Intent of the 14th Amendment

To my 2000 article on the Intent of the 14th Amendment I make the following clarifying points:

1. The 14th Amendment did not confer U.S. citizenship on individuals born on U.S. soil, whose parents were not subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign power. That was already the established rule, inherited from English law, and U.S. citizenship arguably began on non-state territory with adoption of the Articles of Confederation (ratified 1781) and the adoption of the Northwest and Southwest Ordinances (1787), which transferred sovereignty of the western territories, previously subject to conflicting claims by the states, to the emerging United States (a term that originated during the earlier (1774) Articles of Association under which the War of Independence was fought.

2. Adoption of the U.S. Constitution made all persons born on the soil of any of the states U.S. citizens as well as those born on any of the non-state territories, and conferred on Congress the power to make rules for naturalization. That was not the power to make rules for immigration, which stem not from the Naturalization Clause but from the Law of nations Clause, since entry onto the territory of a nation without permission was an offence against the law of nations.

3. The U.S. Constitution put restrictions of the states in Art. I Sec. 10, and since all restrictions on government powers are rights, or more precisely, immunities, it thereby established rights of U.S. persons (not just citizens) in the states against their states, justiciable in U.S. courts.

4. The language of the Bill of Rights (1791), except that of the First Amendment, seemed to apply equally to the U.S. and state governments, and like Art. I Sec. 10, to make an exception to the omission from Art. III of federal court jurisdiction over cases between a citizen and his state, but it attached rights to persons, not just citizens. (The Framers, in writing Art. III, presumed a person who was a resident of a state would also be a citizen of that state, and did not anticipate states would later assert a different position.)

5. However, the states defined state citizenship as well, and in ways that did not include the same individuals as were included in U.S. citizenship, such as blacks.

6. Some of the southern, slaveholding, states belatedly realized that if the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause applied to them, and federal courts had jurisdiction, slaves could sue in federal courts for their freedom, as deprivation of liberty without due process of law.

7. This led to two main cases. Barron v. Baltimore (1833) and Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857). In Barron, slavery was not the issue. The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment was the issue. But it was realized, when it got to the Supreme Court, that if the Court decided in favor of Barron, it would establish a precedent that would allow slavery to be challenged, so it decided against him, and CJ Marshall (wrongly) held the U.S. courts did not have jurisdiction to decide cases over the Bill of Rights between a citizen and his state, as that was already a federal question, despite Article III only mentioning "citizen" of a state in the list of court jurisdictions.

8. In Dred Scott slavery was the issue. The problem was that the federal courts could not avoid jurisdiction because persons of different states were the opposing parties. The Bill of Rights, and other provisions of the U.S. Constitution, associate rights with personhood, not citizenship, and it was already established precedent that blacks were persons, so CJ Taney for the U.S. Supreme Court weaseled out of the trap by (wrongly) holding that blacks were not and could not be citizens, and thus, federal courts would not have jurisdiction, since Art. III uses the term "citizen" instead of "person" in defining jurisdiction. The effect was to make the rights of persons not citizens non-justiciable in federal courts, contrary to the obvious intent of the Bill of Rights.

9. By the time the view developed that both precedents had to be overturned, and that it would take an amendment to do that, many more precedents had been built on those two cases. So it was not enough for an amendment to just refer to the two cases and explicitly overturn them. It had to adopt general language that would cover the entire system of precedents based on them, past and future.

10. That left the problem that the states could not be allowed to deny rights to persons on their territories by defining them as noncitizens. That could make the U.S. Constitution a nullity in such states, by doing something outlandish like defining Jim Bob and Red Neck as the only citizens. So what the 14th Amendment did do was make all U.S. citizens state citizens if they reside in the state (although it neglected to define residency). That included blacks. However, it also neglected to make clear that most rights belong to persons and not just citizens.

11. Some would argue that the language they chose was not very clear, and that a better wording was needed, but if one tries to find better language, it is not all that easy. (If I had been there, I could have done it, as I have, but I was born too late.)

