Fourteenth Amendment

Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified on July 9, 1868, defined citizenship and guaranteed the rights of citizens. It was the second of three amendments adopted during Reconstruction that profoundly altered American society, government, and politics. The Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished and prohibited slavery in the wake of the American Civil War (1861–1865), was ratified in December 1865, and the Fifteenth Amendment, which granted the vote to African American men, was ratified in February 1870. The Fourteenth Amendment made all native-born men and women citizens and guaranteed them equal protection under the law. It included provisions to protect men's right to vote while abridging the rights of former Confederates. The General Assembly of Virginia refused to ratify the amendment until ratification became a precondition of regaining representation in Congress. The assembly voted in favor of the amendment on October 8, 1869, more than a year after it had become part of the Constitution. In Ex Parte State of Virginia (1880), the U.S. Supreme Court cited the Fourteenth Amendment when ruling that a Danville judge did not have the right to exclude African American men from serving on juries. MORE...



Of the three Reconstruction Amendments, the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution dealt most directly with the outcome of the Civil War and the condition of the freed people. It contains five sections. The first defined as American citizens all persons who were native-born residents of the United States, which made freed people citizens for the first time. That in effect overturned the Supreme Court's ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) that stated that no descendants of people imported into the country as slaves could ever be American citizens. The first section also denied states the power to abridge the privileges and immunities of any person; to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; or to deny any person the equal protection of the laws.

The second section in effect repealed the Constitution's three-fifths clause of Article I, Section 2, Paragraph 3, that counted three-fifths of enslaved people in the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives. The Fourteenth Amendment also authorized Congress to deny any state that deprived citizens of the right to vote in its legislative elections of a portion of its representation in Congress and of its allotted number of presidential electors. The third section denied the vote to men who served in the Confederate army or navy or had supported the rebellion if they had served in public office before the Civil War and had taken an oath to support the Constitution, but it allowed Congress by a two-thirds vote of both houses to remove individual disabilities. The fourth section invalidated all state debts incurred in support of the rebellion. And the fifth section granted Congress power to enforce all parts of the amendment by appropriate legislation.


The U.S. Senate passed the proposed amendment by the required two-thirds majority on June 8, 1866, and the House of Representatives passed it on June 13, 1866, which sent it to the states for ratification. No Virginians served in Congress when it submitted the amendment to the states. Following the end of the Civil War, the Senate and House of Representatives placed the states of the former Confederacy (except Tennessee but including Virginia, part of which had remained one of the United States during the war) under military rule and refused to seat any men elected to either house of Congress from those states.

On January 9, 1867, the members of both houses of the General Assembly, who had been elected in the autumn of 1865, voted against ratifying the amendment. All twenty-seven members of the Senate of Virginia who were in attendance that day voted against the amendment. The vote in the House of Delegates was 74 to 1. During the following days, fifteen delegates who were absent when the vote was taken asked to have their votes recorded against ratification.

On March 2, 1867, Congress required that the legislature of each state in the former Confederacy ratify the Fourteenth Amendment before its senators and elected representatives could be seated in Congress. That requirement remained in place even after the requisite number of states had ratified the amendment and it had become part of the U.S. Constitution. Ratification was completed on July 9, 1868, when the legislature of South Carolina became the twenty-eighth state to ratify it. On October 8, 1869, both houses of the General Assembly of Virginia ratified both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. The vote in the House of Delegates on the Fourteenth Amendment was 126 to 6 and in the Senate of Virginia 36 to 4. All twenty-one of the twenty-three African American members of the House of Delegates who were present voted for it; one of the six African American senators, Isaiah L. Lyons, voted against it.

Congress passed a bill that the president signed on January 26, 1870, permitting Virginia's senators and elected representatives to take their seats in Congress, which ended Congressional Reconstruction in Virginia.


In spite of the language of the Fourteenth Amendment, nobody then or for many decades thereafter believed that American Indians who were born in the United States were citizens, because existing statutes and treaties exempted some of them from the jurisdiction of certain federal laws. In 1924 Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, which stated, "That all non citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property."

