The Fourteen Amendment has been used and abused over the years. Several factors should be kept in mind in the history of the amendment’s purpose, implementation, and constitutional practice. First, there were constitutional irregularities regarding its ratification. Second, it’s become a constitutional wax nose that has been twisted into various shapes in order to get controversial laws enacted.
There is no better historian to read on the subject than Forrest McDonald, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Alabama. He is considered to be one of the leading experts on the founding period and the United States Constitution.
“In a New York Times article . . ., McDonald was quoted as saying that the federal government had ‘lost its capacity to protect people in life, liberty and property, to provide for the common defense, or to promote the general welfare.’ However, in interviews and in his Jefferson Lecture, McDonald opposed the idea of a new constitutional convention: in part because he felt that such a convention would become a ‘runaway’ and a ‘catastrophe’; in part because he thought the inefficiency of the American government was a saving virtue limiting its capacity for oppression;and in part because he felt that in the present day it would be impossible to assemble a group as capable as the 55 delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which took place in an era McDonald called ‘America’s Golden Age, the likes of which we shall not see again.'” (source)
During and after the Civil War, Southerners repeatedly declared that the cause for which they fought was the “sublime moral principle” of states’ rights. Given such protestations, and given the history of southern resistance to federal authority throughout the antebellum period, it is easy enough to associate states’ rights exclusively with the South — but it is also mistaken. Connecticut and Massachusetts endorsed interposition in 1808; the Hartford Convention of 1814 did the same. In 1840 Vermont made it a crime to aid in the capture of a runaway slave, despite the federal fugitive slave act. In 1846 the Massachusetts House of Representatives declared the Mexican War unconstitutional; a decade later Wisconsin asserted the supremacy of its supreme court over the United States Supreme Court.
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