Constitution’s 14th Amendment Could Help Democrats Retain Their Right to Vote

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At first, the Fourteenth Amendment may have been just Clause 2. When the House first passed the amendment, it was only an early version of the Clause. But he failed to secure the necessary supermajority in the Senate. Accordingly, the fourteenth was built in its final version in five sections. “Originally, [Republicans] envisioned Section 2 as the crown jewel of the Fourteenth Amendment, not Section 1,” said University of Southern California law professor Franita Tolson.

As Foner writes in The Second Foundation: How Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, Section 2 shifted the boundaries of federalism, presenting an “unprecedented degree of national authority to intervene in local affairs”. Yet hardly anyone was happy with the way it was worded. This helped separate the abolition from the suffrage groups, since the amendment explicitly mentions “male” emancipation. And radical Republicans were disappointed that the polling division was not entirely yes. “The Radicals couldn’t get black suffrage,” Foner told me, “so they were looking for ways to at least encourage Southern states to give black males the vote.”

Congress debated its application in 1872, but found the 1870 census figures unreliable and nothing happened. Two years after the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, the broader Fifteenth Amendment suffrage for black men went into effect and Section 2 fell into the background for a time. Republicans – especially black politicians – regained interest and raised it in Congress and on their party platform in the 1890s and early 1900s, but it never really gained popularity. “Congress never did it on its own,” Foner said, “and the Supreme Court said it was a political question.”

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