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Documents of American History

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There have been a number of amendments within the United States Constitution that have distinguished themselves as having an important and lasting quality, more so than other amendments. The first amendment with its protection of religious freedom, freedom of the press, assembly, speech and petition is seen as the most important. The 2nd amendment which states that a well organized militia is allowed to carry arms and which the Supreme Court has interpreted it to mean all law abiding citizens have the right to carry arms has been a source of debate for many years.

There are two amendments within the Constitution that are terribly important, yet have been forgotten in the years since its passage. The 14th Amendment, which established citizenship for all persons born within the United States had enormous historical and political implications as it overturns the Dred Scott Supreme Court Decision of 1857, strengthens the 13th Amendment and helps pave the way for the 15th Amendment as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The second important yet forgotten amendment within the Constitution is the 19th Amendment which gives woman the right to vote.

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This amendment as well has large historical and political implications as well since the current frontrunner in the quest for the Democratic nomination for President is Hillary Clinton: a woman. This modern turn of events would not have been made possible if not only for the 19th amendment but also the decades of protests and all the work on behalf of women’s suffrage that took place. The 14th Amendment states that no state can infringe upon the rights of any person, regardless of their race: “Section 1.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State 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. ” This is a key aspect of the text as it helps to strengthen the 13th amendment as well. With the passage of the 13th amendment on January 1, 1863, nothing really changed.

The Southern States, who were in rebellion against the Union, felt that they were no longer bound to obey any laws that came out of Washington. The amendment would have to be recognized once the Union won the Civil War and brought the southern states back into the Union. To a lesser degree, the same could be said about the 14th amendment and its relation to its predecessor, the 13th amendment. After the war, there was no longer any slavery and four million African Americans were left at the doorstep of the Federal government while still residing in the Southern states.

The great migration of African Americans to the Northern cities was still decades in the future. So as a result, southern legislatures sought to put African Americans back in a type of quasi slavery though oppressive Jim Crow and black code laws. These laws were designed to return blacks to their pre war condition of submission to the white establishment. This was accomplished through restrictive measures that prevented African Americans from suing in court, testifying in court, being a member of a jury as well as being able to own a gun.

African Americans were not allowed to gather on a street corner by themselves and racial discrimination regarding public places was understood to be included in these black codes as well. The 14th amendment was passed during Reconstruction. Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated and Vice President Johnson, a southerner from Tennessee had been made president. He was from the south but loathed the south’s actions of rebellion during the civil war. However, those feelings seem to pass as he vetoed nearly every civil rights bill that was passed by Congress during his years in office.

It would be these actions by President Johnson that would give him the dubious honor of being the first President to be impeached. He avoided banishment by one vote in the senate but the success of his presidency was over. It is in this context that the 14th amendment was passed since in the end, the 14th amendment is a civil rights bill that would be challenged in the years after its passage. The 14th Amendment did not go as far as the Radical Republicans, as they were called, wanted it to go.

The 15th amendment and the 1875 Civil Rights Act, built upon the power that the 13th and 14th amendments went in securing the rights of individuals under the Constitution, regardless of their race. The power of the 14th Amendment would be limited after the Supreme Court outlawed the 1875 Civil Rights Act which was built upon the power of the 14th amendment. The Supreme Court said that only the state was prohibited from infringing upon the Civil Rights of an individual and that private businesses could be allowed to implement such practices as segregation or refusal to rent or sell to an African American if they chose to do so.

The power of the 14th Amendment would be further decreased with the 1890 Supreme Court Case Plessey vs. Ferguson. The Supreme Court held that the states could not impose segregation on public places as long as those facilities were “separate but equal. ” There were many at the time of the passage of the 14th amendment and who felt that they were responsible for it passage, who regarded the 14th amendment as having broad powers concerning its ability to give African Americans equal protection and recognition under the law. In the immediate years after the passage of the amendment, this seemed to be more and more, less likely to occur.

The original intent of the law and its power would not be seen until the 20th century with such decisions as Brown vs. Board or Education (1954) which stuck down forever, racial discrimination within public places. Another important aspect of the 14 amendment was the fact that since African Americans was now seen as citizens, their representation in Congress needed to be known. The section reads: Section 2. “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.

