The Origins of the Privileges or Immunities Clause, Part II: John Bingham and the Second Draft of the Fourteenth Amendment
85 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2010 Last revised: 30 Sep 2012
Date Written: February 28, 2010
Historical accounts of the Privileges or Immunities Clause of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment generally assume that John Bingham based the text on Article IV of the original Constitution and that Bingham, like other Reconstruction Republicans, viewed Justice Washington’s opinion in Corfield v. Coryell as the definitive interpretation of Article IV. According to this view, Justice Miller in the Slaughterhouse Cases failed to follow both framers’ intent and obvious textual meaning when he sharply distinguished Section One’s privileges or immunities from Article IV’s privileges and immunities.
This article, the second in an extended investigation of the origins of the Privileges or Immunities Clause, presents historical evidence which strongly suggests that none of these assumptions are correct. Although John Bingham’s first draft of the Fourteenth Amendment used the language of Article IV, mid-way through the Reconstruction debates Bingham realized he had made a mistake. Withdrawing his initial proposal, Bingham abandoned the language of Article IV and drafted a second version of the Amendment. This second version protected the “privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States ” - a phrase which mirrored antebellum language regarding the rights of national citizenship. Bingham insisted that his second and final version of Section One did not refer to the common law state-conferred rights of Corfield and Article IV, but instead nationalized a different and limited set of constitutionally recognized privileges and immunities, in particular the first eight amendments to the Constitution. Understanding the difference between Bingham’s first and second drafts not only explains what otherwise appear to be inconsistencies in Bingham’s speeches, it also calls into question contemporary efforts to read the Privileges or Immunities Clause as a source of un-enumerated natural rights. Like other moderates in the Thirty-Ninth Congress, Bingham wished to expand the protection of individual rights in the states, but not at the expense of the retained right of the people in the states to regulate the content of most civil rights, subject only to the requirements of due process and equal protection.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation