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Primary Source: Passage of the 14th Amendment by the US Senate on June 9, 1866

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The 14th Amendment, passed in 1866, allowed Confederate states to return to the United States. The former Confederate state legislatures of the South had to pass the amendment in order to again receive representation in Washington D.C.

The 14th Amendment: Background

After five years of brutal, bloody fighting between the North and the South, the Civil War came to a conclusion in 1865. With an end to secession and a reunification of the states, however, came major questions about how to rebuild the South and how to reincorporate Southern states into the American political framework.

The 14th Amendment, passed in 1866, provided the legal framework for Southern states to regain representation in Congress, as well as ensure former slaves could now vote and receive rights. It provided citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. and prevented any state from limiting or denying these rights.

The South bitterly contested the 14th Amendment, arguably the most controversial in all of American history. One stipulation was that no person who had previously engaged in 'insurrection' (meaning fought for the Confederacy) could not hold political office. Another was that the debt of the Confederacy, racked up in the course of fighting an expensive war, would not be repaid by the U.S. government.

A major concern was that blacks would receive representation in Congress: previously, the Three-Fifths Compromise had counted each black slave as just three-fifths of a person, meaning that the 14th Amendment with equal protection and representation for all citizens would drastically increase the number of representatives from the South.

The Philadelphia-based newspaper, the Daily Evening Telegraph, reported on the passage of the amendment by the Senate. While the Senate's passage was a major milestone, it was just a first step, as the amendment also had to be ratified by the majority of the states; Texas would be the last state to ratify the Amendment, holding out until 1870.

Let's look at the text from that newspaper now.

Text From the Primary Source

Passage of the Constitutional Amendment by the Senate

The Constitutional amendment, as proposed by the Reconstruction Committee, and as modified by the Senate, passed that body yesterday by the unexpectedly large vote of thirty-three to eleven -- the affirmative vote being just three-fourths of the whole vote cast. It is generally understood that the House will promptly concur in the Senate's amendments, so that we may probably consider the measure as in its final shape. It will then go to the Legislatures of the several States for their approval or rejection. The correspondent of a morning contemporary predicts that the President will veto the measure. This assertion is based upon a misconception. It is not at all certain that the President would veto the amendment as it now stands, even if it were presented to him for his approval. But proposed Constitutional amendments do not need the President's signature. The language of the Constitution upon this point is as follows: - ''The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution when ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths of the several States, by or by conventions or by conventions in three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress.''

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