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14th Amendment Was Designed to Stop a Bunch of White Southerners From Messing with the Government

Charles Rangel

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) on CNN compared Tea Party Republicans to Southern secessionists during the Civil War

There was a time when there were serious concerns that that a bunch of Southern white male politicians, unhappy that they didn’t win a previous presidential election, would use default to try to get their way — or to simply ruin things for everyone else out of spite.

That time was right after the Civil War and it was such a serious concern the nation actually adopted the 14th Amendment to assure it could not happen again. Section 4 says:

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.

I have seen many arguments about whether or how this provision legally applies to the current debt limit fight, but there should be no doubt it applies on a conceptual level.

The whole point of the amendment was to say a group of white Southern politicians who lost shouldn’t be allowed to use whatever legislative leverage they have to cause chaos by stopping the government from paying its bills. Yet that is exactly what is now happening. Even if for some technical reason this situation is legally different, the intent is clear. This kind of situation is suppose to be unconstitutional.

Photo of Charlie Rangel by azipaybarah under Creative Commons license

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at