The Importance Of The Fourteenth Amendment To The United States Constitution

3317 words - 13 pages

The importance of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is such that some have called it the amendment that “completed the Constitution.” When it was ratified on July 9th, 1868, the amendment became one of legislative cornerstones of the Reconstruction Era, a time in which the Radical Republicans, led by John A. Bingham and Thaddeus Stevens, promulgated a legislative program focused on providing racial equality before the law. Among the laws passed in the Reconstruction Era, the Fourteenth Amendment was one of the most controversial, with one Republican congressman, Representative A.J. Rogers of New Jersey saying that it was, “…but another attempt to…consolidate in the Federal Government, by the action of Congress, all the powers claimed by the Czar of Russia, or the Emperor of the French.” The Fourteenth Amendment did indeed constitute the largest expansion of federal power since the ratification of the Constitution. The amendment was not born in a vacuum; the reason for this expansion of power, and for the amendment as a whole, is found in the broader context of the mid nineteenth-century South and the pervasive oppression of the free black population residing there. In considering the nature of Southern race relations, both before and after the Civil War, the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment came to believe that nothing short of a radical expansion of the powers of the federal government over the states would enable them to “promote the general welfare” of, and “secure the Blessings of Liberty” to the African-American population of the United States.
In order to properly understand the original intent of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, it is necessary to understand its historical context, especially the “Black Codes.” In June 1865, the Civil War came to an end, and in December of the same year, the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery in the United States, was ratified. The conquering North was hoping to, as was said by Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, “bind up the nation’s wounds,” and obtain, “a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” However, the South, while it had been forced to discontinue slavery, was not prepared to accept Blacks as equal citizens, either politically or socially. In late 1865, Southern states began creating the set of laws that became known as the “Black Codes,” severely restricting the rights of the newly freed African-Americans living in the South. The degree to which the Black Codes limited freedom of African-Americans would eventually become one of the major motivations for the passage of first the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and finally, in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment.
By March of 1866, eight states of the former Confederacy had adopted various laws limiting the freedoms of African-Americans. In the Slaughterhouse Cases (1873), some of the first Supreme Court cases to deal with the Fourteenth Amendment, the opinion of Justice...

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