14th Amendment: Citizenship Rights, Equal Protection, Apportionment, Civil War Debt

Full Text of the 14th Amendment

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.

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.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.


In the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the Supreme Court had said that African-Americans were not citizens. This amendment declared that every person born or naturalized in the U.S. was a citizen. The amendment’s “due process” clause has had enormous constitutional importance, since the Supreme Court has used it to apply most of the Bill of Rights to the states. The amendment also establishes that all citizens are entitled to “equal protection of the laws,” the provision which the Supreme Court cited in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, ruling school segregation unconstitutional. Source:  U.S. Senate


Because many states continued to pass laws that restricted the rights of former slaves, on June 13, 1866, Congress passed and sent to the states for ratification, Amendment XIV. Ratified on July 9, 1868, the amendment granted U.S. citizenship to former slaves and specifically changed the rule in Article 1, Section 2 that slaves be counted only as three-fifths of a person for purposes of representation in Congress. It also contained three new limits on state power: a state shall not violate a citizen’s privileges or immunities; shall not deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; and must guarantee all persons equal protection of the laws.

These limitations on state power dramatically expanded the protections of the Constitution. Prior to the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, the protections in the Bill of Rights limited only the actions of the federal government, unless the provision specifically stated otherwise. The Supreme Court, in what is called “the doctrine of incorporation” has since interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to apply most provisions in the Bill of Rights against state and local governments as well. This has meant that the Fourteenth Amendment has been used more frequently in modern court cases than any other constitutional provision.

Guaranteed Rights of Citizenship to all Persons Born or Naturalized: The right of citizenship in the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to overturn the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford, a decision that had long been considered as one of the Supreme Court’s worst mistakes. Dred Scott, born into slavery, argued that he should be granted freedom from the family that claimed ownership over him because he had lived in free states and thus had become a citizen of the United States before returning to Missouri, a state where slavery was sanctioned.

Chief Justice Taney, denying Scott’s appeal, held that African Americans were not citizens, and therefore were “not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word citizens.” By specifically granting citizenship to all persons born or naturalized, the Fourteenth Amendment has not only guaranteed citizenship to former slaves but to most children born within the United States, even if the child’s parents are not and cannot become citizens.

Amendment XIV, however, limited the broad grant of citizenship to those “subject to U.S. jurisdiction.” As a result, Native Americans, who were governed by tribal law, were not guaranteed citizenship by this amendment. Many Native Americans became citizens by a variety of means such as marriage, treaties, or military service. But with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, Congress granted the rights of citizenship to all Native Americans.

Privileges and Immunities: Within five years of its adoption, the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was interpreted very narrowly by the U.S. Supreme Court. In In Re Slaughter-House Cases, the Court rejected the argument that the provision gave the federal government broad power to enforce civil rights, finding that to do so would infringe on a power that had and should belong to the states. The Court found that the only privileges protected by the clause are those “which owe their existence to the Federal Government, its National character, its Constitution, or its laws,” all of which are already protected from state interference by the supremacy clause in Article VI. Subsequent cases have recognized several federal privileges such as the right to travel from state to state, the right to petition Congress for a redress of grievances, the right to vote for national officers, and so forth, but other efforts to broaden the meaning of this clause have been rejected. Source: Annenberg Classroom