The 14th Amendment

Topics: Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, United States Constitution, United States Bill of Rights Pages: 6 (1800 words) Published: April 24, 2015
PLSC 200 – Paper #2
Instructor: Prof. Kevin Nelson
Student: Gabriel Guillen

The 14th Amendment – Due Process Clause

The Fourteenth Amendment was a direct outgrowth of the national debate over slavery1, and the subsequent emancipation of the slaves during the Civil War. In the aftermath of that war, Congress confronted a number of thorny issues: what would be done about the rebel leaders? Would the defeated states contribute to paying off the Union’s debts? Would slave owners be compensated for the loss of their property? What measures would be required of the defeated states as a condition of their full re-admittance to the Union? Two cases that took place before the creation of the Fourteenth Amendment are particularly important, considering that in a way or another they would help shape this Amendment: Barron vs. Baltimore and Dred Scott vs. Sanford.

While the Republican Congress wrestled with these and other issues, and engaged in arguments with Democratic President Andrew Johnson about their resolution, the governments of the former slave states were passing measures intended to prevent the freed slaves within their jurisdictions from enjoying the same rights accorded to white citizens2. There was little or nothing Congress could do about these efforts. The Constitution offered no remedy to people treated unequally or unfairly by state and local governments, as the Supreme Court had made abundantly clear in 1833, in Barron v. Baltimore3.

John Barron was one of the owners of a wharf in Baltimore’s harbor. The wharf had been quite profitable; however, as the city expanded and more and more development occurred, the city allowed large amounts of sand to be dumped in the harbor. The build-up of sand eventually deprived Barron and his partners of the deep waters they needed in order to continue their successful operation of the wharf. Barron sued the city to recover a portion of his financial losses, citing the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on taking private property for public use without just compensation4. The Supreme Court ruled that the Fifth Amendment, and the other provisions of the Bill of Rights, applied only to actions by the federal government.

The Barron decision thus prevented Congress from using provisions of the Bill of Rights to punish states that acted to oppress or disadvantage former slaves, no matter how official or egregious the act5.

The Fourteenth Amendment was added in 1868 as one of the longest amendments to the Constitution6. With five parts in total, this amendment indicates that we have protection against state infringements, defines citizenship, prohibits states from interfering with privileges and immunities, requires due process and equal protection, punishes states for denying the right to vote, and disqualifies Confederate officials and debts7. Under this amendment, it is mandatory for states to protect liberty as well as life and property8.

Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), also known as the Dred Scott Decision, was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court stating that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves were not protected by the Constitution and were not U.S. citizens9. Since passage of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the decision has not been seen as a precedent case. The Dred Scott decision was particularly significant, because the Court concluded that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories (nullifying the Missouri Compromise) and that, because slaves were not citizens, they could not sue in court. Furthermore, the Court ruled that slaves, as chattel or private property, could not be taken away from their owners without due process10.

In reaching this decision, Chief Justice Roger Taney had hoped to settle the issue of slavery in the United States with the Court's decision, but it had the opposite effect. The decision was fiercely debated across the country, and contributed to Abraham...
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