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The Fourteenth Amendment

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Text of Amendment:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Why This Amendment Exists:

Between 1865 and 1868, the United States was left fractured by the American Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Wealthy white Southerners' commitment to preserve slavery had been the immediate cause of the war, and the Thirteenth Amendment had put an end to that, but a new state's rights movement had begun to coalesce around the idea of segregating black Southerners into a permanent underclass. Congress decided to make the Fourteenth Amendment part of their Reconstruction platform. The proposed Fourteenth Amendment drew the ire of President Andrew Johnson, a Southerner and noted white supremacist, but it passed - and was ratified - anyway.

Practical Effect:

Supporters of the Fourteenth Amendment had dramatically overestimated the courage of the U.S. Supreme Court, which quickly supported an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Section 1 so narrow that it ended federal civil rights legislation for nearly a century. But later - nearly 60 years after it was ratified, in fact - the Supreme Court would discover an implicit mechanism in the Fourteenth Amendment that would make it the most important constitutional amendment to date: the incorporation doctrine, which - by way of the Fourteenth Amendment - applied the Bill of Rights to the states, essentially leading to nearly every landmark civil liberties ruling of the past 90 years. It would be no exaggeration to say that the evolution of the Fourteenth Amendment reflects the evolution of American civil liberties itself.
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