The topic for this Constitution Monday comes from Second 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective number, counting the whole number of persons in each State…. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States….” This provision gives each state the right to have all qualified voters in other states granted the privilege to vote. The punishment to a state for violating this provision was a reduction in representation in Congress.
W. Cleon Skousen explained, “This was a penalty clause designed to punish those states that might try to somehow prevent the former slaves from voting. As many authorities have pointed out, the Fourteenth Amendment – the longest of all the amendments – was poorly written, and composed in a spirit of anger and revenge rather than the careful, calculated calmness of the mature legislator. As it turned out, this provision was an impractical procedure and was never utilized.” (See The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 725.)
Paul Moreno of The Heritage Foundation explained, “In his speech of April 11, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln described the Southern states that had rebelled in the Civil War as being `out of their proper practical relation with the Union.’ In setting the terms for the readmission of those states to the Union, the Reconstruction Congress had to deal with several issues in addition to that of the status of the freedmen: representation in Congress, the political status of high-ranking rebels, and the debts of the United States and Confederate States.
“The abolition of slavery increased the political power of the former slave states in the House of Representatives. Under the Three-fifths Clause of the original Constitution (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3), five slaves had counted as three persons; now they would be counted as five persons, though none of the Southern states would have permitted them to vote. Section 2 was a major concern in the South. Paper after paper carried charts showing its impact on Southern representation in Congress. The framers of the Fourteenth Amendment intended Section 2 to encourage the Southern states to enfranchise blacks, without directly compelling them to do so – for very few Northern states allowed blacks to vote. Democrats condemned any congressional interference in the traditionally state-controlled matter of voting, and radical Republicans objected to the implicit approval of racial qualifications for voting. Section 2 was, therefore, a compromise position acceptable to the moderate Republicans who held the balance of power in Congress….” (See The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, pp. 404-405.)