During the 1870s Congress and the federal courts enforced the Fourteenth Amendment to make the abolition of slavery result in genuine freedom. One case from Virginia reached the Supreme Court of the United States in 1879, and the ruling in that case helped define the extent of congressional power under the Fourteenth Amendment and explained the amendment's purpose and meaning. The point at issue was the constitutionality of a provision in the Civil Rights Act of 1875. It stated that no citizen who was qualified to serve on a jury in any court in the United States could be disqualified from jury service by reason of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. A Danville, Virginia, judge was arrested on a charge that he had excluded African American men who were otherwise qualified for jury service from serving on juries in his court.

In the case, called Ex Parte Virginia, decided on March 1, 1880, a majority of the justices of the Supreme Court ruled that this section of the Civil Rights Act was an appropriate law to protect the freedom and rights that the Fourteenth Amendment secured. "One great purpose of these amendments," the majority opinion declared, referring to the three Reconstruction Amendments, "was to raise the colored race from that condition of inferiority and servitude in which most of them had previously stood, into perfect equality of civil rights with all other persons within the jurisdiction of the States. They were intended to take away all possibility of oppression by law because of race or color. They were intended to be, what they really are, limitations of the power of the States and enlargements of the power of Congress. They are to some extent declaratory of rights, and though in form prohibitions, they imply immunities, such as may be protected by congressional legislation."

Two members of the Supreme Court dissented, in part because they believed that jury service was a political right that the Fourteenth Amendment was not intended to protect, rather than a civil right that they agreed Congress was fully authorized by that amendment to protect from state abridgment.

During the remainder of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, federal courts interpreted the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment so as to give a measure of protection to business and commercial enterprises from state and local laws that might have reduced the value of, or income from, their property. Beginning in the middle of the twentieth century, federal courts gave new life and added scope to the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment. In a number of important cases, they held that the fundamental rights of individual American citizens as defined in the Bill of Rights were among the liberties that states could not abridge under the amendment. The incorporation of the Bill of Rights into the Fourteenth Amendment, as the process is called, has overturned many state and local laws that federal courts declared were violations of citizens' rights to freedom of religion, speech, and the press; to jury trials; and to be represented by an attorney in criminal trials.

Federal courts have also used the equal protection of the laws clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to invalidate state and local laws such as the ones that required compulsory racial segregation of public schools and other public facilities. Congress, too, has acted under the authority of the fifth section of the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce national reforms, especially in matters of civil rights, that outlawed numerous state laws and practices.

Time Line

  • March 6, 1857 - The U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford. The decision denies Congress the authority to interfere with slavery in the territories and undermines the idea of "popular sovereignty."
  • June 8, 1866 - The U.S. Senate approves the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  • June 13, 1866 - The U.S. House of Representatives approves the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  • January 9, 1867 - Members of both houses of the General Assembly of Virginia vote against ratifying the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  • March 2, 1867 - The U.S. Congress requires that the legislature of each state in the former Confederacy ratify the Fourteenth Amendment before its senators and elected representatives can be seated in Congress.
  • July 9, 1868 - South Carolina becomes the twenty-eighth state to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, completing the ratification process.
  • October 8, 1869 - Both houses of the General Assembly of Virginia ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
  • January 26, 1870 - The U.S. Congress passes an act permitting Virginia's senators and elected representatives to take their seats in Congress. This ends Congressional Reconstruction in Virginia.
  • March 1, 1880 - In Ex Parte Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court rules constitutional a provision in the Civil Rights Act of 1875 that prevents anyone from being disqualified from jury service by reason of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.


Further Reading
Lowe, Richard G. Republicans and Reconstruction in Virginia, 1856–70. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991.
Foner, Eric. Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. New York: Random House, 2013.
Tarter, Brent. The Grandees of Government: The Origins and Persistence of Undemocratic Politics in Virginia. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Tarter, B. Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (2015, October 26). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from

  • MLA Citation:

    Tarter, Brent. "Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 26 Oct. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: June 26, 2015 | Last modified: October 26, 2015

Contributed by Brent Tarter, founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.