An Unequivocal Right, Essay Example
The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, also known as the ‘Reconstruction Amendment’, was quite controversial and widely debated in America, especially in regards to the opposing views that many held on both sides. One particular view presented by Senator Davis in 1866 in regards to the Civil Rights Act of the same year, raised much public participation. Although many Americans agreed with Davis’ view, there were major sources of dissent, and the outcomes of such a debate will be discussed herein.
When Senator Davis discussed his views on US citizenship, it reflected the view of the people of that time, in particular the Caucasian race. At such a time when the government, the public service, and the higher echelons of society consisted of such people, the view that Caucasians were the dominant and privileged race was very common, and was held favorably by those who espoused it. Although that view has been severely undermined over time, parts of the view are still held by some Caucasians.
One of the biggest reasons held by the Caucasians of the day was that foreigners who came from overseas had not been born in the United States, and therefore, them and any who came after them, were not ‘true citizens’. Despite the fact that foreigner’s children were being born in America, some were often refused to be recognized as citizens, as they were seen as children of foreigners. As Senator Davis stated “…the adoption of the present Constitution was from the European nationalities, from the Caucasian race…” (Beck, p.39).
Equality of all people was not a view considered acceptable by the Caucasian people who supported Senator Davis’ view; since their race was the only one, in their eyes, that could be the founders and citizens of the United States. Until that time, all other races were ‘introduced’ to the United States, but were not a part of it, in a sense. Therefore, they could not be equal with the Caucasian race, nor could they compare or measure up to the level of citizenship attained by Caucasians.
The strongest opposing view to that held by Senator Davis is the definition of a citizen. According to Senator Davis, “none of the inferior races of any kind were intended to be embraced or were embraced by…the government in manufacturing citizens” (Beck, p.39). Firstly, the government cannot ‘manufacture’ a citizen, whether home-born or from abroad. Citizens make countries; countries cannot make citizens. You can be part of a country, but still not be the citizen of it. Indeed, it is because of the people, that a country is formed, despite their race, color or creed. Therefore, the definition of a ‘true citizen’ denotes the legal link between a person and the State.
A major source of contention was the debate of being ‘legally bound to the State’. According to the view of Senator Davis and his contemporaries, they were to be denied this right, despite the legality of it being a civil right to all people, according to the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Legally, as of the same year, certain ‘minority’ groups and people of certain races were not officially recognized by the State as legal citizens, despite having the civil right as equals of their Caucasian counterparts to be treated similarly. This ‘loophole’ in the law was severely exploited by Senator Davis and those like him, until the time when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, two years later.
The onus as citizens of the United States to ‘manufacture citizens’ was held by Senator Davis, and in his view, the entire Caucasian race that resided in the country. However, in his view, the ‘superior’ race was never to be made subject to the ‘inferior’ races of those in the United States. Citizenship seemed to be a right reserved only for the Caucasians; this was a view hotly opposed by those who believed that it was everyone’s right to live, work and be recognized as a citizen of the United States, if they so desired. Neither the view of a Senator nor a common man or woman of society could deter them from this fact.
Although this debate continues, there are important social and legal outcomes that need to be highlighted as a result of the perception of both sides, especially after the American Civil War. Different upbringings of the people of the United States have brought with it differing views on the concept of citizenship; and depending on one’s cultural attitudes, values and beliefs, the person is, or is not, a citizen. However, whether a view is right or wrong is not the end argument. The main issue to discern is whether one truly is a citizen.
The end of The American Civil War brought with it the Emancipation Proclamation, which gave the right for Negroes to be recognized as African-Americans, and therefore were allowed to participate in the war on the Union’s side, making them effectively recognized as ‘legal’ or ‘true citizens’. Although many people in and out of parliament tried to oppose and veto this proclamation, it still stands as one of the landmark proclamations passed by the government of the time. The social impact of this had ripple effects throughout the society of the day, especially in regards to African-Americans. The equality for the once ‘inferior’ race had put them at a level with the Caucasian people.
Despite the widespread acceptance by both African-Americans and Caucasians of equality for all, some marginalized races and old sentiments remained in the rubric of society. Social acceptance of all had become the standard, but not the end, of the citizenship question. And because of this, the social standing of many continues to receive scrutiny from the side of the majority, predominantly Caucasian. Some argued that the reason for The American Civil War was due to the issue of equality to begin with; the ending of which did not solve the inherent problem.
Though socially, many are at odds to the basic definition of who is a citizen of the United States, in a legal sense, the definition is quite clear. According to the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, Clause 1, also known as the ‘Citizenship Clause’, says that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States and of the State in which they reside. There is no mention of exclusivity to any particular race, color or creed. Nor is there any mention of an original people who are entitled to this right. The Constitution plainly sets out the basis and definition of a citizen of the United States.
However, the question poses another issue: the naturalization process. Defined as being brought into conformity with nature, it relates to the premise of a foreigner coming to another country, being brought up there, and having offspring born as citizens. This naturalization process ensures that any person born in a certain country is automatically a citizen of that country. The issue comes when the ‘Caucasian’ people came to the United States from different lands and automatically called themselves citizens, despite not being born in the United States.
