The Fourteenth Amendment expanded the definition of citizenship by making freed slaves full and equal citizens. Replacing the Constitution’s infamous counting of “three fifths of all other persons,” the amendment made “the whole number of persons in each State” the basis for representation, It federalized the Bill of Rights by holding the state governments to the same standards of protection of individual citizenship rights as the national government, particularly applying the Fifth Amendment’s guarantees of “due process” to the states.
In June 1866, Congress had passed the Fourteenth Amendment. A half dozen states ratified it that year, and fourteen more by the next February. However, its initial rejection by the legislatures of every former Confederate state except Tennessee led the Republican Congress to pass Reconstruction Acts, placing former Confederate states under military governments until the states could establish new civil governments, and requiring each to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment before “said State shall be declared entitled to representation in Congress.” By the spring of 1868, twenty-four states had ratified. Though Ohio rescinded its ratification that January, and New Jersey followed suit in February, the amendment continued to progress. On 11 July 1868, Johnson issued his required proclamation (made official by this document) noting ratification by Florida and North Carolina. With the addition of Louisiana, and South Carolina, arguably the necessary three-quarters of the states had ratified the proposed amendment. Secretary of State William H. Seward certified that the amendment had become part of the Constitution. Congress adopted a concurrent resolution declaring the Fourteenth Amendment to be a part of the Constitution, including both New Jersey and Ohio as having ratified the amendment despite their change of heart. The ratification by Alabama and Georgia, on 13 and 21 July soon removed any doubt that the necessary amount of states had ratified.
Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas ratified in 1869-1870, but Delaware, Maryland, California, and Kentucky did not ratify the Amendment until the twentieth century. Oregon, which had rescinded its ratification late in 1868, re-ratified the Amendment in 1973. When Ohio and New Jersey re-ratified the Fourteenth Amendment in 2003, all states that existed during Reconstruction had ratified the Amendment.
From its earliest moments, the amendment was bitterly contested. President Johnson made his opposition clear throughout the ratification process, as did the defeated Confederate states. But Congressional elections in late 1866 gave Republicans veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate.
It it the final “equal protection clause” (“nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”) of the first section of the amendment that has formed the basis for many landmark civil rights cases, to include the following: Brown v. Board of Education (1954) regarding racial segregation; Miranda v. Arizona (1966) regarding that one can be tried only when they know their rights; Bush v. Gore (2000) regarding the 2000 presidential election; and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) regarding same-sex marriage. The amendment limits the actions of all state and local officials, including those acting on behalf of such an official.
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