The Georgia Governor Informs New York
that His State has Ratified the 14th Amendment
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“I have the honor to transmit herewith Joint Resolution ratifying the proposed ‘Fourteenth Constitutional Amendment’ passed by the General Assembly of the State of Georgia, February 2d, A.D. 1870....”
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed former slaves citizenship and equal protection under the law. It was adopted as part of the Constitution on July 28, 1868, after ratification by three quarters of the states. For the former Confederate states, the Amendment’s ratification was a prerequisite for a state’s readmission to the Union and the seating of its members in Congress. After Reconstruction, the Amendment was largely disregarded in the South, until the landmark Civil Rights cases of the twentieth century. RUFUS BROWN BULLOCK.
Printed Letter Signed, as Governor of Georgia, Executive Department, Atlanta, February 3, 1870, addressed to the Governor of New York.
Following Lincoln’s assassination, President Andrew Johnson added ratification of the 13th Amendment, which had abolished slavery nationwide, to the conditions required for Confederate states to be readmitted to the Union. While unwilling to support civil and voting rights for African Americans, Johnson was quite willing to readmit the former Confederacy without any major reform of their governments. Fearing a return to de facto slavery, Congressional Republicans drafted and passed the 14th Amendment to extend legal protections to the freedmen and women.
Some of the most substantial elements of this complicated and far-reaching amendment are its granting of full citizenship rights to “All persons born or naturalized in the United States,” prohibitions against denying anyone “life, liberty, or property without due process of law,” and guarantees that everyone enjoy “equal protection of the laws.” The 14th Amendment further guaranteed that the census would count the “whole number” of males over 21 years of age to determine Congressional representation, eliminating the notorious “3/5 Clause” of the original Constitution. Other sections placed restrictions on former Confederates regarding office-holding, and provisions for debt.
As in the case of the 13th Amendment, ratification of the 14th Amendment was required for the former Confederate states to be brought back into the Union with full representation. While granting immediate citizenship rights, the amendment did nothing to stop extralegal racial violence against African Americans during and after Reconstruction. Additionally, while supporters hoped that guarantees of citizenship rights, due process, and equal protection would lead to sustained increases in black voting, the federal government proved weak-willed when southern states denied blacks the right to vote—and even more so when those states ignored the 15th Amendment (1870), which explicitly gave the freed slaves voting rights. It would take nearly a century for the Reconstruction Amendments to be fully applied to all citizens.
In its entirety, the 14th Amendment overturned historic injustices such as the 1857 Dred Scott case that said blacks could not be citizens, and opened new areas of law. The due process clause has extended most of the Bill of Rights to the states, and the equal protection clause has been the foundation for Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which ended racial segregation, and Reed v. Reed (1971), which ended sex discrimination in everything from employment to high school sports.
Rufus Brown Bullock (1834-1907) was elected Governor of Georgia in 1868 by defeating former Confederate General (and future head of the Ku Klux Klan) John B. Gordon. Born in New York, he was the first Republican governor of Georgia, a supporter of the Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution, and as a result, was vilified as a carpetbagger. He resigned and fled to New York after a “Lost Cause” campaign returned a Democratic majority to the Georgia legislature, but returned in 1876 to be acquitted of corruption charges. His northern business connections brought substantial economic development to his adopted state.
John T. Hoffman (1828-1888), Governor of New York from 1869 to 1872, was the recipient of this letter. Although Harper’s Weekly called him a “citizen of unblemished reputation,” when he was elected Mayor of New York City in 1865, his gubernatorial career was eventually destroyed by unfounded accusations of connections to the Tweed Ring.
“Rufus Bullock,” New Georgia Encyclopedia,
James Roark, et. al, The American Promise: A History of the United States, Volume I, to 1877,
second ed. (New York: Bedford St Martin’s, 2002).
The New York State Archive has no correspondence or other files of Governor John T. Hoffman. Most of their gubernatorial correspondence begins in 1883, but they do have a series of official communications between 1859 and 1938. Regrettably, there is a large gap between 1865 and 1875, the time of Hoffman’s administration.