For Schools

Grades 7-9: Equal Protection
Historical Perspective: What Was the Intent of the Framers of the 14th Amendment?

The words "equal protection of the laws" was added to the Constitution in 1868 by Radical Republicans (a group of Senators and Representatives who controlled Congress at the end of the Civil War) who had a vision that someday "the sons of slaves and the sons of slave owners would be able to sit down at the table of brotherhood." The laws they passed, including the Civil Rights Act of 1866, promised freed slaves the right to vote and other rights but there were many forces working against them. They realized that it would take more than an act of Congress to accomplish their goals.

The Republicans proposed the 14th Amendment and then forced the southern states to approve the change to the Constitution as a condition for returning to the Union. Their primary intent was to addressing past harm -- and to offer remedies for the many injustices inflicted on African-Americans that were allowed under the Federal Constitution. When the words of the 14th Amendment were adopted they had limited effectiveness but their words created a constitutional basis for expanding the rights of individuals and minorities throughout our history.

Today there are still debates about what the framers of the 14th amendment intended. Was the amendment designed to address the specific freedoms that southern states were denying freed slaves or was it a bigger vision about a strategy that all citizens can use to free society from discrimination? Regardless of their intent, through the years the words have been understood and used by many groups beyond those of the newly freed slaves.

>>What Does It Mean to Have Equal Protection of the Laws?
>>Historical Perspective: What Was the Intent of the Framers of the 14th Amendment?
>>Handout: 14th Amendment/Situations
>>Handout: Case Abstracts

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