Amendment XIV – Privileges and Immunities, Due Process, Equal Protection, Apportionment of Representatives, Civil War Disqualification and Debt (1868)

The Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution states:

Section 1: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States 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 United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of 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 years 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 any 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. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4: The validity of the public debt of the United States, 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 United States nor any state shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5: The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

The Fourteenth Amendment granted US citizenship to former slaves and their descendants.  It was passed by Congress on June 13, 1866 and was ratified on July 9, 1868.  Prior to the Amendment, slaves were considered as three-fifths of a person for the purpose representation in Congress.  The Fourteenth Amendment specifically changed this.

The amendment sets forth three new limits on state power.

  • Not to violate any citizen’s immunities and privileges.
  • Not to deprive the life, liberty or property of a person with out due process of law.
  • Ensure a guaranteed equal protection of the laws to all persons.

These limitations on state power significantly expanded the protections of the Constitution.

The Fourteenth Amendment expressly grants citizenship to all persons born or naturalized, former slaves, and most children born within the United States, even if the child’s parents were not and could not become citizens.  The Fourteenth Amendment did not provide citizenship to Native Americans who were governed by tribal law.  However, many of them became the US citizens by marriage, treaties or military service.  In 1924, after the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act, Congress granted the rights of citizenship to all Native Americans.

The Supreme Court interpreted the privileges and immunities granted in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment very narrowly.  However, the Supreme Court has accepted federal privileges such as the right to travel from state to state, the right to petition Congress for a redress of grievances, and the right to vote for national officers.

The courts have interpreted the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as protection against state action which takes away a person’s property or liberty.  Liberty means freedom from bodily restraint, the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.  The equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment (Section 1) limits the ability of states to discriminate against people based on their race, national origin, gender, or other status.  This clause has been used to guarantee voting rights, school integration, the rights of women and minorities to equal employment opportunities and the rights of immigrants to attend public school.

Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment overrides the provisions of Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution, which counted only three-fifths of each state’s slave population for purposes of allotting seats in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. The Fourteenth Amendment expressly affirms that representation in the House is to be divided among the states according to their respective numbers, counting all persons in each state.

Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits any person who has gone to war against the union or given aid and comfort to the nation’s enemies from being elected or appointed for federal or state office. However, a two-thirds vote by each House of the Congress can override this limitation.

Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment allows the federal and state governments to decline to pay war debts of the confederacy army as well as any claims made by slave owners for their losses when slaves were freed.

Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment provides Congress the authority to implement by appropriate legislation, the provisions within the amendment.

The Fourteenth Amendment has been used more frequently in modern court cases than any other constitutional provision.


Inside Amendment XIV – Privileges and Immunities, Due Process, Equal Protection, Apportionment of Representatives, Civil War Disqualification and Debt (1868)