John Bingham on the Fourteenth Amendment
One focal point of my research involves finding campaign speeches in which Bingham discussed the Fourteenth Amendment. The thought behind that is that these statements were made to the general public (and thus may be a better reflection of the original understanding) and are more difficult for researchers to access than his addresses in Congress. Here is one example from a speech he gave on the stump in August 1866:
“The amendment consists of five sections, the first of which provides that persons born in the United States, and not owing allegiance to a foreign Power, and all persons of foreign birth duly naturalized within the United States are declared to be citizens of the United States. It provides, further, that no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any State deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law. [Cries of “That’s right.”] Yes, it is right. It is the spirit of Christianity embodied in your legislation. It is a simple, strong, plain declaration that equal laws and equal and exact justice shall hereafter be secured within every State of the Union by the combined power of all the people of every State. It takes from no State any right which hitherto pertained to the several States of the Union, but it imposes a limitation upon the States to correct their abuses of power, which hitherto did not exist within the letter of your Constitution, and which is essential to the nation’s life. Look at that simple proposition. No state shall deny to any person, no matter whence he comes, or how poor, how weak, how simple—no matter how friendless—no State shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. If there be any man here who objects to a proposition so just as that, I would like him to rise in his place and let his neighbors look at him and see what manner of man he is [A voice—“He isn’t here, I guess.”] That proposition, I think, my fellow-citizens, needs no argument. No man can look his fellow-man in the face, surrounded by can look his fellow-man in the face, surrounded by this clear light of heaven in which we live, and dare to utter the proposition that of right any State in the Union should deny to any human being who behaves himself well the equal protection of the laws. I hazard nothing, I think, in saying to the American people that the adoption of that amendment by the people, and its enforcement by the laws of the nation is, in the future, as essential to the life of the people of the nation. Hereafter the American people can not have peace, if, as in the past, States are permitted to take away the freedom of speech, and to condemn men, as felons, to the penitentiary for teaching their fellow men that there is a hereafter, and a reward for those who learn to do well.”
“The Constitutional Amendment, Discussed by its Author,” The Cincinnati Commercial, Aug. 27, 1866, at 1.
Tomorrow I’ll post something rather interesting that I’ve found that is suggestive about Bingham’s attitude toward the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.