14th Amendment Summary

What is the Fourteenth Amendment and what does it mean?

14th amendment
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The 14th amendment to the US Constitution was ratified on July 9, 1868 during the Reconstruction era. It, along with the 13th and 15th amendments are collectively known as the Reconstruction amendments. There was a concern that with the increase of representation in Southern states once the three-fifths compromise was no longer in effect would make Southern states more powerful. The Republicans were afraid that the increased Democratic representation from the South would do away with many of the liberties granted to the African-Americans after the war.

This Amendment was an attempt to discourage this. 

However, of those three, the 14th is the most complicated and the one that has had the more unforeseen effects. Its broad goal was to ensure that the Civil Rights Act passed in 1866 would remain valid ensuring that "all persons born in the United States...excluding Indians not taxed...." were citizens and were to be given "full and equal benefit of all laws." (Quotes from the Civil Rights Act of 1866) However, it went beyond the provisions of the Civil Rights Act in many ways.

Key Clauses of the 14th Amendment

Four principles were asserted in the text of the 14th amendment. They were:

  1. State and federal citizenship for all persons regardless of race both born or naturalized in the United States was reaffirmed.
  2. No state would be allowed to abridge the "privileges and immunities" of citizens.
  3. No person was allowed to be deprived of life, liberty,or property without "due process of law."
  1. No person could be denied "equal protection of the laws."

Over time, numerous lawsuits have arisen that have referenced the 14th amendment. The fact that the amendment uses the word state in the Privileges and Immunities clause along with interpretation of the Due Process Clause has meant that state as well as federal power is subject to the Bill of Rights.

Further, the courts have interpreted the word "person" to include corporations. Therefore, they too are protected by "due process" along with being granted "equal protection."

While there were other clauses in the amendment, none were as significant as these.