12. There is actually no U.S. Supreme Court decision that sustains the offspring born on U.S. soil of parents who have entered U.S. soil illegally to be natural born U.S. citizens. Such parents are arguably not "subject to the jurisdiction" in that they did not seek and obtain consent to enter. All the cases have either been parents who entered legally, or for which the legality of their entry was not before the court. There is a presumption that those born on U.S. soil are natural born citizens, subject to proof to the contrary, and in the absence of someone to argue that position, the presumption stands. If someone wants to get a precedent to that point, one needs to take a case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

1866 Civil Rights Act.

Following the War of secession, Congress adopted the 1866 Civil Rights Act, under its sovereign power as the victor in the war. But there was no constitutional authority for most of its provisions. So the need was recognized to enact an amendment that would authorize that act, albeit retroactively. The problem was how to word it so that it would encompass the entire act. The 14th Amendment, declared adopted in 1868, needs to be understood as their attempt to do that. The result is rather broad, sweeping language.

The bill plainly sought to overrule the Black Codes by affirming the full citizenship of newly emancipated blacks and by defining citizenship in terms applicable to all persons. Under the bill, the designation as an American citizen meant that one possessed certain specific rights, such as the right to make and enforce contracts, the right to file lawsuits and participate in lawsuits as parties or witnesses, and the right to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey real property. In defining citizenship in this manner, the act effectively overruled state-sponsored Black Codes.
At the same time, the act specified that these rights were "civil rights," giving the first clear indication that, in the context of race relations, there were different levels, or tiers, of rights at stake. "Civil rights" at this time were understood in terms of property rights, contract rights, and equal protection of the laws. These rights were distinct from "political rights," which involved the right to vote and hold public office, and "social rights," which related to access to public accommodations and the like. Thus the bill reflected the common view that political participation and social integration were more or less "privileges" and not basic elements of citizenship.
Section 1

The 14th Amendment begins:
Section. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. 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 is a source of some confusion that the first sentence did not use the legal term of art "natural born citizen" used in the Eligibility Clause of Article II, leading some to argue that the 14th Amendment created some new kind of citizenship. It did not. The words
All persons born ...  in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States ...
Mean the same thing. The rule, jus soli, which was already established in Anglo-American common law, goes back to Calvin's Case, 7 Coke Report 1a, 77 ER 377 (1608). In 1868 "in the United States" included all the territory of all the states and also the (incorporated) western territories. Citizens of those western territories were also citizens of the United States.

The first sentence then introduces something new:
and of the State wherein they reside.
That made U.S. citizens, with all their rights, citizens of a state in which they lived. It did not specify how long they needed to reside there, and that was arguably a serious oversight, but the words have so far not been abused as much as they could have been.

The third sentence begins:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;
This is the Privileges or immunities clause, which was ignored by the Supreme Court in reaching its decision in the Slaughterhouse Cases, and which has been ignored ever since. Note that it is the "privileges or immunities" of citizens, not persons, which is used in the remainder of the sentence.

The words "privileges and immunities appear in Article IV:
Section. 2. The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.
Does it make a difference whether the conjunction is "and" or "or"? Some have argued that in Article IV the "privileges" must be identical to the "immunities", but earlier usages of those terms both ways establishes that the two may be different, although perhaps overlapping.

The "privilege-immunity" distinction therefore goes back to the Framing in 1787, even though the Bill of Rights uses the term "rights". It was recognized by Madison when he introduced the Bill of Rights that there are different kinds of "rights" with different sources:

Madison, from the Debates on the Bill of rights:
In some instances they assert those rights which are exercised by the people in forming and establishing a plan of Government. In other instances, they specify those rights which are retained when particular powers are given up to be exercised by the Legislature. In other instances, they specify positive rights, which may seem to result from the nature of the compact. Trial by jury cannot be considered as a natural right, but a right resulting from a social compact which regulates the action of the community, but is as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature.
Madison here recognizes that trial by jury is not a pre-existing natural right, but a right arising out of the social compact. There are other such rights, explored at "The Social Contract and Constitutional Republics". The rights that pre-exist the Constitution include natural rights, social rights, arising out of what Madison called the "social compact", and what we may call "dominion" rights, arising out of the dominion, the society with exclusive possession or sovereignty over an established territory. Those would include the rights of denizenship, to remain at or return to one's place of birth or residency.

What are sometimes miscalled the "rights of citizenship", such as to vote, other than to ratify a constitution, which is a social right, or hold office, are not among the pre-existing rights, but are "privileges" created by the Constitution or by government. The pre-existing rights are in general protected by restrictions on the delegated powers of government, and as such are "immunities".

