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14th Amendment

Today is the anniversary of the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868 which guarantees birthright citizenship in the United States.


Passed in both houses of Congress by June 1866 it took more than two years to be ratified by the states.  Every former Confederate state opposed its ratification until Congress made it a condition for readmission to the Union and the seating of southern Congressmen.  Citizenship for freedmen and women in the South opened the possibility of African American men voting and holding office, something anticipated eagerly by the Republican party, depicted here on the cover of Harper's Weekly as the amendment gained support throughout 1867.

Not everyone, of course, welcomed African American votes, particularly California Democrats who would soon push for the closure of Asian immigration to the state out of fear that the 14th Amendment would make citizens of the children of immigrants.  Below is a typical anti-Republican cartoon trading on anxieties about the 14th Amendment's impact on the citizenship rights of blacks, Native Americans, and Asian immigrants.


From the LOC description:  "A satire aimed at California Republican gubernatorial nominee George C. Gorham's espousal of voting rights for blacks and other minorities. Brother Jonathan (left) admonishes Gorham, "Young Man! read the history of your Country, and learn that this ballot box was dedicated to the white race alone. The load you are carrying will sink you in perdition, where you belong, or my name is not Jonathan." He holds his hand protectively over a glass ballot box, which sits on a pedestal before him. At center stands Gorham, whose shoulders support, one atop the other, a black man, a Chinese man, and an Indian warrior. The black man complains to Gorham, ". . . I spose we'se obliged to carry dese brudders, Kase des'se no stinkshun ob race or culler any more, for Kingdom cum." Gorham replies, "Shut your mouth Cuffy--you're as indiscreet as Bidwell [another gubernatorial nominee] and Dwinelle--here's the way I express it--T̀he war of opinion is not yet fought through. It must go on until national citizenship shall no longer be controlled by local authority, and "Manhood alone" shall be the test of the right to a voice in the Government.'"Chinese man: "Boss Gollam belly good man. He say chinaman vo-tee all same me1ican man--Ketch--ee mine all same--no pay taxee--belly good." Indian: "Chemue Walla! Ingen vote! plenty whisky all time--Gorom big ingin." At right a man in a top hat, holding a monkey on a leash, calls out mockingly, "Say, Gorham! put this Brother up."

The 14th Amendment did ultimately empower African Americans to participate in the electoral process, but racial obstacles to black voting and office holding led to the 15th Amendment's passage which would guarantee freedman the right to vote in 1870.  Below is a water color lithograph celebrating the men who pressed during the 1860s and 1870s including Head-and-shoulders portraits of Frederick Douglass, Robert Brown Elliott, Blanche K. Bruce, William Wells Brown, Md., Prof. R.T. Greener, Rt. Rev. Richard Allen, J.H. Rainey, E.D. Bassett, John Mercer Langston, P.B.S. Pinchback, and Henry Highland Garnet.


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