The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State Legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”
This statement made it legal to exclude from any elected office or public appointment any former official who had pledged to uphold the U.S. Constitution and then taken part in a rebellion against the United States. This provision was apparently written specifically against those men who had fought against the Union in the Civil War.
W. Cleon Skousen explained, “It is obvious from this provision that the radical leadership of the Congress which wrote the Fourteenth Amendment had very little of the spirit of healing and reconciliation exhibited by Lincoln or even by General Grant when Lee surrendered. As a result, the South was deprived of its experienced, traditional, and most responsible leadership. Except for the issue of slavery, some of this leadership provided the nation with some of its best elements of political wisdom prior to the war.
“The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified on July 9, 1868, and on Christmas Day of the same year, President Andrew Johnson wiped out the effects of this vindictive provision by exercising his pardoning powers. He issued a proclamation of full amnesty, granting `unconditionally and without reservation’ to all who had been engaged in the Southern cause, a `full pardon.’” (See The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, pp. 725-726.)
Paul Moreno offered further explanation about this “disqualification of former rebels for federal and state office.” He said it “was the most controversial of the sections of the Fourteenth Amendment. It appeared to be vindictive and to intrude on the President’s pardon power. It certainly made the ratification of new state constitutions in the South less likely – and some Congressmen believed that this was a deliberate stratagem to keep the Southern states out of the Union until after the 1868 election. An original draft of the section would have disqualified all who had voluntarily aided the Confederacy until 1870, but the Senate adopted Senator Jacob Howard’s less severe but potentially more permanent version. Congress lifted the disqualification of many individuals, and in 1872 it did so for all but Members of the Thirty-seventh (1861-1863) and Thirty-eighth Congresses (1863-1865), federal judicial and military officers, heads of departments, and foreign ministers. In 1898, Congress removed all disqualifications for previous disloyal conduct. Despite being written in a particular historical context, the clause is still in operation and would apply in the case of future insurrections or rebellion.” (See The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 406.)