On June 13, 1866, the House approved a Senate-proposed version of the 14th Amendment, sending it to the states for approval. Two years later, the ratified statement became a constitutional cornerstone.
Part of the amendment’s Section One is one of the best-known and most-quoted sections of the Constitution. “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,” it reads.
The passage’s author, House Representative John Bingham, explained that he sought “a simple, strong, plain declaration that equal laws and equal and exact justice shall hereafter be secured within every State of the Union,” guaranteeing “equal protection” for “any person, no matter whence he comes, or how poor, how weak, how simple—no matter how friendless.” The language created an Equal Protection Clause that allowed Congress and the courts to extend the Bill of Right’s provisions to the states.
The debate over the 14th Amendment started as the first of the three Reconstruction amendments, the 13th Amendment, was ratified in December 1865 and the Civil Rights Act was passed in April 1866. In May 1866, Thaddeus Stevens introduced a 14th Amendment with sections that addressed equal protection under the law, proportioning representatives, former Confederates in government positions and the national debt. In only took the House two days to debate and pass the measure, by a 128-37 vote on May 10, 1866.
The Senate, however, had concerns. It added a citizenship clause that read, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the States wherein they reside.” It also modified the conditions of how former Confederates could hold office. The Senate version passed on June 8, and five days later, the House agreed to approve that final version.
President Andrew Johnson was notified that the amendment was being sent to the states for ratification, and he expressed his public disapproval.
Regardless, a two-year fight started over the 14th Amendment’s ratification. Most southern states refused to ratify it, until Congress passed an act in 1867 that denied their representation in Congress until they voted for ratification. North Carolina, Louisiana and finally South Carolina ratified the amendment after initially rejecting it, and on July 28, 1868, the 14th Amendment officially became part of the Constitution after South Carolina’s vote on July 9.