Passed by Congress June 13, 1866, and ratified July 9, 1868, the 14th Amendment extended liberties and rights granted by the Bill of Rights to former slaves.
The major provision of the 14th Amendment formally defines citizenship in the United States. It declares that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States" are citizens. It thereby granted citizenship to former slaves and nullified the 1857 Dred Scott decision that black people were not citizens and could not become citizens, nor enjoy the benefits of citizenship.
Another equally important provision was the statement that "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." By specifically mentioning the states, this language ensured that the right to due process of law and equal protection of the law applied to both the Federal and state governments. The Equal Protection Clause would form the basis for the Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court decision which led to the dismantling of racial segregation in the United States.
View primary source documents related to its passage and effects at the Library of Congress Web Guide about the 14th Amendment and learn more about the 14th Amendment at your Milwaukee Public Library.
The 14th Amendment, along with the 13th and 15th, is one of the trio of Reconstruction Amendments that greatly expanded the civil rights of Americans. Tomorrow's entry will focus on the 15th Amendment to the Constitution.