This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. On July 9, 1868, one of the Reconstruction Era’s boldest innovations became law. Birthright citizenship, equal protection of the laws, and voting rights entered the constitutional pantheon, pointing the way forward for a nation that had been deeply scarred by slavery, racism, and a war that wrought nothing less than a revolution. An unparalleled experiment in interracial democracy was underway.
Here, in 2018, we have not the luxury, however, of looking back to 1868 with collective nostalgia or national self-congratulation. Today, the Fourteenth Amendment is under attack by those who see in its terms unwelcome or overtrod paths to belonging, equality, and the dignity of all persons in the United States. Calls for its repeal or to otherwise radically narrow its interpretation are coming from quarters both refined and popular: at podiums, on placards, in law reviews, via Tweets, and on the op-ed page.
Historians have a role to play, and this week Muster has assembled four scholars, all of whom take the view that to engage the present we must understand the past. Their research permits us to examine closely the Fourteenth Amendment, its purpose, and its effect in its own time. And as we appear fated to revisit the amendment in political and policy terms in the coming months and years, they propose that we enter this debate well equipped with a sense of the history out of which it emanated.
The full article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.