So we have two kinds of things: "rights" that stem from nature, society, or dominion, and are protected by immunities, or restrictions on the powers of government (or the nondelegation of them), and "privileges" that stem from a constitution or a government, that may be established but which may be removed at any time.

Some scholars have attempted to research the historical record to find examples, sometimes called "rights", sometimes "immunities", and sometimes privileges", indicating a lack of consistency in the use of such terms.

An early attempt to define privileges and immunities is found in the opinion of Judge Bushrod Washington the case Corfield v. Coryell, 6 Fed. Cas. 546, no. 3,230 C.C.E.D.Pa. 1823:

... what are the privileges and immunities of citizens in the [Volume 4, Page 503] several states?" We feel no hesitation in confining these expressions to those privileges and immunities which are, in their nature, fundamental; which belong, of right, to the citizens of all free governments; and which have, at all times, been enjoyed by the citizens of the several states which compose this Union, from the time of their becoming free, independent, and sovereign. What these fundamental principles are, it would perhaps be more tedious than difficult to enumerate. They may, however, be all comprehended under the following general heads: Protection by the government; the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right to acquire and possess property of every kind, and to pursue and obtain happiness and safety; subject nevertheless to such restraints as the government may justly prescribe for the general good of the whole. The right of a citizen of one state to pass through, or to reside in any other state, for purposes of trade, agriculture, professional pursuits, or otherwise; to claim the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus; to institute and maintain actions of any kind in the courts of the state; to take, hold and dispose of property, either real or personal; and an exemption from higher taxes or impositions than are paid by the other citizens of the state; may be mentioned as some of the particular privileges and immunities of citizens, which are clearly embraced by the general description of privileges deemed to be fundamental: to which may be added, the elective franchise, as regulated and established by the laws or constitution of the state in which it is to be exercised. These, and many others which might be mentioned, are, strictly speaking, privileges and immunities, 
But these are  examples pulled from memory as the judge wrote. The are not systematic analyses of the principles by which privileges or immunities can be identified, which is what we provide here.

Due process

The last sentence of Section 1 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.
This is clearly taken from Article IV Section 1. But after the Slaughterhouse cases, which ignored the Privileges or immunities Clause to reach its verdict, this has been the only clause on which subsequent Supreme Court cases have been based, although they have introduced ideas like "procedural due process" and "substantive due process" to try to recreate them.

Slaughterhouse Cases

The Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. 36 (1873), was the first United States Supreme Court interpretation of the U.S. Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment which had recently been enacted. It was a pivotal case in early civil rights law and held that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the privileges or immunities of citizenship of the United States, not privileges and immunities of citizens of a state from their state governments. But the entire point of the 14th Amendment had been to protect state citizens from being deprived of privileges or immunities common to citizens (and resident persons) of the United States. To this day the interpretive error of these cases has not been corrected, although it has been worked around.

It came closest to being corrected in two cases, Roe v. Wade, and McDonald v. Chicago. In the first, the Supreme Court heard an appeal of the case decided in the district court, which found for the plaintiff on the grounds of the Ninth Amendment right of privacy being one of the privileges or immunities protected by the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court justices all struggled to avoid reaching that result, through convoluted reasoning, but in the end decided the case on due process grounds.

Read carefully, that case reveals the real reason for the reluctance of the Supreme Court to accept the Privileges or Immunities clause, and incorporate it, because that would require then to incorporate the Ninth Amendment, and when a court did that, it found a "right of privacy" that provided a basis for making abortion a right. The Supreme Court, even though it did allow abortion to be treated as a right, is reluctant to find any more rights than those enumerated in the Bill of Rights and elsewhere in the Constitution.

This controversy over the Ninth Amendment has been central to constitutional scholarship, with former judge Robert Bork likening it to an "ink blot" that should not be used because one could not be sure what it means.

McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010), was expressly argued on the Privileges or Immunities Clause, but the Supreme Court of the United States found that the right of an individual to "keep and bear arms" as protected under the Second Amendment is incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment against the states, not the Privileges or Immunities Clause.  Justice Thomas dissented on that.

Public debt

The 14th goes on to say:
Section. 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.
Some have tried to misread this to say that no federal debt shall be questioned. Of course, it only applies to federal debt incurred during the War of Secession, but it did have a profound impact on debt and money in the United States.

