The Importance of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

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The importance of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is such that some have called it the amendment that “completed the Constitution.” When it was ratified on July 9th, 1868, the amendment became one of legislative cornerstones of the Reconstruction Era, a time in which the Radical Republicans, led by John A. Bingham and Thaddeus Stevens, promulgated a legislative program focused on providing racial equality before the law. Among the laws passed in the Reconstruction Era, the Fourteenth Amendment was one of the most controversial, with one Republican congressman, Representative A.J. Rogers of New Jersey saying that it was, “…but another attempt to…consolidate in the Federal Government, by the action of Congress, all the powers claimed by the Czar of Russia, or the Emperor of the French.” The Fourteenth Amendment did indeed constitute the largest expansion of federal power since the ratification of the Constitution. The amendment was not born in a vacuum; the reason for this expansion of power, and for the amendment as a whole, is found in the broader context of the mid nineteenth-century South and the pervasive oppression of the free black population residing there. In considering the nature of Southern race relations, both before and after the Civil War, the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment came to believe that nothing short of a radical expansion of the powers of the federal government over the states would enable them to “promote the general welfare” of, and “secure the Blessings of Liberty” to the African-American population of the United States. In order to properly understand the original intent of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, it is necessary to understand its historical contex... ... middle of paper ... This website was my source for the text of the Barron v. Baltimore opinion, a case which John Bingham took into account when crafting the Fourteenth Amendment. Tenbroek, Jacobus. The Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1951. This source contains a detailed overview of the legislative history of the Fourteenth Amendment. It also discusses the extent of the powers that the framers of the Amendment intended to create. Zuckert, Michael, P. "Completing the Constitution: The Fourteenth Amendment and Constitutional Rights." Publius 22, no. 2 (1992): 69-91. This source provides an analysis of the Fourteenth Amendment as the culmination of the efforts of the Radical Republican caucus. It puts the Amendment in the context of the Thirteenth, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
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