When ratified in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was intended to provide equal protection to American citizens. That protection extended to people born in the United States, or who became naturalized citizens. Section 1 clearly says that no state can make or enforce a law that will abridge the privileges of any citizen; nor, can a state deprive a person of life, liberty, or property without due process, or of equal protection. Section 2 lays out further rules, including the forbidding of denying a person the right to vote, unless the person has been engaged in criminal activity or has been in rebellion against the government. Section 3 strengthens that rule, adding that no one can become an elected official if he has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. government or given aid or comfort to any enemies of the government.
The Problem With the Fourteenth Amendment
The problem with the Fourteenth Amendment is that it was written to protect not all U.S. citizens, but only male citizens. Women in 1868 were still decades away from being granted the right to vote; blacks, especially in the South, were still struggling to be recognized as full citizens with voting rights; and Indians (specifically mentioned in Section 2) also were excluded from the equal protection process.
Ratified Amendment and Social Times
We must remember that when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, social times were vastly different from what they are today. Even though Section 1 of the amendment grants “All persons” citizenship, and this did apply to women and minorities, there were no provisions for including them under the equal protection section. This first section would become especially important beginning in 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, extending voting rights to women and, apparently, to every citizen, regardless of race. The Nineteenth Amendment simply reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The word “race” is not at all mentioned in the amendment. Until the civil rights movement of the 1960s, blacks, particularly, were routinely denied the right to vote in the South and in many other states, an issue that would lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a reinterpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.