Here we provide the penultimate contribution to our Fourteenth Amendment roundtable. Stay tuned for Martha S. Jones’s conclusion, which will be published tomorrow. Previous selections from this roundtable can be found here, here, here, and here.
For a Constitutional Amendment that undergirds so much of modern American jurisprudence, there may be yet more value to be drawn from the Fourteenth Amendment in its “other” sections, as we consider the amendment’s long reach over 150 years.
The Fourteenth Amendment is best known for its first section, which defines citizenship, extends Constitutional authority more directly over the states than ever before, protects the privileges and immunities of citizens, and establishes the principle of equal protection of the law. But the Fourteenth Amendment contains five sections, and only the first and the fifth (granting Congress the power to enforce the provisions of the amendment) address the better-known matters of civil rights, citizenship, and equal protection of the laws. It is the middle sections that have been more often ignored.
What do these “other” sections mean today, and what do they tell us about Congressional debates over Reconstruction in the 1860s? On the surface, the multi-section amendment is a grab bag of provisions only vaguely related to one another. However, the amendment’s various sections cohere quite well as a mechanism to reconstruct the federal union by enhancing the jurisdictional reach of the federal government, solidifying (including financially) the states’ adherence to the Union, and reconstructing the southern states (including the border states) on the basis of a racially egalitarian republicanism. This necessitated a restructuring of the body politic as well as of the financial and legal architecture of the federal union. As historian Eric Foner notes, “The Fourteenth Amendment can only be understood as a whole.” The “other” sections–those beyond Section 1–fleshed out how the Amendment’s framers aimed to do this.
The full article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.