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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Fourteenth Amendment

by William H. Pruden III, 2006; Revised October 2022.

The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified on 28 July 1868 as one of the "Reconstruction amendments," added to the U.S. Constitution such fundamental principles as citizenship and equal protection under the law-rights that had been included in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which the states of the former Confederacy had resisted. Guaranteeing the rights and privileges of full citizenship for all formerly enslaved people, the Fourteenth Amendment continues to serve as the basis of all civil rights claims.

The Fourteenth Amendment was not well received in North Carolina, but given the unusual circumstances of the Reconstruction era, there was nothing the state's former power structure could do about it. Passed by a Congress dominated by Radical Republicans, the amendment was in part a response to the U.S. Supreme Court's pre-Civil War Dred Scott decision as well as the South's postwar intransigence regarding black citizenship. The institution by North Carolina and other states of restrictive black codes in the aftermath of the war also prompted Radical leaders to pass the amendment.

The South's resistance to the Fourteenth Amendment only prodded the Radicals to take stronger federal action. Indeed, riding high after their victories in the congressional elections of 1866, they quickly passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867. Under this act, North Carolina and South Carolina became part of Military District Number Two, which was eventually headed by Gen. E. R. S. Canby. The law required that a convention be called to write a new state constitution guaranteeing black suffrage. Provisions for the selection of delegates to the convention allowed for greatly expanded black involvement while limiting that enjoyed by whites. Predictably, the document produced by the delegates featured a liberal Bill of Rights and new guarantees of black rights as well as universal male suffrage for whites and blacks.

The first election under the new North Carolina Constitution took place in April 1868. It was a hard-fought and bitter contest won overwhelmingly by the Republicans. When the new government convened in July, the legislature quickly ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and elected two Republican U.S. senators. Canby turned over control of the government to newly elected governor William W. Holden, a onetime Democratic leader whose views had changed with the times. With the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment and the approval by Congress of the Constitution of 1868, North Carolina returned with little enthusiasm to the Union it had left seven years before.


R. D. W. Connor, North Carolina: Rebuilding an Ancient Commonwealth, vol. 2 (1973).

J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton, Reconstruction in North Carolina (1964).

Additional Resources:

"Primary Documents in American History: 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution." The Library of Congress. (accessed September 19, 2012).

"A Joint Resolution Ratifying the Proposed Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, Styled Article Fourteenth." Laws and resolutions passed by the General Assembly of State of North Carolina at the Special Session. Raleigh [N.C.]: N. Paige. 1868. p.89. (accessed September 19, 2012).

"CRS Annotated Constitution: Fourteenth Amendment." Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School. (accessed September 19, 2012).

"14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Civil Rights (1868)." The National Archives and Records Administration. (accessed September 19, 2012).

"Thursday, December 6th, 1866." Journal of the Senate of the General Assembly of North-Carolina at its session of 1866-'67. Raleigh, N.C.: Wm. E. Pell. 1867. p.91. (accessed September 19, 2012).