It is Friday, so it must be time for a Constitutional! Welcome to the 16th of the Dog’s series on the United States Constitution. It is hard to believe that the Dog has been writing about the Constitution for 4 months now, but as the Dog’s Mom said (with infinite and constant repetition) anything worth doing is worth doing correctly (she has a bit of a proper English fetish, the Dog blames the Nuns). If you have not been reading this series or missed any of them, you can find all of the previous ones at the following links:

Friday Constitutional 1 – Preamble, Sections 1 And 2
Friday Constitutional 2 – Article One, Sections 3 And 4
Friday Constitutional 3 – Article One, Sections 5 and 6
Friday Constitutional 4- Article One, Sections 7 and 8
Friday Constitutional 5 – Article One, Sections 9 and 10
Friday Constitutional 6 – Article 2, Presidential Powers, Sections 1-3
Friday Constitutional 7 – Article Two, Presidential Powers
Friday Constitutional 8 – Article Three, Judiciary Branch, Sections 1-3
Friday Constitutional 9 – Article Four, Relationships Between The States
Friday Constitutional 10 – Articles 5 – 7
Friday Constitutional 11 – Amendments 1 And 2
Friday Constitutional 12 – Amendments 3 And 4
Friday Constitutional 13 – Amendments 5 And 6
Friday Constitutional 14 – Amendments 7, 8, 9 and 10
Friday Constitutional 15 – Amendments 11 And 12

Let’s get started! Today we will look at two of the three Reconstruction Era Amendments.

Amendment Thirteen:

Section One:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

This section of the 13th Amendment ended an argument that had raged from the very founding of the Republic. From December 6th 1865 forward, there would no longer be legal slavery in the United States. It was and is an amazing step forward in toward the ideals of our Declaration of Independents that said:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

We are still have not quite achieved that ideal, but our true journey towards it started the day that we added to our foundational legal document blunt words made clear that no person would be able to own another human being in our country.

Section Two:

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

From the start of this series the Dog has found that the areas where the Constitution grants the greatest powers is the places where it says the least. This is very true with Section Two. It grants the Congress power and responsibility to ensure enforcement of Section one, by any legislation it deems necessary. Now, Congress did not go out and take truly bold step, for lots of reasons, but just the fact that it had the ability and brief to do so shows the dedication to equality that is the basis of this amendment.

Amendment Fourteen:

Section One:

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.

This section was pointed directly at the 1857 Dred Scott decision that prevented slaves and the descendants of slaves from having Constitutional protections. It made clear that if you are born in this country, we consider you to be a citizen, regardless of all other circumstances.
It also specifically lays out that all citizens shall have equal protection under the law, and no State can make laws that would abridge those protections.

This was a necessary Amendment as four million former slaves transitioned to citizenship. We as a nation did not do a very good job of living up to this standard, with far more African Americans facing life in prison or the death penalty than white citizens. However it was successfully used in the 20th Century to end school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education.

Section Two:

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.

This section lays out, and reaffirms the way that Representatives are to be apportioned in the US House of Representatives. It ends the counting of slaves 3/5 of a person and counts them as whole individuals. Note how it only counts for the purpose of representation Native Americans that pay taxes.

That the writers of this Amendment felt they had to detail nearly every office that could be voted on shows their concern that the new citizens would be discriminated against at the polls. That sadly came to pass, even with this effort. This Section was further expanded in 1920 by the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote and the 26th Amendment in 1971 that lowered the voting age to 18.

Section Three:

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.

This section deals with those that were elected or appointed officers of the Untied States government or judiciary prior to the succession of the Confederacy from the Union. They are barred from holding office, unless 2/3rds of each House of Congress voting to remove that bar. Only two men have had this ban removed, both of them posthumously. They are Robert E. Lee the Confederate General and Jefferson Davis the President of the Confederacy, in 1975 and 1978 respectively

Section Four:

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.

This is a heck of section; it makes any debt taken on by the Union in support of the Civil War completely unquestionable. It is a debt and must be honored, no questions asked. It also makes any debt that the Confederacy owed completely uncollectable. Basically if you backed the losing side, you have no recourse in U.S. to try to collect.

As almost an after thought it also bans the previous owners of any slaves from trying to bring a claim for the monetary value of that slave. Now the Dog is pretty sure that it was not an after thought at all, but that is how it looks by the way it is written. In any case it was another example of the complete repudiation of the practice of slavery.

Section Five:

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

Again in this Section the Congress is granted sweeping legislative responsibility to make sure that this Amendment was put into force.

The 14th Amendment was ratified in July 1868. Interestingly six states that originally rejected ratification later accepted it. These States are Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Delaware, Maryland and Kentucky. Kentucky was the last state to ratify this Amendment in 1976 after having rejected it 109 years earlier.

So, there are the 13th and 14th Amendments, part of the direct response to the Civil War and its root causes. What are your thoughts, citizens?

The floor is yours.

Bill Egnor

Bill Egnor

I am a life long Democrat from a political family. Work wise I am a Six Sigma Black Belt (process improvement project manager) and Freelance reporter for Govtrak.org

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