The Constitution Amendments

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The constitution of the United States underwent several amendments in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries that were meant to make it better. One of the amendments made was the three-fifths compromise which an agreement between the southern and northern states during the constitutional convention held in the state house of Philadelphia in 1787 (Constitution, 2011). In this convention, several issues were discussed. Specifically, the three arms of the government were issued with equal powers for the sake of checks and balances. In this regard, the executive, legislature and the judiciary were created. However, the issue of representation brought about many disagreements in the convention. In this regard, the elephant in the room was whether slaves could be represented in the parliament (Klein, 2007). While the southern representatives were of the view that slaves should be part of the population, the northerners objected to their suggestion. Notably, slaves were not recognized as citizens either in the articles of the confederation or in the constitution. However, their numbers exceeded 600,000. In this case, the southerners wanted them to be represented but to be exempted from paying taxes. Due to the disagreements, two representatives, James Wilson and Rodger Sherman came up with the three-fifths compromise that was meant to meet the demands of the southerners and the northerners. According to Point (2016), the three-fifths compromise gave the government the permission to count 3/5 of the slave population as people.

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The Fugitive Slave Act 1793 was intended to give effect to Article 4, section 2, clause 3 of the thirteen amendment of the US Constitution. This Act, gave slaveholders the exclusive right to recover their slaves in case they got lost (Campbell, 2012). Surprisingly, the title of the Act was an act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters (Campbell, 2012). The passage of the Act was by a majority of 48 against 7 while 14 of the members abstained. The southerners insisted on the creation of slave states in the compromise reached in 1850. The purpose of this Act was to give more control to the masters over their slaves. The capture and return of runaway slaves was the initiative of the southern lawmakers. Anyone who aided in the flight of the lawmakers was to be punished under the act. According to Campbell (2012), the passage of this Act led to the illegal capture of free blacks and subsequent sale into slavery. Indeed, the Act was to prevent slaves in the southern parts from escaping into the free states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

The thirteenth amendment (1865) officially abolished slavery which was prevalent in the southern part so the United States. The ratification of the amendment was immediately after the conclusion of the civil war. This amendment stated that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. The then president of US Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary declaration in the rebellious states that all slaves shall remain free thenceforward and forever. Unfortunately, before the adoption of the amendment president Lincoln was assassinated. However, his declaration did to bear fruits as the more than 800,000 slaves in Border States and other 3 million in the confederate states were not freed. Thereafter, when Lincoln was elected into office in the following year, he rallied his members to ratify the amendment. The representatives passed the amendment with majority supporting the freedom of the slaves. The passage of this amendment was the turning point for the freedom of the slaves. From then on, they continued to advocate for equal treatment as their numbers had increased. Indeed, the amendment meant that slaves were freed from servitude and could therefore, enjoy equal rights with their masters.

After the thirteen amendment in 1865 followed the 14th one which was made in 1868. This 14th amendment granted equal rights, both civil and legal, to the African Americans as well as the slaves who had participated in the America civil war (Constitution, 2011). In this regard, the African Americans and the slaves were included in the phrase of amendment all persons born or naturalized in the United States. This amendment meant that the African American could enjoy similar civil liberties just as the other Americans. From then on, the African Americans were more vocal in the agitation of equal treatment and equal protection under the United States law. The fourteenth amendment affirmed that the African Americans were no longer commodities but human beings who now became the citizens of the United States by naturalization.

The Dred decision of March 6, 1887, granted and affirmed the right of the slave owners to trade their slaves in the western territories. In this regard, the doctrine of popular sovereignty was disregarded (Stargel, 2016). Additionally, the newly created Republican Party was overshadowed by this amendment. In this case, the pertinent question was whether slavery was to be allowed in the west. Before, the decision concerning the slaves was made by what was known as popular sovereignty. In this method, the residents of the newly created states could only decide an issue concerning the slaves by a popular vote. However, this method was disregarded as it had caused violence in the city of Kansas. As such, the state wanted this issue to be settled by the congress. An army doctor who stayed in the free states of Illinois and Wisconsin owned a slave known as Dred Scott. The majority decision of the Supreme Court stated that Scott was not freebased in either of the two states, as he was not a person under the US constitution. According to Stargel (2016), this judgment portrayed slaves as the property of their masters that could not be taken away without the permission of the slave owners, and without following the due process of the law. This decision was responsible of the civil war that erupted four years later.

The fourteenth amendment changed the definition of citizenship, which had been settled by the Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court in 1857. Under the 14th amendment, citizens were defined, as "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the united states and of the state wherein they reside."(Constitution, 2011) This reversed the definition of citizens hat was set out by the Supreme Court in the Scott case. The due process clause was a safeguard for the slaves against arbitrary arrest, denial of rights and property by the US government. This clause contained four types of due processes: procedural due process (in civil and criminal proceedings), substantive due process, a prohibition against laws, which are vague, and as the vehicle for the incorporation to the bill of rights. Precisely, due process ensures that all citizens are treated equally and that they are not arbitrarily arrested and detained. The equal protection clause stated that the state should ensure that all citizens enjoy equal protection of the law. This clause only applied to the local and federal government. As such, they were supposed to ensure that all the citizens were protected equally and treated fairly before the law.

The fifteenth amendment (1870) was the one that paved way for the African Americans to vote. This amendment that was ratified on march 30th 1870 states that the right of citizens of the united states to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the united states or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.(Constitution, 2011) The meaning of this amendment is that all American citizens whether they are African Americans or not shall have equal voting rights and the ability to contest for any elective position. Additionally, it disallowed any discrimination based on the past enslavement of the African Americans. As such, the amendment was more of a grant of equality in the US. However, discrimination did not end with the amendment as various other discriminatory grounds were established to deny the African Americans their voting rights. This case was prevalent in the south where many of the African Americans resided. It is not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, that African Americans got the absolute voting rights not encumbered by barriers.


Campbell, S. W. (2012). The Slave Catchers: Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850-1860. UNC Press Books.

Constitution, U. S. (2011). The United States Constitution.

Klein, G. (2007). The Last Word On Three-fifths Clause. tribunedigital-sunsentinel. Retrieved 5 February 2016, from, C. (2016). Thirteenth Amendment - Black History - Retrieved 5 February 2016, from, T. M. K. (2016). Dred Scott Decision (1857). Crimes of the Centuries: Notorious Crimes, Criminals, and Criminal Trials in American History [3 volumes]: Notorious Crimes, Criminals, and Criminal Trials in American History, 230.

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