Tracy Steffes

Date of Defense



Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Janet Coryell

Second Advisor

Dr. Ralph Chandler

Third Advisor

Dr. Peter Renstrom


"Posterity will hold us accountable for the improvement of this splendid opportunity of civil liberty. It is the offspring of the ages, and has been brought to the birth in our time, amid the shock and agony of revolution, for the realization of grand and beneficent purposes...."1 So proclaimed Representative James W. Patterson of New Hampshire in the Congressional debates of May 1866 over what would become the Fourteenth Amendment. Patterson shared with his Republican colleagues both a desire and fear of Southern re-entry into the Union after the recent "agony of revolution" of the Civil War. Considering an omnibus amendment which addressed its concerns about civil rights, representation, war debt, rebel leaders' eligibility for office, and Congressional enforcement, the Republican majority sought a plan for southern re-entry to hasten peaceful reconciliation but still guarantee protection to the newly freedmen and guard against a return of power to rebel leaders. Most Republicans, like Patterson, viewed the northern victory as an expression of liberty over the tyranny of slavery, and as an opportunity to reassert the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. Although there was a spectrum of opinion on the extent of liberty and the best means to give effect to it, there was a general consensus on the idea of ensuring basic rights of citizenship to ex-slaves and bringing them under the fair and equal protection of the laws. The framers of the Fourteenth Amendment envisioned it as an expression of union and national citizenship, establishing a role for itself and the federal Constitution in protecting the rights of its citizens; however, there was disagreement about how and to what extent that protection should be granted. The majority of Congressmen adhered to traditional respect for federalism and did not envision the amendment as an expansive grant of power to the national government.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Campus Only