According to the Seal of the United States Constitution, there are six countries from which the State was peopled: England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, and Germany, as represented by the six symbols on the shield. None of these countries from which Senator Davis originally stated his origin from are distinctly American; the only true Americans being the Indians who were originally occupying the land. Therefore, the only nautralised Americans would have been those who were born as citizens. Since foreigners originally came to America, and eventually became born citizens, the same premise can be taken by either side. There is therefore only one definition of a United States citizen, which is that adopted by the Constitution.
Not all that is legal is ethical, and not all that is ethical is legal. This is one of the views held by Senator Davis as he saw the Civil Rights Act. It is said that he saw two features in the ‘social system’ upheld by the Constitution, which were those who made it seem that fundamental rights were found in natural law, and those who didn’t. According to Senator Davis, he belonged to the latter. He believed that no natural law gives any right of property to a man. Because of this view, he was able to maintain his standing on citizenship and the rights of those who belonged to, and didn’t belong to, the United States.
Furthermore, he began to see that the law was stipulated by the Union, who eventually won The American Civil War. So long as the United States was run as a Union, the government owned the land. But due to The American Civil War, and the battle that ensued, both physically and mentally, many commonly held views began to be questioned. These were then discussed and debated, not only by those who opposed them, but those who were beginning to put faith in the view that all men were created equal.
Senator Davis’ believed that war alone could save the United States. The undertone of this argument suggests that his inherent view about the equality of all people residing in the United States would either rise or fall on the outcome of the war. Whether the outcome was a favorable one or not, Senator Davis believed that the President would champion the cause to make ends meet.
What is interesting to note is that Senator Davis himself soon sided with President Abraham Lincoln, and acknowledged the constitutional right contained in the Fourteenth Amendment that all those born in the United States were both citizens and equal. His main reason for this total shift in views was his thought that the Constitution incorporated a way of thinking about all races being consistent and working together for the common good. He has therefore found a way to abide by the law, and discard his original views.
By this paradigm shift in notion and thinking, it paved the way for others to follow, just as they had once believed Senator Davis’ previous ideology. Although it seemed that Senator Davis had sided with the minority, by doing so, he had actually sided with those who were slowly becoming the majority. The end of The American Civil War had spelled the end of fierce prejudice and tension between both sides, at least in a legal sense. So the social effect was beginning to occur, and people began to embrace the common view.
Has this view becoming the all-encompassing definition of citizenship in the United States is the question that remains fresh on our minds. For the majority, it has certainly become the embodiment of equality, as seen by Senator Davis’ transition from opposer to conformer. The legal implications of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution were the bedrock for the belief that was becoming apparent in the minds of so many: that those who were born in the United States were the United States.
As the people became the country, the country became the people. Because of this, the social and legal fabric of the United States began to change. More and more people of socially marginalized and foreign races soon took positions that were formerly restricted to people of one race. Foreigners who had been born in the United States were treated as equals. Both men, women and children who embraced the United States and its predominant race were soon embraced back. Acceptance became the standard. But not all were in favour of this new turn in events, although all had to acknowledge it.
It is said that there are different concepts of citizenship, pertaining particularly to the United States citizen. The ‘liberal citizen’ is one that holds to the concept of citizenship stipulated by the Constitution; that all people have civil rights and are equal. Although most people who lived in the time of Senator Davis did not hold to this view, they were ultimately forced to acknowledge it by law; even Senator Davis himself.
This particular view of citizenship was concerned with the civil, legal and social rights given by the state to individual citizens. The equality of persons was merely a formal procedure given by the law, and did not seem to change the view held by the majority, at least not immediately. The Constitution gave the right for people to be recognized as citizens, but it did not give the obligation for all people to unanimously agree to the standard it imposed.
As Senator Davis later came to see that all people born in the United States were entitled to be recognized as citizens, they began to agree with such an ideal, and worked with those who espoused this view with a renewed vigor. Many of the common values of liberty, justice and freedom came to be embraced firstly by the liberal citizens, and so we now share these same values.
This ultimately led to a widespread view on citizenship, but slight differences in the definition. Only those who held to a particular definition of citizenship were able to be accepted by those who also held to the same. And so those who were citizens were still ‘discriminated’ by those who did not agree.
Another concept of citizenship is known as being a ‘democratic citizen’. Such a citizen does not focus on just the civil rights of being a citizen, but rather on the common good of being a citizen, and the duties it comes coupled with. Such a citizen needed to be both the benefactor of the law and the follower of it; the citizen needed to ensure that all citizens were receiving their due, and was allowing others to do the same.
The government’s role in such a concept was to give a perspective of the law, and the citizen’s responsibility was to live by it. In this way, the law was not just a stipulation, but was an enactment of a given code of ethics. All citizens who called themselves as ‘democratic citizens’ were required, and indeed, urged to live up to their name, as a member of the United States.
Although this view is commonly held by many, in the time of Senator Davis, it had a different meaning. Those who called themselves ‘democratic citizens’ actually barred certain marginalized groups from calling themselves such citizens, preferring rather that they be considered liberal citizens, and as such, they were only entitled to the basic rights as a citizen.
To conclude, those who held that citizenship was a right for the Caucasian only were in effect holding to a view that was primarily superior to those who were not of that race. With the onslaught of The American Civil War and the Fourth Amendment, many people began to change their views when presented with the alternative view that those who fought for their citizenship deserved it. Both socially and morally, many may differ; but those who are born as citizens, or brought up to accept the privilege of being a United State citizen, should be recognized as such.
Beck, G. (1866). Historical Evolution of United States Citizenship. Frankfort, KY: Passage
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