During the war the Union did not have enough gold or silver to pay its debts, so it issued paper money (greenbacks), fiat currency that the Union required its suppliers to accept as legal tender. But when those suppliers tried to pay their own suppliers with greenbacks, and those suppliers refused to accept the greenbacks, litigation ensued, called the Legal Tender Cases, that established that federal fiat currency was legal tender, not just on federal territory, but within the states as well. That situation continues to this day.


The 14th Amendment ends with
Section. 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
So what did that allow, with the Privileges or Immunities clause read out of the amendment? Evidently, a great deal. Congress went on to enact what became 18 USC 241 and 242, making it a criminal offense for a state actor (but not a federal actor), or a private party acting at the instigation of a state actor, to deprive or conspire to deprive a state citizen of his rights, and 42 USC 1983, allowing a civil claim for damages against the state, or at least a state actor. However, such civil claims have been circumscribed by the doctrine of state sovereign immunity.


There is a lingering controversy over whether the 14th Amendment was actually ratified. The ratifying states did so under duress, and there is some doubt whether their ratifications were accurately reported.

Courts do not allow arguments that the 14th was not ratified. Any party or lawyer who attempts to make such argument would be thrown out of court, and the lawyer fined or disbarred. The reason is that such arguments conflict with established jurisprudential doctrine ("custom, policy, and practice").

About the only way a conscientious litigator could introduce doubt about ratification into the record would be to preface an argument with "If, arguendo, the 14th Amendment had been ratified ..."

The way forward

The challenge is to steer cases to the Supreme Court that will encourage them to undo the damage done by the opinion in the Slaughterhouse Cases. That was almost done in McDonald v. Chicago, but the Court backed away from reestablishing "privileges or immunities". That case was a Second Amendment case, and now that it is a win for them, the same litigants might not be so anxious to push the envelope further.

The key to advancing jurisprudence and overturning wrong opinions is to set up cases carefully. That is not easy, considering the high costs of litigating before the Supreme Court.

One approach would be to bring a case that requires invoking the Ninth Amendment, since that is the great hurtle to be overcome. Such a case might be over mass surveillance, for which the Fourth Amendment is inadequate. But as long as (mostly conservative) judges think of the Ninth as some kind of "inkblot", opening the way to finding unenumerated rights would present them with a kind of "terra incognita" they may be reluctant to explore. The solution is to encourage scholarly discussion of just what are the "unenumerated rights", which, by the way, are not really "infinite". An attempt to do this is presented in the chapter "Immunitates". Yes, there are many such rights (or more properly, "immunities") but the list is not infinite. It needs to be examined and debated, and any missing rights identified and included.

This is mainly a task for libertarian legal scholars, since conservatives seem more likely to see an inkblot. It would also help to get some libertarians appointed to the Supreme Court.

If this were done, the next step would be to revive the Tenth Amendment, and roll back all the federal criminal statutes based on the Necessary and Proper Clause, as Wickard v. Filburn was.


  1. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 (14 Stat. 27). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/law/law/civil-rights-act-1866
  2. Intent of the Fourteenth Amendment was to Protect All Rights, Jon Roland, 2000. http://www.constitution.org/col/intent_14th.htm
  3. Presidential Eligibility, Jon Roland. http://constitution.org/abus/pres_elig.htm
  4. Debates on the Bill of Rights, http://constitution.org/ac/001/r01-1/bill_of_rights_hr1789.htm
  5. The Social Contract and Constitutional Republics, http://constitution.org/soclcont.htm
  6. Natelson, Robert. "The Original Meaning of the Privileges and Immunities Clause", Georgia Law Review, Vol. 43 1117-1193, at 1183 (2009).
  7.  Corfield v. Coryell, 6 Fed. Cas. 546, no. 3,230 C.C.E.D.Pa. 1823, http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/print_documents/a4_2_1s18.html
  8. Slaughter-house Cases, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slaughter-House_Cases
  9. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roe_v._Wade
  10. Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution
  11. Presumption of Nonauthority and Unenumerated rights,  http://constitution.org/9ll/schol/pnur.htm
  12. McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonald_v._City_of_Chicago
  13. Legal Tender Cases, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_Tender_Cases
  14. 14th Amendment ratified?  http://constitution.org/14ll/14ll.htm


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