, the southern states were to be readmitted and their senators and representatives would seated in Congress. In other words, Reconstruction would end. Republicans presented a united front during the final vote as a matter of party policy. Because the amendment was an obvious compromise between radicals and moderates, it was too strong for some and too weak for others.

The Fourteenth Amendment became the most important addition to the constitution since the Bill of Rights had been adopted in 1791. It contains five sections.

Section 1, the first constitutional definition of citizenship, states that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States and of the states in which they reside. It includes limits on the power of states, by providing that no state may abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens, deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of law. This section was intended to guarantee African Americans the rights of citizenship, although the amendment’s framers did not define exactly which rights were included. Nor did they define “state action” to specify whether the term meant only official acts of state government or the actions of individuals functioning privately with state approval.

The courts later interpreted the amendment’s due process clause to extend the rights of the accused listed in the Bill of Rights, which had applied only to the federal government, to the states. They would eventually expand the notion of equal protection to include other categories, such as sex and disability, as well as race. They also interpreted the word “person” to include corporations as legal persons; under this interpretation, corporations found protection from much state regulation.

Section 2 gave a new formula of representation in place of the old three-fifths compromise of the Constitution, under which five slaves were counted as equal to three free persons in determining a state’s representation in the House of Representatives and the electoral college. All persons Voting rights;and Fourteenth Amendment[Fourteenth Amendment] in a state were to be counted for representation, but if a state should disfranchise any of its adult male citizens, except for participation in rebellion or any other crime, the basis of its representation would be reduced proportionately. Although not guaranteeing suffrage to African Americans, this provision threatened the South with a loss of representation should black men be denied the vote.

Section 3 declared that no person who had ever taken an oath to support the Constitution (which included all who had been in the military service or held state or national office before 1860) and had then participated in the rebellion against the Union could be a senator or representative or hold any civil or military office, national or state. This disability could be removed only by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress. This section took away the pardoning power of the president, which congressional Republicans believed Andrew Johnson had used too generously.

Section 4 validated the debt of the United States, voided all debts incurred to support rebellion, and invalidated all claims for compensation for emancipated slaves made by their former owners.

Section 5 gave Congress authority to pass legislation to enforce the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.


After the Civil War (1861-1865), the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment desired to protect the former slaves and boost Republican Party strength in the South by barring old Confederates from returning to Congress and bolstering the electoral college with increased voting strength. They hoped to do this without threatening the federal system or unduly upsetting the relationship between the central government and the states. At the same time, Republicans wanted to unify their party and project a popular issue for the approaching electoral contest against Andrew Johnson.

Since its passage in 1868, the U.S. Supreme Court has used the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to expand both the number and breadth of rights protecting individuals. More than any other amendment, the Fourteenth has provided the basis for the range of rights that Americans came to take for granted during the twentieth century.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Benedict, Michael Les. A Compromise of Principle: Congressional Republicans and Reconstruction, 1863-1869. New York: W. W. Norton, 1974. Emphasizes the Republicans’ concern that the Fourteenth Amendment maintain the role of the states in the federal system.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cox, LaWanda, and John H. Cox. Politics, Principle, and Prejudice: Dilemma of Reconstruction America, 1865-1866. New York: Free Press, 1963. Argues that civil rights, rather than merely partisan politics, was the central issue during Reconstruction.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hensley, Thomas R., Christopher E. Smith, and Joyce A. Baugh. The Changing Supreme Court: Constitutional Rights and Liberties. St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing, 1997. Study of the U.S. Supreme Court’s evolving protections of citizen rights that closely examines issues relating to the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hyman, Harold M., and William Wiecek. Equal Justice Under Law: Constitutional Development, 1835-1875. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. Includes a thorough discussion of the Fourteenth Amendment as a logical and necessary extension of the Thirteenth Amendment.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lively, Donald E. The Constitution and Race. New York: Praeger, 1992. Focuses on the association of attitudes toward race and constitutional interpretation. A positive interpretation of the motives of framers of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nieman, Donald G. Promises to Keep: African-Americans and the Constitutional Order, 1776 to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. A survey of issues of race and constitutional law that highlights the contributions of African Americans to its development.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Perry, Michael J. We the People: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Supreme Court. New ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Examines the controversies surrounding interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment by the Supreme Court.

Reconstruction of the South

Congress Creates the Freedmen’s Bureau

Mississippi Enacts First Post-Civil War Black Code

Thirteenth Amendment Is Ratified

Birth of the Ku Klux Klan

Civil Rights Act of 1866

Suffragists Protest the Fourteenth Amendment

Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

Woman Suffrage Associations Begin Forming

Civil Rights Cases

Mississippi Constitution Disfranchises Black Voters

Plessy v. Ferguson

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Categories: History