09 July, 2011

July 9, 1868

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is adopted.

This is a famous one, but I find that very few have any idea what it says.


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.

Overall, this is one of the more powerful amendments, but it still has some flaws, mostly in the area of ambiguity. The founding fathers, even up until the middle of the 19th century were big on ambiguity because they were still trying to avoid a strong central dictatorial government. I think the unintended side effect of this is that we have a judiciary with more power than it deserves. We as a nation have granted the courts the power to resolve these ambiguities (note that this too is an usurpation of power—the founders clearly did not envision an all powerful SCOTUS deciding what is and what is not permissible for Congress and POTUS to do).

However, I do think the writers of this amendment missed a perfectly good opportunity in Section 1 to address an ambiguity that is still causing us problems today. Nowhere in the Constitution or amendments does it specify the definition of “natural born citizen”, even though it’s a Constitutional requirement to hold the offices of President and Vice President. As I have mentioned earlier, this is set by statute and has been changed many times. Had it been defined Constitutionally, the question of President Barack Obama’s (D-USA) and even Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) eligibility for the office would likely not have been in question (of course, it’s very possible that there would have been no question because both are ineligible as well).

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