14th Amendment

The 14th Amendment is one of the Reconstruction Amendments that was ratified after the end of the Civil War. It is a complex amendment that has five sections. For former slaves, one of the most important sections was the first, which states that anyone born or naturalized in the United States is a citizen of the United States. That overturned the Dred Scott Decision, the Supreme Court case from 1857 that said that African Americans could never be citizens of the U.S. Anyone naturalized in the U.S., such as by applying for citizenship and passing the citizenship test, was also a citizen.

The amendment also states that all citizens are entitled to equal protection of laws. The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment also states that no person shall be denied life, liberty, or property without proper legal cause. The reason for these clauses is that African Americans were routinely denied equality in the eyes of the law. After the Civil War, the Southern states that had seceded from the Union bitterly fought against the ratification of this amendment. They did not want to grant ex-slaves legal equality. However, they had to do it if they wanted to be allowed back into the Union and have representation in Congress.

The 14th Amendment was adopted on July 8, 1868. However, this did not mean that African Americans were treated equally. Federal troops were sent to the South to enforce the news laws after the Civil War, but once the troops were removed, many whites resumed their harsh treatment of African Americans. For the next century, laws were instituted, especially in the South, that kept African Americans from having equal access to the courts, schools, transportation, housing, and jobs. It would take the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to put an end to the legal discrimination that African Americans had faced over the previous 300 years.


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