The Fourteenth Ammendment and the Fight for Equal Rights

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By the summer of 1865, the United States of America emerged from one struggle directly into another. After years of tension over state rights and slavery, the nation had exploded into a civil war, only to emerge bloodied but still intact. The question now was how to keep the nation intact, while protecting the freedmen and ensuring that the same powers that had ignited the war could come back to power. To Garrett Epps argues in his book Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America that the 14th Amendment passed by the 39th Congress of the United States was the penultimate reaction to ensure that recently freed slaves were guaranteed the rights of a citizen, and more importantly, to attempt to keep power away from what had been coined “the slave power”. As Epps argues that the Constitution of the Founding Fathers died with the many of brave men on the battlefields, the Constitution was redesigned and arose like a phoenix with passing of the 14th Amendment. Epps opens his book with those first Constitutional framers in 1787, and the seemingly apocalyptic speech by one Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania that might almost perfectly foreshadow the events that would happen. Morris saw the “three-fifths compromise” as the most unequal compromise in the document. By counting slaves, even three-fifths, white voters in the slave states would have increased power in the House of Representatives and the electoral college, meaning that “one white voter in the South might have the same power as two or even three in the North” (Epps 6). Despite this protest against the relationship between slavery and political power, it was never brought up again in the constitutional debate, yet as the ei... ... middle of paper ... ... is a well written book, one that provides an in depth look into the 14th Amendment, the longest amendment in the Constitution and the broadest, as Epps writes, “the most sweeping and complex change ever made in the original Constitution” (Epps 268). What is often termed “the Second Constitution”, Epps provides in depth analysis of the key figures and ideologies that would make the 14th Amendment what it became. While Epps’ main point is that the amendment was seen primarily as a battle over power in the federal government, he is able to present the effects that it would eventually have in guaranteeing rights for minorities and women, but also how it failed immediately after reconstruction up to this day. Works Cited Epps, Garrett. Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America. New York: H. Holt, 2006. Print.

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