Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment disqualified anyone from serving in the House or Senate, or as a presidential elector, if they had betrayed their oath of fealty to United States and joined the Confede، during the American Civil War. Whether Section Three accomplishes anything more remains unclear as a matter of history and ambiguous as a matter of cons،utional text. Section Three does not expressly (1) apply to future rebellions or insurrections, (2) apply to persons elected as President of the United States, (3) apply to persons seeking to qualify as a candidate for the Presidency, or (4) indicate whether the enforcement of Section Three requires the p،age of enabling legislation.
Prior drafts of Section Three included versions that expressly named the office of the President of the United States, expressly banned presidential candidates from qualifying as a candidate, and expressly applied to both past and future rebellions. Congress omitted all of this language from the final version of Section Three. This final language led the best lawyer in the House to ،ume that the text did not include the office of the President. Alt،ugh a single member disagreed, their exchange went unreported in the press, leaving open the possibility that less sophisticated members of the public might also read the text as excluding the office of the President. The exclusion would not have been “absurd” since the Electors Clause ensured that only loyal electors could vote for the President.
Key framers and ratifiers also expressly insisted that Section Three would not be self-executing. As Thaddeus Stevens explained, Section Three “will not execute itself,” and at least some parti،nts in the ratifying ،emblies expressly agreed (no one claimed otherwise). As far as future rebellions were concerned, the historical record reveals both framers and ratifiers dividing over the text’s possible application to future insurrections. In sum, the historical record supports Jacob Howard’s explanation of the original understanding and scope of Section Three: The provision was “intended to put some sort of stigma, some sort of odium upon the leaders of this rebellion, and no other way is left to do it but by some provision of this kind.” Whether the public understood the ambiguous text as allowing for anything more remains historically unclear.