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Fourteenth Amendment

[ fawr-teenthuh-mend-muhnt ]
/ ˈfɔrˌtinθ əˈmɛnd mənt /
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noun
an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868, defining national citizenship and forbidding the states to restrict the basic rights of citizens or other persons.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

MORE ABOUT FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT

What is the Fourteenth Amendment?

The Fourteenth Amendment is the amendment to the US Constitution that defines US citizenship and forbids the states from violating civil rights.

The Constitution of the United States is the document that serves as the fundamental law of the country.  An amendment is a change to something. An amendment to the Constitution is any text added to the original document since its ratification in 1788. The Constitution has been amended 27 times in American history.

The Fourteenth Amendment, passed in 1866, addressed several issues and questions that remained at the end of the American Civil War. There are five sections to the Fourteenth Amendment.

The first section states that anyone born or naturalized in the United States is an American citizen, officially giving citizenship to formerly enslaved people. It also forbids states from violating basic rights of citizens by guaranteeing due process of law and equal protection of the laws.

The second section clarifies how states would be represented in the House of Representatives according to state populations, while the third section states that no one who has engaged in or supported rebellion or insurrection against the United States can hold political office unless Congress approves it by a two-thirds vote.

The fourth section states that debts owed by the government for spending during the Civil War were legal, but any debts that supported insurrection or rebellion against the United States were illegal and didn’t need to be paid.

Finally, the fifth section says that Congress has the power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment using legislation.

While Reconstruction has long since ended, parts of the Fourteenth Amendment are still very important today.

Why is Fourteenth Amendment important?

Following the end of the Civil War, Congress was outraged that the southern states had passed the Black Codes, which limited the rights of formerly enslaved African Americans. In response, it passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which gave all American citizens equal protection of the laws. President Andrew Johnson attempted to veto the bill, but a Congressional vote overrode his veto.

Congress then decided that a constitutional amendment was necessary to ensure equal rights to all American citizens. In April 1866, Representative Thaddeus Stevens introduced the proposal for the Fourteenth Amendment to Congress. Congress passed it in June 1866, and it was finally ratified on July 9, 1868. The amendment was opposed by both President Johnson and the southern states. However, Congress demanded that southern states ratify the amendment in order to regain their representation in Congress. Southern states reluctantly did so.

While the Fourteenth Amendment was passed with the intention of protecting the rights of freed slaves, the amendment’s language is so broad that it has been involved in a huge number of Supreme Court cases concerning civil rights.

For example, the Supreme Court cited the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause to rule that racial segregation was legal in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and then illegal in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

The Fourteenth Amendment has played a large role in both defining what rights an American citizen has and defending those rights from the government.

Did you know … ?

The Fourteenth Amendment set the voting age to 21. The Twenty-Sixth Amendment, ratified in 1971, lowered the voting age to 18.

What are real-life examples of Fourteenth Amendment?

Because it has been so important to the defense of civil rights, the Fourteenth Amendment is one of the most well-known (and popular) constitutional amendments.

 

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following is NOT stated in the Fourteenth Amendment?

A. A person born in the United States is an American citizen.
B. The number of representatives a state has in the House of Representatives is based on the population of the states.
C. The legal voting age is 18.
D. All Americans are guaranteed due process of law and equal protections of the laws.

How to use Fourteenth Amendment in a sentence

Cultural definitions for Fourteenth Amendment

Fourteenth Amendment

An amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1868. It was primarily concerned with details of reintegrating the southern states after the Civil War and defining some of the rights of recently freed slaves. The first section of the amendment, however, was to revolutionize federalism. It stated that no state could “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.” Gradually, the Supreme Court interpreted the amendment to mean that the guarantees of the Bill of Rights apply to the states as well as to the national government.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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