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The fourteenth amendment is an integral part of the American constitution. Lawmakers introduced the alteration in 1868 to address the issue of citizenship, rights and equal application and protection under the law. At the time of its introduction, the amendment was supposed to serve the issue of former slaves and their status within the nation. The Southern states argued against the amendment, resulting in a political campaign to force them to adopt it by threatening to deny the regions congressional representation. Since then, the amendment has become involved in a range of issues with immigration being one of the most important subjects. The amendment is particularly important because it guarantees citizenship to people born in the country, a factor that has created various situations for the government over the years. The fourteenth amendment was one of the most important changes to the American constitution because of the way it changed the concept of citizenship as defined by the document.
Importance of the Fourteenth Amendment
Background of the Amendment
Events that would lead to the creation of the fourteenth amendment started in 1866. Even though the federal government had succeeded in abolishing slavery, the suffrage of African-Americans was still a sensitive issue. While the Republican Party wanted to push for the equal rights of African-American people, it feared that racism throughout the North would lead to a loss in the upcoming elections. As a solution, the Republicans decided to enshrine these rights within the American constitution (Murrin et al. 519). The first attempt saw the Republicans pass two bills in Congress guaranteeing equal rights to people of African descent. However, President Andrew Johnson vetoed the both bills claiming that they were detrimental to the reunification of the nation. The Republicans returned to Congress and were able to gather the numbers needed to overturn President Johnson’s veto (Murrin et al. 520).
After passing the bills, the Republicans started moving towards the introduction of the amendment. In April 1866 the special committee submitted the amendment to Congress for voting. Following a long debate, Congress passed the amendments allowing compliant states to ratify it. In the 1866 elections, the Republican Party ran with the amendment as its platform. In a bid to make the Southern states ratify the fourteenth amendment, the Republicans stated that any regions that ratified it would be accepted back into Congress. Though the southern states rejected the offer, a Republican win in the 1866 elections paved the way for the amendment to become a part of the American constitution (Murrin et al. 520).
Contents of the Amendment
The fourteenth amendment contains five sections that deal with a range of issues. However, the most important matter that the amendment addresses is that of citizenship and equality. The first section of the amendment outlines the fact that all people who are born in the United States or naturalized are citizens of the US and the state that they live in. The section also forbids state governments from passing or enforcing laws that deny some citizens their rights and privileges without the proper legal procedure (Amar 106). Additionally, the section ensures that all citizens within the nation and any given state are protected equally by the law. Section one is arguably the most important part of the amendment because of the protection that it guarantees to citizens of the United States. Murrin et al. argue that through this section, the amendment had large repercussions on the United States, especially because the section one provided the foundation for civil rights movements that would sweep over the United States.
The second section of the amendment holds that each state receives representatives that are proportional to the number of citizens that it has. However, the section also states that any state that denies any male over the age of twenty-one the right to vote shall have less representatives. Through this section, the fourteenth amendment sought to protect the political rights of freed slaves by making sure that states could not afford to ignore them (Amar 106). This protection makes the section an important aspect of the amendment and of the American constitution.
The third and fourth sections of the amendments were introduced as a way of punishing the confederates who had taken arms against the federal government. The third section holds that persons who rebel against the government while occupying a public office for which they are under oath will be unable to take up such an office again, unless allowed by Congress. The fourth section invalidated the debt of the Confederate States and forbade the compensation of former slave owners. While section three may still bear some relevance in certain situations, the fourth part of the amendment was only consistent with the prevailing circumstances in 1866. This means that the two sections are now negligible. Section five of the amendment states that Congress has the power to enforce the fourteenth amendment (Amar 107).
Impact of the Fourteenth Amendment on the American Constitution
The most significant effect of the fourteenth amendment was its impact on the constitution of America. Through the amendment, freed slaves became citizens of the nation. Additionally, people born in the United States became citizens along with people who went through the process of naturalization, without any questions regarding race or ethnicity (Ho 374). The status of citizenship meant that all Americans were guaranteed equal rights and liberties as well as protection under the law. Even though African-Americans did not see experience these liberties for several decades, the amendment played a key role by laying the foundation for the civil rights movement that swept the nation. These changes meant that the constitution of the United States become the document that guaranteed the suffrage of African-Americans and enabled children born of foreigners to become citizens of the nation (Ho 374). Indeed, without the fourteenth amendment, President Obama would not have been eligible for the presidency.
The fourteenth amendment is also significant in the way that it ensures that all Americans receive their rights regardless of the state in which they are located. This is enforced by the second section of the amendment along with the first. Through the first amendment, citizens are assured that the law will protect them, regardless of their location. This means that a citizen who lives in California, can seek help from the courts in Utah. Even though states may charge some fees depending on the circumstances, citizens still have the ability to seek the protection of the law in locations that they are not familiar with (Lee 12).
The fourteenth amendment is one of the most important parts of the American constitution because of the issues that it addresses. The way that the amendment defines a citizen has affected the United States in a remarkably positive way by allowing African-Americans and other minorities to have equal liberties and rights as Caucasian Americans. Additionally, the second section of the amendment guarantees the suffrage of all people in the country and in doing so makes sure that the democratic system is fully functional by having all demographics represented. Through this amendment, the constitution was changed in a way that would affect the future of the United States in an unimaginable way.
Amar, Akhil R. America’s Constitution: A Biography. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.
Ho, James C. “Defining “American””. The Green Bag, 9.4 (2006): 367-378. Print.
Lee, Margaret M. U.S. Citizenship of Persons Born in the United States to Alien Parents. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 2006. Print.
Murrin, John M., Paul E. Johnson, James M. McPherson, Alice Fahs, Gary Gerstle, Emily S. Rosenberg and Norman L. Rosenberg. Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People. Boston, MA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2008. Print.