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What Is the 14th Amendment?

Leigia Rosales
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Constitution of the United States provides the basic framework and the guiding principles upon which the United States was founded and is intended to be governed. Since the signing of the Constitution, there have been a number of issues that have required a change, or amendment, to the Constitution. Among those is the 14th Amendment, which is best known for the first section which addresses citizenship, due process, and equal protection.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution was one of the Reconstruction Amendments which was enacted shortly after the Civil War. Adopted on 8 July 1868, the amendment was, in large part, a response to the Supreme Court ruling in the Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393, (1957) which held that people of African descent were not allowed to become citizens of the United States and, therefore, were not protected by the Constitution. Slavery was one of the biggest catalysts for the Civil War and, although the Civil War had ended, the issues surrounding slavery still needed to be settled. Both the 13th Amendment and the 14th Amendment were direct responses to the issue of slavery in the United States.

The 13th Amendment made the Emancipation Proclamation permanent by abolishing slavery. The 14th Amendment followed suit three years later by establishing the basis by which a person may be considered a citizen of the United States. Section 1 of the 14th Amendment reads, "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." Anyone of African descent, including former slaves, were now citizens.

Aside from granting citizenship to anyone born or naturalized within the United States, the 14th Amendment included two additional clauses that have come to hold great importance within the law. The first is known as the "due process clause," while the other is the "equal protection clause." The due process clause reads as follows: "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." The due process clause has been used to argue many legal points both in criminal and civil law. The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, which reads, "...nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws..." has also formed the basis of many important legal arguments.

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Leigia Rosales
By Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers. Her ability to understand complex topics and communicate them effectively makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By PinkLady4 — On Oct 06, 2011

I don't think that the writers of the 14th Amendment even thought of the possibility that America would have such a big influx of illegal immigrants coming in.

Their main concern was giving citizenship to the many thousands of slaves and their offspring, born in this country.

Things do change after an amendment is written, but we have to think carefully before we amend an amendment. Changes that are not thought out carefully can open a whole new "can of worms."

By Misscoco — On Oct 06, 2011

It sure took some jurisdictions in the south to begin abiding by the 14th Amendment provisions. For many years after the Civil War and the 14th Amendment, states governments in some parts of the south turned their backs and allowed the Jim Crowe laws to remain. Blacks were expected to abide by separate, but equal laws - which were far from equal.

Where was "due process of law" in regard to blacks? Eventually, equal rights came to the Afro-Americans, but even today, it's evident that all blacks are still not treated with equality.

By Azuza — On Oct 06, 2011

@sunnySkys - Unfortunately we have no way of knowing what the people who wrote this amendment meant. All we have is the amendment and the current interpretation of it. And that is as it should be.

I actually had no idea this amendment was the one that contained the due process clause, as it's much more famous for it's post-slavery ramifications. I think due process is very important, and yet another reason why this amendment should not be repealed or revised.

By sunnySkys — On Oct 05, 2011

I really feel like the issue of the 14th amendment and immigration could be solved easily. We just need to look at what the intent was when the amendment was written. The intent was to give African-Americans citizenship in the United States.

However, I don't think the lawmakers who originally drafted this could have ever imagined the current predicament this country is in. I don't think that they intended this amendment to allow people to come into this country illegally and then have children who are citizens. It seems like the first illegal act should cancel out the second right, in my opinion.

By accordion — On Oct 04, 2011

I think the fourteenth amendment as it stands is not a problem; how else could we change it to make it fair? And as some politicians have also argued, our constitution has been a tool for extending rights, not limiting them, and I think it should remain that way.

I do agree immigration is a problem, I just think it can be fixed through the enforcement of current laws and possibly making new ones, not changing old ones.

By everetra — On Oct 04, 2011

@miriam98 - Those politicians are on the fringe, in my opinion. Illegal immigration needs to be addressed, but it can be done so without repealing the 14th amendment.

Besides, people who are breaking our laws will find some other way to break those laws, regardless of what we do to the Constitution.

By miriam98 — On Oct 03, 2011

@David09 - I’ve actually heard some politicians come out and argue that we should repeal the 14th amendment. Since it grants automatic citizenship to people born in the United States, illegal immigrants have crossed to border to create what are called “anchor babies.”

These are children born here, and therefore legal under the law, and their birth creates an anchor, so to speak, for mother and father to remain as well.

I don’t support illegal immigration by any stretch, but to me the repeal of the 14th amendment is unwarranted.

By David09 — On Oct 02, 2011

@Mammmood - Actually, the government does have the right of eminent domain, and that right is enshrined in the fifth amendment to the Constitution. That amendment reads (paraphrasing) that the government can’t take away private property for public use without “just compensation.”

So they do have that right, so long as it meets both criteria: it has to be for public use, and they have to provide just compensation. In the case you cited, apparently just compensation was not provided to the homeowners.

On the basis of the 5th amendment then they would have the right to sue the government until just compensation had been delivered to them. I think in a lot of the eminent domain cases that have winded through the courts, this has been a sticking point.

The Supreme Court, however, has upheld eminent domain, however much we may not like it.

By Mammmood — On Oct 02, 2011

If government would really abide by the 14th amendment text as it stands, we wouldn’t have any cases of eminent domain taking place. This is where the government says that it can take your property for public use, so long as it pays you something.

I’ve heard stories of people being forced out of their homes because the government supposedly needed to build a highway or something in the area, and the people were given well below market value for the homes.

This is patently unfair and a clear violation of the 14th amendment in my opinion.

Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she...
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