Disqualification for Rebellion

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Amendment XIV, Section 3

The disqualification of former rebels for federal and state office was the most controversial of the sections of the Fourteenth Amendment. It appeared to be vindictive and to intrude on the President's pardon power. It certainly made the ratification of new state constitutions in the South less likely—and some Congressmen believed that this was a deliberate stratagem to keep the Southern states out of the Union until after the 1868 election. An original draft of the section would have disqualified all who had voluntarily aided the Confederacy until 1870, but the Senate adopted Senator Jacob Howard's less severe but potentially more permanent version. Congress lifted the disqualification of many individuals, and in 1872 it did so for all but Members of the Thirty-seventh (1861–1863) and Thirty-eighth Congresses (1863–1865), federal judicial and military officers, heads of departments, and foreign ministers. In 1898, Congress removed all disqualifications for previous disloyal conduct. Despite being written in a particular historical context, the clause is still in operation and would apply in the case of future insurrections or rebellion.

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Paul Moreno
William and Berniece Grewcock Chair in Constitutional History
Associate Professor of History
Department of History and Political Science
Hillsdale College