Insurrection, Disqualification, and the Presidency

13 Brit. J. Am. Legal Stud. 237 (2024)

26 Pages Posted: 8 May 2023 Last revised: 16 Mar 2024

Date Written: April 9, 2023


Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment provides in part that anyone who takes an oath as an officer of the United States to support its Constitution but engages in insurrection may not hold any civil or military office under it until Congress removes the disability by a two-thirds vote of each House. The insurrection of January 6, 2021, and the coming presidential election raise two pressing constitutional questions. For purposes of Section 3, is the President an officer of the United States, and is the Presidency an office under the United States?

This Article makes the case that the President is an officer of, and holds an office under, the United States for those purposes. It contributes to the debate over the provision’s reach by setting out the broad case for Section 3’s application to Presidents and the Presidency, utilizing text, purpose, legislative history, canons of construction, ordinary usage, and contemporaneous judicial and executive interpretations.

The Article demonstrates public understandings before and after ratification that Section 3 bars eligibility to the Presidency, both in general and for the most important disqualified rebel—Jefferson Davis. It catalogues descriptions of Presidents as officers of the United States from Washington in 1794 to Jefferson, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Buchanan, Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, and Garfield, many of which occurred in the context of the President’s election, constitutional position, and role in preventing domestic violence, preserving the Union, and enforcing the law during Reconstruction. Finally, it ties related Reconstruction statutes, legislative history, and contemporaneous judicial and executive interpretations into the broad case that Section 3 bars faithless Presidents from again taking the oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” until Congress permits.

Keywords: Insurrection Clause, Fourteenth Amendment, Section 3, Constitutional Law, Legal Interpretation, Legal History, Civil War, Reconstruction

Suggested Citation

Vlahoplus, John, Insurrection, Disqualification, and the Presidency (April 9, 2023). 13 Brit. J. Am. Legal Stud. 237 (2024), Available at SSRN:

John Vlahoplus (Contact Author)

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