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Democratic Citizenship and Congressional Reconstruction: Defining and Implementing the Privileges and Immunities of Citizenship

32 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2005  

James W. Fox Jr.

Stetson University - College of Law


This article, which is part of a symposium volume entitled "Vision and Revision: The Fourteenth Amendment", considers the implementation of the Fourteenth Amendment during Reconstruction through the lens of democratic citizenship. I argue that Reconstruction can profitably be seen as an exploration of the possible meanings of democratic citizenship, conducted at a time when emancipation forced upon politicians and political thinkers questions about the real-world meaning of citizenship. Congress confronted the necessity of implementing actual privileges, rather than merely proclaiming vague ideals, and did so by enacting a spate of federal legislation throughout Reconstruction designed to implement citizenship and its privileges. I argue that these enactments, when considered in conjunction with the activities of the Freedmen's Bureau and with the arguments and actions of African-American leaders and political actors such as John Mercer Langston, demonstrate a nascent concept of democratic citizenship encompassing a range of activities in civil society - including family, religion, politics, commerce, and education - which were seen as essential to the implementation of full citizenship. Along the way I also challenge the standard historical interpretation that the Reconstruction Era legal and political actors assumed a rather clear division of rights into the three tiers of civil, political, and social, and the even more disputable idea that they "meant" to exclude social rights from national citizenship protection. The Article concludes with some thoughts on the possible meanings of a democratic citizenship vision of the Fourteenth Amendment for modern interpreters.

Keywords: Fourteenth Amendment, citizenship, Reconstruction, Privileges or Immunities, civil rights

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Fox, James W., Democratic Citizenship and Congressional Reconstruction: Defining and Implementing the Privileges and Immunities of Citizenship. Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, Vol. 13, pp. 455-486, 2004. Available at SSRN:

James W. Fox Jr. (Contact Author)

Stetson University - College of Law ( email )

1401 61st St. South
Gulfport, FL 33707
United States
727-562-7890 (Phone)

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