Abel A. Bartley


The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was ratified on July 28, 1868, demonstrated the change in attitude, which hit many Americans after the chaotic Civil War. It was America’s first attempt to legally challenge White supremacist ideas by creating a truly equal multiracial society. With its emphasis on equal protection and equal justice, the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to be the great equalizer of American people, legally changing African American men into White men so that they could enjoy all the rights, privileges, and immunities of United States citizenship. However, determining the meaning of equality uncovered the racism which characterized Americans. Even though the Fourteenth Amendment changed the law, it could not change White Americans who refused to accept African American equality. The dichotomy in American racial ideas was summed up by two Democratic slogans. First, “The Union as It Is, the Constitution as It Was” represented many American’s desire to return to a prewar constitutional status quo with Whites in a favored position. The other slogan captured in the 1866 Cincinnati Enquirer, “Slavery is dead, . . . the negro is not, there is the misfortune” underscored the real problem. Abolishing slavery did not solve America’s race problem. The Civil War changed American racial laws, but it did not change American racial attitudes. It was not until the Warren Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education that the courts finally instituted Fourteenth Amendment principles and attempted to legally create racial equality, as well as color blindness when dispensing justice and carrying out social policy.