On July 28, 1868, Secretary of State William Seward certified the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment grants citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” including former black slaves freed as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment also forbids states from denying any person “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws.” By directly mentioning the role of the states, the Fourteenth Amendment notably expanded civil rights protections to black people formerly at the mercy of discriminatory state legislatures.
With the exception of Tennessee, all Southern states refused to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment when it was initially proposed in June 1866. In response to their obstinance, the Republican-controlled Congress passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867, authorizing the establishment of military governments in the Southern states and making ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment a condition of readmission to the Union. Tennessee, which had already ratified, was exempt from the act’s other provisions.
Final ratification of the amendment required approval by three-quarters of the states; after Ohio and New Jersey attempted to rescind their earlier ratifications, the threshold was met with Georgia’s ratification on July 21, 1868. One week later, official certification was announced. Notably, while the Fourteenth Amendment extended citizenship to black Americans, Native Americans would not officially become United States citizens until the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924.
Fourteenth Amendment Is Adopted