This resolution, which the Lee-Jackson Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) forwarded to Governor J. Lindsay Almond in 1958, proposed that the Fourteenth Amendment should be declared not a legal part of the Constitution on the grounds that it was ratified improperly. After the Civil War, Congress had required the states of the former Confederacy to ratify the amendment before it readmitted senators and representatives into Congress from those states.
The reason for raising the question in the 1950s, ninety years after the amendment was ratified, was that many white Americans disagreed with the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States in the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas that declared that mandatory racial segregation in public schools denied to African American students the equal protection of the laws that the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed.
People who opposed desegregation or believed that the Supreme Court had overstepped its legal responsibilities argued that, historically, public education was a state and local responsibility and that therefore the federal government had no legitimate role or interest in dictating educational policy to the states. The Fourteenth Amendment had restricted state's rights by forbidding states from infringing people's rights to due process of law and the equal protection of the laws and by granting Congress authority to provide for the enforcement of the amendment's guarantees. If the amendment had been improperly ratified, as the SCV and others argued, then neither Congress nor the federal courts had any constitutional right or jurisdiction to invalidate any state's laws on public education.
In states where racially segregated public schools were required under state laws and constitutions, opponents of desegregation and of the Supreme Court's reliance on the Fourteenth Amendment to strike down those laws argued that public education was not one of the recognized rights of citizenship when Congress drafted the amendment and that therefore the amendment did not restrict states' rights to operate public schools systems as they desired. Virtually all of the laws requiring racial segregation were adopted at the state and local levels, so the argument about state's rights was far-reaching in its implications and also drew on a long and respectable body of constitutional, legal, and political precedent.
In Virginia, the dominant faction of the Democratic Party, under the leadership of Senator Harry Flood Byrd Sr., organized to block implementation of the Court's desegregation orders. Calling its policy Massive Resistance, opponents of desegregation passed laws to require the governor to close public schools under court orders to desegregate. The term that Byrd and James Jackson Kilpatrick, the influential editor of the Richmond News Leader who helped devise the Massive Resistance strategy, used to describe their plans was "interposition," a term that John C. Calhoun had used in the 1830s when he proposed that the state government in South Carolina "interpose" itself between the state's people and the power of the federal government to protect the people from unconstitutional federal laws.
The SCV was founded in 1896. By the mid-1950s it had camps in many states and communities and included male descendants, not merely sons, of Confederate soldiers. The organization was one of many heritage groups that preserved historic sites and records, commemorated the dead, and encouraged reverence for the past. The defeat of the Confederacy, the abolition of slavery, and the enforcement of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments and the Civil Rights laws of the 1860s made so many changes in the culture of the old South that many of the heritage organizations like the SCV reacted with hostility when the Supreme Court relied on the Fourteenth Amendment to strike at the heart of the states' historic right to regulate their domestic affairs, including public education and race relations.
1. Why was this resolution adopted?
2. What are the arguments made against the Fourteenth Amendment?
3. Why was reaction over the Fourteenth Amendment still an issue in 1958?
1. While Governor Almond played a large role in the school desegregation issue in Virginia, he and other leaders were guided by Senator Harry Byrd. Research Byrd's political career. What were some of the things that he did to create the system of Massive Resistance in Virginia? How did his leadership fuel this struggle over desegregation?
Smith, J. Douglas. Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
Lassiter, Matthew D., and Andrew B. Lewis, eds. The Moderates' Dilemma: Massive Resistance to School Desegregation in Virginia. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998.