Infinite Hope Introduction to the Symposium: The 140th Anniversary of the Fourteenth Amendment

17 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2009 Last revised: 31 Jan 2010

Date Written: June 9, 2009


The Fourteenth Amendment embodies hope. This article introduces the Symposium celebrating the 140th anniversary of its ratification, held at the University of Akron. The symposium was a fruitful occasion to reflect upon the meaning of the Amendment to its Framers in Congress and as it was initially interpreted by the United States Supreme Court and the public, and to examine the lasting impacts of both conceptions. Our participants especially examined three of the Supreme Court's earliest forays into applying the Fourteenth Amendment: The Slaughter House Cases, Bradwell v. Illinois, and Cruikshank v. United States. Those forays succeeded in cramping the Amendment's majesty and power in contravention to its design, intent, and language. Although our participants disagree about the extent to which the Court intended to or needed to be read as having eviscerated its meaning, all seem to agree that the propulsive force of the Amendment for legal change withered in the aftermath of those decisions. The authors also demonstrate the opportunities left open to use unaffected clauses to accomplish the goals of the Amendment. Several authors explore how the Amendment was incorporated into the public consciousness and used by citizens to reimagine the fabric of American life in ways that carried forward the promise of the Amendment.

The symposium begins with general historical reviews of the Amendment in Congress, the public context against which it was enacted, its early application in the Supreme Court and the impact of those narrowing decisions upon the Amendment. It moves to an exploration of the doors that the early cases may have left ajar for future use to reinvigorate the promises of the Amendment and achieve its framer's goals. Although the main focus of our authors is upon legal arguments, they also examine the force of political expediency to support legal arguments or to prevent their being made in ways that might destabilize the fragile union. The third segment of the symposium looks much more directly at the impact of the actual public response to the Amendment and its meaning, and how that public response shaped the Amendment as well as keeping alive its potential to revise the fabric of American life and law. As with the abolitionists in the antebellum period, the understandings and actions of the people profoundly influenced the Amendment's legal as well as cultural meaning.

Although most of the participants focus primarily or exclusively on Section One of the Amendment, one explicates the impact of Section Three and the intrigue accompanying its application against Jefferson Davis and another examines Section Five as an alteration to separation of powers as well as federalism principles. The development and meaning of the Amendment, even for contemporary and future use, is intimately related to the past. We cannot avoid continuing to ask vital questions and seek answers to them. What the Amendment meant in the past and how it has been interpreted and applied throughout its 140 years of existence have resonance today.

Keywords: Constitution, Fourteenth Amendment, Legal History

JEL Classification: K1

Suggested Citation

Reilly, Elizabeth A., Infinite Hope Introduction to the Symposium: The 140th Anniversary of the Fourteenth Amendment (June 9, 2009). Akron Law Review, Vol. 42, p. 1003, 2009, U of Akron Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-11, Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth A. Reilly (Contact Author)

University of Akron - School of Law ( email )

150 University Ave.
Akron, OH 44325-2901
United States
330-972-6197 (Phone)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics