The Framing of the 14th Amendment

The judicial history of the 14th Amendment’s “privileges and immunities” clause is unfortunately brief. The 1873 decision in the Slaughterhouse Cases—the first major interpretation of the amendment by the Supreme Court—rendered the clause “a vain and idle enactment,” in the words of dissenting Justice Stephen Field. Hugo Black’s famous 1947 dissent in Adamson v. California should have been a key moment in the revival of a long-neglected part of our Constitution, but the judiciary has not thus far been nearly as eager as members of academia to expound on Black’s thinking.

Justice Black relied heavily on the legislative history of the 14th Amendment and presented a compelling case that the privileges and immunities clause was indispensible to the 39th Congress’ vision of the Amendment. Yet more than 60 years after Adamson, the Congressional speeches underlying Black’s argument remain available only as unsearchable .pdf and .tiff images on the Library of Congress website.

As part of an ongoing project, we have been assembling key documents from the era and transforming them into a fully searchable and accessible format for public consumption. We’re proud to present the following three documents, which we consider worthy expositions of the Constitutional philosophy motivating the framers of the 14th Amendment:

· John Bingham’s speech (pdf) of February 28th, 1866, introducing an initial draft of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the House of Representatives and explaining its purpose. Bingham announced his intention to amend the Constitution in order to enforce the Bill of Rights against the states.

· Jacob Howard’s speech (pdf) of May 23rd, 1866, introducing a nearly final version of the 14th to the Senate. This speech, occurring at a critical moment in deliberations, presents the most unequivocal Congressional statement about the intent and meaning of the Amendment.

· The introduction to the Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction (pdf), signed by eleven members (including both Bingham and Howard) of the committee. This document, supported by more than 700 pages of testimony and evidence, justifies the necessity of amending the Constitution in order to better protect the rights of all.