14th Amendment: commentary

This amendment was passed in the aftermath of the Civil War (the War Between the States). On paper, at least, this amendment granted automatic U.S. citizenship and political representation to all former male slaves. But most Southern states ignored this amendment. Black people’s right to vote remained a right on paper, but not in practice.

The original Constitution didn’t openly prohibit women from voting. It was simply assumed that women didn’t have and couldn’t exercise this right. The 14th Amendment, granting citizenship to former slaves who were 21-year-old males, made matters worse for all U.S. women (ex-slaves included), by implying that they had no right to vote. It wasn’t an out-and-out denial, but the implication was enough. Although some women’s-rights advocates tried to get Congress to reinterpret the 14th Amendment to include them, Congress refused to touch it. Society wasn’t ready to change its way of thinking.

Because the 14th Amendment didn’t go far enough in spelling out the right of blacks to vote, the 15th Amendment was needed to do this. And, as history was to show, not even that was sufficient.