On this day in 1868, the 14th Amendment is officially adopted into the U.S. Constitution.
The first of the two most significant provisions of the 14th amendment was to grant citizenship to “All persons born or naturalized in the United States” (i.e. former slaves). The second was that no “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.”
Congressman John A. Bingham of Ohio was the principal framer of the 14th Amendment. As the primary author of Section 1 of the Amendment, Bingham gave a speech to the House on February 28th, 1866, introducing an initial draft to the House and explaining the purpose of enforcing the Bill of Rights on the states.
So, here are a few portions of that speech:
“As slaves were not protected by the Constitution, there might be some color of excuse for the slave States in their disregard for the requirement of the bill of rights as to slaves and refusing them protection in life or property; though, in my judgment, there could be no possible apology for reducing men made like themselves, in the image of God, to a level with the brutes of the field, and condemning them to toil without reward, to live without knowledge, and die without hope.”
Also, regarding President Andrew Johnson:
“I trust in God that for his own sake, for the sake of his country, and of the friends who gave him his high position, he will retrace his steps; but whether he does or does not, I trust that the American people will not strike the word “forward” from their vocabulary, but will go right on to the consummation of the great work which Providence has committed to their hands; that is, the enforcement of their Constitution in every State, in every Territory, and upon every sea, wherever our flag floats, whoever may oppose at home or abroad.”
“[Our] Constitution provides that no man, no matter what his color, no matter beneath what sky he may have been born, no matter in what disastrous conflict or by what tyrannical hand his liberty may have been cloven down, no matter how poor, no matter how friendless, no matter how ignorant, shall be deprived of life or liberty or property without due process of law—law in its highest sense, that law which is the perfection of human reason, and which is impartial, equal, exact justice; that justice which requires that every man shall have his right; that justice which is the highest duty of nations as it is the imperishable attribute of the God of nations.”
Then, on May 23rd, 1866, Senator Jacob Howard of Michigan introduced a nearly final draft of the amendment to the Senate. Here’s an excerpt from his speech:
“Is it not time, Mr. President, that we extend to the black man, I had almost called it the poor privilege of the equal protection of the law? Ought not the time to be now passed when one measure of justice is to be meted out to a member of one caste while another and a different measure is meted out to the member of another caste, both castes being alike citizens of the United States, both bound to obey the same laws, to sustain the burdens of the same Government, and both equally responsible to justice and to God for the deeds done in the body?”