But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

” Although not at the immediate time of its passage, this section allows for African Americans, now citizens, to be represented in Congress. This struck down the previous “three-fifths” clause which states that for political reasons, African Americans would be counted as only 3/5 of a vote and therefore, not seen by the government as a complete person. The 14th amendment, continuing on the theme of Civil Rights, struck down this offensive aspect of the Original Constitution in order to give African Americas, now citizens, the rights afforded to them as citizens of The United States of America.

Full rights for African Americans would not be realized for many more decades but the 14th amendment did a great deal in increasing those rights that help each citizen to feel as though they are a part of the democratic process and are recognized in such a capacity. The struggle for women’s suffrage reached its peak during the late 1800s. But the famous 1848 meeting at Seneca Falls New York, directed by Elizabeth Caty Stanton and Lucretia Mott, two giants in the cause for women’s suffrage fought long and hard for the right to be able to vote.

The first state to allow women to vote was Wyoming in 1870 and women were even allowed to sit as jurors but there was no federal amendment to protect a woman’s right to vote and the majority of the country did not recognize a woman’s right to vote. The cause for women’s suffrage would enjoy a resurgence during the abolitionist days and the move against slavery. The fight for equal rights for African Americans could not help but remind the female abolitionists that they did not even have some of the rights that the former slaves were bound to receive once their freedom would be won.

This came to fruition with help from the 14th Amendment. This amendment not only gave citizenship to all individuals that were born in the United States, meaning four million former slaves would now be considered citizens but also gave voting rights to all males in the country. In May 1869, the National Woman Suffrage Association was founded by Elizabeth Caty Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. The organization set out to win a national amendment which would grant women the right to vote. In November 1869, the American Woman Suffrage Association was formed and fought for both state and federal woman suffrage amendments.

This helped lay the groundwork for the national campaigns in Washington D. C. in 1912. In 1917, the Susan B. Anthony Federal Suffrage amendment was placed before the House. In 1919, both houses of Congress approved the amendment and it went to the state legislatures for ratification. The approval of thirty six states were needed before the suffrage amendment could become law and surprisingly, the states moved with surprising speed and in August 1920, the 19th Amendment became part of the Constitution. The wording of the amendment reads as such:

The right of citizens in the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. Both the 14th and 19th Amendments expand the rights of an important segment of the population. Such amendments have been forgotten because the rights that they protect are seen as never having a starting point for a large segment of the population that seems oblivious to anything that has happened before they were born.

Recently, a popular comedy television show, had as one of its comedy pieces, set up a table outside of a busy walkway and sought out women to sign a petition: “To end Women’s Suffrage. ” An alarming number of women as well as men signed the petition, possibly confusing suffrage for suffering. It is due to this amazing level of ignorance that the history, wording and influence of these above mentioned amendments be reintroduced into the nation’s consciousness.

The 19th amendment gave women the right to vote but it also told women what they already knew: that they were an important aspect of the American democratic system and that their involvement was required. Women then became governors, senators, representatives, Supreme Court judges and in 2008, possibly the next President of the United States. The 19th Amendment helped make all of this come to fruition, along with the dedication and perseverance of a lot of women and men as well.

The 14th amendment is also one of those amendments whose forgotten memory serves as an impediment to every American who assumes that they ways that things are today, is how they have always been. In this manner, history’s importance is all too often underestimated as ignorance breeds apathy for the works and sacrifice of others who came before. When Americans think of civil rights, they think of Martin Luther King Jr. Rosa Parks and perhaps even Jesse Jackson. But the study of civil rights must first start in the 18th and 19th century if at all.

“The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments which greatly increased the rights for all peoples, regardless of their race as well as the 19th amendment, all had their origins in the 19th century. ” And as it is with most amendments, its origins are seen years and decades before its actual passage and many times, opens the door for further legislation in the future. The 14th and 19th amendments are two examples of this. Sadly, America’s heroes are based more upon pop culture and the every day actions of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. More is known about their unimportant lives than the sacrifices of Elizabeth Caty Stanton and Susan B.

Anthony despite the fact that their actions have a more encompassing and important affect on their lives than pop culture ever will, or at least should. Every amendment within the Constitution should be studied and recognized for what it is and does. This is especially true for the 14th and 19th amendments. WORKS CITED Commanger, Henry Steele. Documents of American History. New York: Century Publishers, 1947 Perry, Michael. We the People. The 14th Amendment and the Supreme Court. New York: Oxford University Press. 1999. The Supreme Court. PBS Video: Thirteen Production. February 24, 2007

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Documents of American History. (2016, Jul 09). Retrieved from

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