- To examine the relationship between Constitutional change and the expansion of rights and democracy.
- To help students understand the importance and limitations of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Brainstorm what “Reconstruction” means in terms of the possibility of new beginnings. Reconstruction provided a new vision of the Constitution which:
- Includes formerly excluded groups;
- Protects persons, not property;
- Resolves the incompatibility between the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”) and a Constitution sanctioning slavery;
- Redefines federalism to make the nation or federal government the guardian of civil rights and liberties. If the original Bill of Rights protected the individual against the Congress or federal government (“Congress shall make no law”), post-Civil War amendments and legislation were intended by Congress to protect the individual against the states by giving the federal courts new areas of jurisdiction.
- Offers the Supreme Court a new role, outlined by Fredrick Douglass when he called for “a Supreme Court which shall be true, as vigilant, as active, and exacting in maintaining laws enacted for the protection of human rights, as in other days was that Court for the destruction of human rights!”
The Fourteenth Amendment was introduced in 1866 and ratified as part of the
Constitution in 1868:
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the
, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the
and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the
; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of the law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of Electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a State, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty- one years of age and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one of age in such State.
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or Elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of an State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each house, remove such disability.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the
, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the
nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the
, or any claim for the loss of emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations, and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 5. The Congress shall have no power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
- What is meant by “due process of law”
- What is meant by “equal protection of the law”?
- Look at a copy of the Constitution. Does the term “male citizens” appear anytime before the Fourteenth Amendment? (Answer no, before this time the constitution used gender-neutral nouns like ‘persons’, ‘inhabitants’ and ‘citizens’)
- Look at Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which gives the government the power to reduce the number of representatives from those states that deny male citizens the vote. Do you think it was ever used? (Answer: no although it could have been used to prevent the emergence of the Jim Crow system which disenfranchised the black voting population)
By the time of the Centennial of the Constitution, the Fourteenth Amendment was being used to protect corporations, not people, and civil rights laws were either forgotten or declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Despite the fact that the Fourteenth Amendment gave the federal government power over the states to enforce voting rights for black people, they were being disenfranchised around the South.
What if the Supreme Court had enforced the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Acts during the period of Reconstructions and its aftermath? How could our history have been different? What might our society by like today?
The class can be divided into groups which can brainstorm and share lists of ways our history may have been different, and create a skit illustrating one or more of those ways.