Meaning and Summary of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution

Slavery was abolished and some nameless masses begot a new name in the new America. With this came some radical changes in the Constitution as well. Historyplex oversees the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.
Historyplex Staff
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
A New Day, a New Name!
The Civil War ended, and with it ended slavery in the US. This meant that slaves were no longer slaves, but were simply Afro-Americans. Their rights were assigned and specified by the 14th Amendment.
The 14th Amendment is one of the three Reconstruction Amendments, the other two being the 13th and the 15th Amendments. It was ratified during the Reconstruction period. The 14th Amendment was constituted in the US Constitution after the American Civil War, and had under its purview some of the most rattling questions about the citizenship of the newly recognized Afro-Americans. The law came into place, clearly to better the conditions of the slaves. It aimed to safeguard the right to equality, and also to pertain the status of citizenship to them. The Amendment was passed in 1868. Prior to the war, there were clear demarcations in the US. The southern states disintegrated from the north. It aimed to bring the southern states back. Some of the basic terms of the Amendment was to ensure that no citizen of the US would be deprived of the basic right to life, liberty, and property, unless guilty. It also holds that citizens must have the right to the protection of the laws. It also aimed at the establishment of federalism. Though, there are many other details associated with it.
14th Amendment Summary and Meaning
So what does the 14th Amendment say? Actually, it is made up of 5 sections.
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."

Explanation
  • Any individual born on American soil is in all respects a citizen of America, and will be known as an American citizen, irrespective of his/her lineage.
  • No state in America is entitled to curb any of the rights of an American citizen, except during special cases where the person is an accused. This also means that the American government has the duty to protect the rights and privilege of its citizens.
  • The government has to fulfill the criterion of 'due process' in order to impose any kind of restrictions on its citizens, which means, the government has to give out a prior notice before such imposition on a citizen or his property.
  • And finally, it is the state's duty to grant equal rights to all its citizens, and also protect their rights. This is to secure the equal protection clause.
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."

Explanation
  • It was earlier the norm to follow the three-fifth rule. According to this rule, only three-fifth of the total male Afro-American population would be allowed to elect. But, Section 2 repealed it, and said that except native Americans, who were not taxpayers, every male citizen who has attained 21 years of age of each state would be counted as a whole citizen, and his vote would be counted in the election process.
  • It clearly denounced the fact that every citizen, irrespective of his caste, creed, or color, is supposed to be treated as a whole person, rather than treating the Africans as three-fifth of a person.
  • Thus, it granted the Afro-Americans the right to cast their vote and take charge of the electoral process. However, till the 19th Amendment was passed a few years later, American women didn't have the right to vote.
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."

Explanation
  • This section held the upsetting scenario that prevailed post Civil War. The southerners had been defeated. This section states that any person who has taken an oath earlier, and is found to be an ally of the foreign foes or institutions which were anti-US, would not be considered eligible for holding any public office.
  • This also meant that those who had fought in the war against the northerners were clearly prohibited from holding such office.
  • Thus, the officers who led the rebellion were kept away. But, a two-third vote by the Congress can, however, again let these people exercise their rights of being American citizens, and take up positions in government offices.
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."

Explanation
  • This section empowered the federal and state governments to deny paying the debts because of the Civil war.
  • This meant that any of the confederate state can't force the state to pay its debts of the war.
  • Also, the state is not liable to pay the compensation of the slave owners. The slave owners would not be paid any kind of money on emancipating the slaves from their state of slavery.
Section 5
"Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."

Explanation
  • The court will have every right to follow the above mentioned provisions.
Pros and Cons of the 14th Amendment
The vision of the 14th Amendment was by far good. Now, what did the Amendment say? Well, it spoke of various things which brought significant changes in overall working procedures. It granted the right of citizenship to all its people who were born there. It spoke of granting equal rights to all its citizens, and also looked into the matter of protecting those rights. It gave the right to vote to all its citizens, without any discrimination based on race, caste, or creed. These are definitely the pros of the Amendment. Now let us also consider the flip side, the cons. It denied those people from exercising their rights as American citizens, who had actively participated in the war process against Congress. They were treated as rebels or anti-Americans.
The potential of the Amendment in setting the first step towards a more liberalized nation, a nation where slavery would in action be a thing of the past, can't be denied. With some loopholes, this Amendment was of-course a stepping stone for the mighty change that America witnessed in the near future.