The Imagined Future of the Fourteenth Amendment
The Warren Court "imagined the past and remembered the future."
-- Alexander Bickel, critiquing the Court's attempt to construct the "Egalitarian Society"
People in the Southern states subjected the Fourteenth Amendment to unprecedented scrutiny. They studied it in committees, debated it in legislative chambers, discussed it around dinner tables, and wrangled over it during one political campaign after another. They dissected it section by section, clause by clause. They questioned the intentions of those who framed it, explored the implications that might be drawn from its language, and pondered the consequences that would follow its adoption. No other amendment has ever been examined so carefully or thoroughly at the state level.
The internal legislative history includes eight committee reports from five states, eleven messages from ten governors, and numerous newspaper accounts of various state legislative debates. The external legislative history is even more extensive, including, as it does, the historical context within which the amendment was first promulgated, then considered, and later implemented. That context thus begins with the South's adoption of the infamous Black Codes and ends with the actions of the "reconstructed" legislatures on issues involving the rights of black Americans. Between those two periods, the Southern states were required to enfranchise blacks and draft new constitutions, and the resulting election campaigns and convention deliberations also constitute an important part of the amendment's external legislative history. No other amendment has ever been ratified amidst such political turbulence, economic chaos, and social upheaval; and this dynamic context produced a complex but illuminating history of extraordinary richness.