2018 is the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This sweeping amendment was among the great accomplishments under Reconstruction; together with the 13th Amendment ending slavery and the 15th Amendment granting people of color and former slaves the right to vote, the 14th Amendment is foundational for the civil liberties and civil rights enjoyed by U.S. citizens today. It swept away the 3/5ths compromise that defined the enslaved as less than full people, enshrined due process rights, and guaranteed equal protection under the law. And in its power-packed first sentence, it offered a clear definition of who qualified as a citizen: “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.”
Current events have thrust the 14th Amendment and the meaning of “birthright citizenship” into the spotlight, and the public is once more engaged in a discussion about the meaning of the amendment, both at the time of its ratification and as it has been interpreted through 150 years of case law. Below are some books by UNC Press authors that speak to these questions. Many of them are actively engaged in this discussion on social media—look for their current insights online.
Erik Mathisen (@DrEMathisen), The Loyal Republic: Traitors, Slaves, and the Remaking of Citizenship in Civil War America — This new book addresses head on how Americans struggled to define what it meant to be a citizen of the United States, at a moment of fracture in the republic’s history. As Erik Mathisen demonstrates, prior to the Civil War, American national citizenship amounted to little more than a vague bundle of rights. But during the conflict, citizenship was transformed. Ideas about loyalty emerged as a key to citizenship, and this change presented opportunities and profound challenges aplenty. Confederate citizens would be forced to explain away their act of treason, while African Americans would use their wartime loyalty to the Union as leverage to secure the status of citizens during Reconstruction.
Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur (@katemasur), The World the Civil War Made — At the close of the Civil War, it was clear that a military conflict begun in South Carolina and fought largely east of the Mississippi River had changed the politics, policy, and daily life of the entire nation. In an expansive reimagining of post–Civil War America, the essays in this volume explore these profound changes. The editors are leading historians of Reconstruction and have been active in national efforts to commemorate its accomplishments. We also recommend Kate Masur’s earlier book, An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C.; and Downs’s earlier book, Declarations of Dependence: The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, 1861-1908 –
Martha S. Jones (@marthasjones_), All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830-1900 and Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women. Jones’s new book, Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press), is a timely and definitive history of the 14th Amendment’s opening clause and its implications. Her earlier work, published by UNC Press, reflects Jones’s longstanding interest in the intersection of race, gender, and citizenship.
Stephen Kantrowitz (@skantrow), Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy – A compelling read on the backlash to the 14th Amendment. Through the life of Benjamin R.Tillman (1847-1918), South Carolina’s notorious agrarian rebel, this book traces white male supremacy from plantation slavery to the age of Jim Crow. As an anti-Reconstruction guerrilla, governor, and U.S. senator, he offered a vision of reform that was proudly white supremacist. This book argues that Tillman’s white supremacy was a political program and social argument whose legacies continue to shape American life.
Corinne T. Field, The Struggle for Equal Adulthood: Gender, Race, Age, and the Fight for Citizenship in Antebellum America — In the fight for equality, early feminists often cited the infantilization of women and men of color as a method used to keep them out of power. Field argues that attaining adulthood–and the associated political rights, economic opportunities, and sexual power that come with it–became a common goal for both white and African American feminists between the American Revolution and the Civil War. The idea that black men and all women were more like children than adult white men proved difficult to overcome, however, and continued to serve as a foundation for racial and sexual inequality for generations.
Barbara Krauthamer (@profbk), Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South — From the late eighteenth century through the end of the Civil War, Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians bought, sold, and owned Africans and African Americans as slaves, a fact that persisted after the tribes’ removal from the Deep South to Indian Territory. Through the end of the nineteenth century, ongoing conflicts among Choctaw, Chickasaw, and U.S. lawmakers left untold numbers of former slaves and their descendants in the two Indian nations without citizenship in either the Indian nations or the United States. In this groundbreaking study, Barbara Krauthamer rewrites the history of southern slavery, emancipation, race, and citizenship to reveal the centrality of Native American slaveholders and the black people they enslaved.
Hannah Rosen, Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South — Traditional definitions of race were radically disrupted after emancipation, when citizenship was granted to all persons born in the United States and suffrage was extended to all men. Rosen persuasively argues that in this critical moment of Reconstruction, contests over the future meaning of race were often fought on the terrain of gender. She analyzes rape testimonies and debates over interracial marriage. By connecting histories of rape and discourses of “social equality” with struggles over citizenship, she shows how gendered violence and gendered rhetorics of race together produced a climate of terror for black men and women seeking to exercise their new rights as citizens.
And, our friends at the Journal of the Civil War Era‘s Muster blog, put together a lively roundtable discussion of the 14th Amendment on its anniversary.
#BirthrightCitizenship; #HistoryMatters; #ReadUP
For a fuller listing of UNC Press books on history and memory, visit our website.