84 Pages Posted: 5 May 2023 Last revised: 26 Feb 2024
Date Written: May 5, 2023
It is originalist gospel that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause was intended, at a minimum, to incorporate the Bill of Rights against the states. This Article revisits forty years of scholarship and concludes that this modern consensus is likely mistaken. Reconstructing antebellum discourse on fundamental rights reveals that the historical players assumed that every state must, as all free governments had to, guarantee and secure natural rights to their citizens. But that did not mean the states regulated these rights in the same way, nor did that dictate what the federal government’s role would be in guaranteeing and securing such rights. The record reveals that the antislavery and Republican concern, both before and after the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, was equality in civil rights however defined and regulated under state law. In making this claim, this Article identifies a significant conceptual error pervasive in the literature: conflating the rights the first eight amendments secure with the first eight amendments themselves. Merely identifying the freedom of speech or the right to bear arms as a privilege or immunity of United States citizenship tells us nothing about how various constitutional provisions would guarantee and secure them.
Keywords: Fourteenth Amendment, Bill of Rights, Incorporation, Privileges or Immunities, John Bingham, Jacob Howard, Charles Fairman, William Crosskey, Michael Kent Curtis, Akhil Amar, Randy Barnett, Kurt Lash, Reconstruction
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