Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

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Summary

The United States Congress first proposed the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1866. Two years later, this groundbreaking piece of legislation was formally adopted. The Fourteenth Amendment defines the limits of American citizenship, delineating both who qualifies as citizens and what citizenship means. The amendment is one of the three major amendments passed in the direct aftermath of the Civil War.

As the United States entered into the period of Reconstruction, one of the major questions on the national agenda concerned the status of newly freed slaves. The South was rife with tensions between former slaveholders and free black Americans, whom white Southerners sought to force back into subservience. In some cases, slavery lived on in the thin disguise of indentured servitude. In other cases, brutal “black codes” kept African Americans from attaining real freedom. Northern lawmakers soon realized that the Thirteenth Amendment, which bans slavery, would not be enough to bring liberty to African Americans in the South. Republican congressmen pushed to grant all Americans—including African Americans—full citizenship. Despite enormous resistance from President Andrew Johnson and the Southern congressmen who sought to sustain slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment was successfully passed. This pivotal law has become one of the most cited amendments in American history.

Summary of the Fourteenth Amendment

Section 1 grants full citizenship to all natural-born Americans. Further, the section prevents state government from impinging on the rights of American citizens and from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Section 2 addresses the apportioning of...

(The entire section is 385 words.)