Disqualification and Public Debt

SECTIONS 3 AND 4. 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. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.


Annotations

The right to remove disabilities imposed by this section was exercised by Congress at different times on behalf of enumerated individuals.2189 In 1872, the disabilities were removed, by a blanket act, from all persons “except Senators and Representatives of the Thirty-sixth and Thirty-seventh Congresses, officers in the judicial, military and naval service of the United States, heads of departments, and foreign ministers of the United States.”2190 Twenty-six years later, Congress enacted that “the disability imposed by section 3 . . . incurred heretofore, is hereby removed.”2191

Although § 4 “was undoubtedly inspired by the desire to put beyond question the obligations of the government issued during the Civil War, its language indicates a broader connotation. . . . ‘[T]he validity of the public debt’ . . . [embraces] whatever concerns the integrity of the public obligations,” and applies to government bonds issued after as well as before adoption of the Amendment.2192


2189 E.g., and notably, the Private Act of December 14, 1869, ch.1, 16 Stat. 607.

2190 Ch. 193, 17 Stat. 142.

2191 Act of June 6, 1898, ch. 389, 30 Stat. 432. Legislation by Congress providing for removal was necessary to give effect to the prohibition of § 3, and until removed in pursuance of such legislation persons in office before promulgation of the Fourteenth Amendment continued to exercise their functions lawfully. Griffin’s Case, 11 Fed. Cas. 7 (C.C.D.Va. 1869) (No. 5815). Nor were persons who had taken part in the Civil War and had been pardoned by the President before the adoption of this Amendment precluded by this section from again holding office under the United States. 18 Op. Att’y Gen. 149 (1885). On the construction of “engaged in rebellion,” see United States v. Powell, 27 Fed. Cas. 605 (C.C.D.N.C. 1871) (No. 16,079).

2192 Perry v. United States, 294 U.S. 330, 354 (1935), in which the Court concluded that the Joint Resolution of June 5, 1933, insofar as it attempted to override the gold-clause obligation in a Fourth Liberty Loan Gold Bond “went beyond the congressional power.” On a Confederate bond problem, see Branch v. Haas, 16 F. 53 (C.C.M.D. Ala. 1883) (citing Hanauer v. Woodruff, 82 U.S. (15 Wall.) 439 (1873), and Thorington v. Smith, 75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 1 (1869)). See also The Pietro Campanella, 73 F. Supp. 18 (D. Md. 1947).