“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves” – Abraham Lincoln
Also known as the “Reconstruction Amendment,” the 14th Amendment detailing citizenship to any person born or naturalized in the United States was ratified on this day in history, 1868.
The key headline of the Amendment was the underlying fact that recently freed African-American slaves would attain the same rights and privileges (on paper) as other Americans.
In the aftermath of the Civil War and assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, President Andrew Johnson was tasked with mending the country and bridging the divide between brethren.
Johnson put his beliefs of Unionism and states’ rights into action with the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, wherein new districts and state government divisions dedicated to universal enfranchisement in the South were to be established.
The Act marked the beginning of the Radical Reconstruction period, which would bring about the Reconstruction Amendment a year later.
It was passed with the intention of soothing the conflicts originating back to before the war during which African-Americans were denied citizenship. The amendment prohibits any state from refusing any American “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
President Andrew Johnson greatly opposed the 14th Amendment and attempted to strike it down, along with the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 which also aimed at equal rights for blacks. Substantially rupturing his relations with Congress, Johnson was impeached for his opposition to the legislation among other grievance’s.
He was acquitted by just a single vote in the senate but would lose the nomination of his party in the 1868 election in which war hero Ulysses S. Grant was elected president
Two years later, the 15th Amendment officially gave African-Americans the right to vote and further bridged the rights gap between races, stating “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Radical white supremacist organization Klu Klux Klan reared its ugly head in opposition to these two amendments, and attempted to destabilize the black suffrage amendments and public support for the reconstruction. The group was crippled considerably by federal legislation championed by Grant’s administration.
The legacies of the 14th and 15th Amendments were revived in 1920 with the 19th Amendment for women suffrage, and the three Amendments live on today as rights we Americans exercise freely.