The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees people of all races equal protection under the law.
As the American Civil War ended, the federal government was undecided as to how the seceded Confederate states were to return to the Union. President Abraham Lincoln favored a lenient policy, and hoped to reunify the country in a quick manner. John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln in April 1865 and the responsibility for reunifying the country passed to Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's former vice-president. Johnson initially favored a much harsher plan. He later changed his mind and proposed a more lenient plan Radical Republicans serving in the United States Congress did not agree with the President's plan. As a condition for re-admittance to the Union, the Congress proposed forcing the former Confederate states to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Fourteenth Amendment added four separate provisions to the United States Constitution. First, the amendment declared that all people born or naturalized in the United States were citizens of the nation and individual states could not deny U.S. citizens their "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." States also had to provide all citizens with "equal protection of the laws." Second, population within a state, excluding Native Americans and any male citizens who had participated in the rebellion against the United States government, would determine a state's representation in the United States House of Representatives. Third, no members of the Confederate government, the Confederate armed forces, or any person who had served in a state government that had seceded from the United States of America would be permitted to hold political office in either the federal or the individual state governments. Finally, the amendment stated that the United States government would not honor any debts or obligations entered into by seceded states during the Civil War.
The United States Congress submitted the Fourteenth Amendment to the states for approval in June 1866. For the amendment to be added to the United States Constitution, three-fourths of the states had to approve it. On July 28, 1868, the final state necessary for ratification of the amendment agreed to it.
Many white Ohioans initially approved of the Fourteenth Amendment. Members of the Union Party, a group of Ohio's Republican Party and pro-war Democrats, strongly supported the amendment. Former Peace Democrats usually objected to parts of it. The Peace Democrats claimed that the amendment empowered African Americans, while it denied former white Confederates constitutional guarantees. On January 4, 1867, the Ohio General Assembly approved the Fourteenth Amendment.
In the state elections of 1867, the Union Party lost control of the General Assembly. The Democrats quickly moved to rescind Ohio's ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. On January 15, 1868, the Ohio legislature voted to reverse its earlier decision. The principal reason for this was a fear among a substantial number of white Ohioans that African Americans were receiving too many rights. Many whites feared that their positions in society would decline if African Americans gained true equality with them.
Despite the Ohio legislature's action, the federal government continued to count Ohio as one of the three-fourths of the states necessary for the amendment's final approval. Ohio ratified the Fourteenth Amendment a second time on September 17, 2003.
- Berry, Mary Frances. Military Necessity and Civil Rights Policy: Black Citizenship and the Constitution, 1861-1868. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1977.
- Dee, Christine, ed. Ohio's War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.
- Foner, Eric. A Short History of Reconstruction. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1990.
- Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Generals and Soldiers. Cincinnati, OH: Clarke, 1895.
- Roseboom, Eugene H. The Civil War Era: 1850-1873. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.