Essay On The 14th Amendment

Northern abolitionists had worried that the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 would be attacked after the end of the war as merely a temporary emergency measure.) The passage of the 13th Amendment did not end the problem, however, because the freed slaves' legal status was undefined and unclear.

The problem was constitutionally complicated because the pre-war Supreme Court Dred Scott decision had declared black slaves to be non-persons.

A 14th Amendment was necessary, therefore, to explicitly establish the status of blacks as persons and citizens through a natural right, inhering simply in having been born in the country and in recognizing their allegiance to it.

In our own time, these brief histories suggest, it is possible to return to the Fourteenth Amendment for lessons — contingencies, cautionary tales, models of struggle, and to access its yet untapped possibilities.

[1] “Amendment XIV,” National Constitution Center, accessed July 7, 2018,

In this roundtable, Christopher Bonner and Andrew Diemer explain the origins of Section 1, which provided generally that all persons born in the United States were citizens of the United States.

With it was swept aside a half century of legal ambiguity that had enshrouded the lives of black Americans, especially former slaves. Grassroots ideas became inscribed in the text of the nation’s highest law.Bonner explains that this was a culmination of black activism of the preceding decades — the constitutionalization of a claim to citizenship that had long been made within African American political culture.Diemer examines these same claims and sees in them more that an insistence upon birthright.And as we appear fated to revisit the amendment in political and policy terms in the coming months and years, they propose that we enter this debate well equipped with a sense of the history out of which it emanated.The Fourteenth Amendment’s birthright citizenship clause was the culmination of black activism, but it did not go far enough.Scroll down the left sidebar to read the text of the amendment. Jones is the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University.Among other publications, she is the author of Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America, recently published by Cambridge University Press. Post-Reconstruction political forces soon compromised the new principle of equal protection of the laws. Supreme Court, a crucible in which the meaning of equality was made and ultimately narrowed.In her contribution, Hilary Green explains how black Americans saw in the Fourteenth Amendment a promise that, beyond slavery, racism too would be relegated to the past. Still, former slaves were emboldened by the language of the Constitution and kept its commitment to equality alive, even when the Supreme Court did not.Today, the Fourteenth Amendment is under attack by those who see in its terms unwelcome or overtrod paths to belonging, equality, and the dignity of all persons in the United States.Calls for its repeal or to otherwise radically narrow its interpretation are coming from quarters both refined and popular: at podiums, on placards, in law reviews, via Tweets, and on the op-ed page.


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