Slaughter-House Cases Impact Research Paper

Pages: 10 (3105 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History

In a 5-4 decision issued on April 14, 1873 Justice Miller held that the broader interpretation sought by the plaintiffs was not appropriate or valid. Justice Miller and the majority of the justices of the court declared that the Fourteenth Amendment Privileges and Immunities Clauses were intended for and affected only the rights of United States Citizenship and not state Citizenship. Justice Miller and the other Supreme Court Justices were in essence saying that there is a clear difference between being a citizen of The United States and being a citizen of a particular state within the Union. A person can be a citizen of the United States while at the same time not being a citizen of a particular state (Abenathy 22). When Justice Miller authored the majority decision of the court it became clear that the court interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to speak to the rights, privileges and immunities of The United States and not of citizens of particular states.

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According to Joseph Francis Menez "The Court held that citizens derived most civil rights from state citizenship rather than from national privileges and immunities, which the Court interpreted as being quite limited in scope" (Menez 208). It was evident by the decision handed down by the Court that the Justices believed that certain rights come with being a citizen of The United States, while other rights come from being a citizen of a particular state within the Union. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment was designed and drafted to protect the rights inherited by citizens of The United States, and that if violation of rights had occurred, those violations had abridged the rights inherited by state citizenship.

Research Paper on Slaughter-House Cases Impact of the Assignment

One the flip side of the coin, dissenting justices clamored for a broader interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment especially when evaluating the privileges and immunities clause. Four Justices provided dissenting opinions regarding this case. Justice Joseph P. Bradley concentrated his dissenting opinion on the Privileges and Immunities Clause and also the Due Process Clause. He claimed that these clauses protected an individual's right to select his own trade or business. He claimed that by not allowing the butchers to perform their vocation in a free and non-restricted manner while at the same time subjecting them to police powers; the State of Louisiana had violated their Constitutional rights. As a result of this violation of vocational and trade freedom Justice Bradley believed that the state had also deprived the butchers of liberty and property thus, also violating the Due Process Clause.

As described by Menez, they were of the opinion that if the interpretation provided by the majority were accepted, the Fourteenth Amendment would be "a vain and idle enactment, which accomplished nothing and most unnecessarily excited Congress and the people on its passage" (J. Field's language 208). It was believed that the dissenting justices were more interested in safeguarding the economic rights of citizens than protecting their civil liberties. Dissenters of the majority opinion regarding this case approved of the notion that civil liberties and equal protection should be established by being a citizen of The United States and not be restricted or limited by one's state citizenship.

They interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment as if were extension of the constitution which re-established the rights and liberties which had first been presented for Americans in the Declaration of Independence. The Justices and politicians who supported the majority decision of the court believed that the if the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment were to become broader as a result of the Slaughter-House Cases, it would radically re-define the true meaning and intent of the Constitution. Dissenters of the decision in the case believed that the Fourteenth Amendment was simply in more clear terms extending and asserting the rights of all citizens. As George Thomas puts it "Republicans saw the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments as completing the Constitution rather than transforming it (48). Michael J. Gerhart claims in his essay, the following regarding the Slaughter-House Cases: "the Court interpreted the clauses or immunities of the Fourteenth Amendment as merely protecting interests other federal laws already protected (1). The narrow interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment has consequently resulted in a reading of The Constitution that essentially prohibits the government from engaging in certain practices or certain conduct. This reading of The Constitution does not require the government to take any action to ensure that the needs of its citizens are met.

The Fourteenth Amendment has since provided that court with more cases which involved the clauses held within it than all other Amendments combined. According to Albert Hutchinson Putney about three hundred cases had reached the Supreme Court involving this amendment by the year 1908 (197). This is the reason that The Slaughter-House Cases have such historical importance as they relate to the Constitution, they set up an important precedent that continues to be applied. The decision in the Slaughter-House Cases has in turn restricted the interpretation of Section 1 in the Fourteenth Amendment.

If the dissenting opinion would have prevailed it would have altered the existing relationship between the United States and the States within it. According to Putney the decision held that the Fourteenth Amendment must be interpreted within the context and circumstances present during the time period in which it was enacted, while also taking into consideration the most probable intention of those who enacted and adopted it (198). When taking into consideration what the probable intention of those who drafted the enactment, it appears logical to infer that they Fourteenth Amendment clauses were intended to protect the rights of newly freed Negroes in the south.

This was of special importance for politicians who recognized the state of turmoil and controversy that existed in the southern region of The United States, which stemmed from the liberation and establishment of rights for Negroes. Prior to the Civil War Citizens of The United States individuals who believed that their rights and liberties had being violated could only rely upon the constitution enacted in their respective home states for protection. This was because in 1833 a Supreme Court decision stated that the Bill of Rights was only applicable to the National or Federal Government. The Fourteenth Amendment was indeed created to protect the rights of newly freed slaves; these former slaves had received their freedom through the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment.

The majority decision in the Slaughter-House cases has been heavily criticized because due to this decision, "The Supreme Court began to limit the positive effects that the Fourteenth Amendment might have had upon the lives of African-Americans"(13). If the Supreme Court had interpreted the broadly, this could have given the federal government the power to protect the civil rights and privileges of African-Americans. In theory an innumerable amount of sorrow, struggles, violent and regrettable acts could have been prevented if these rights had been established at an earlier date. Not until the middle of the 20th century did changes become obvious and notable in terms of the protection of civil rights for African-Americans. Many of the laws that allowed for discrimination against African-Americans were enactments that were instituted by state legislature. Some of the so called "Jim Crow" laws remained in effect long after the establishment of the Fourteenth Amendment because the powers of the states were not restricted when they probably should have been.

The Slaughter House Cases affirmed that there were two kinds of citizenships each carrying with it its own set of rights and liberties. One was attained by being born as citizen of the United States; theoretically this citizenship carried with it the rights and privileges described in the Constitution of the United States. The other type of citizenship was state citizenship; this carried with it the rights privileges and liberties that were bestowed on an individual by their respective state as result of being a citizen of that state. Justice Miller in the Slaughter-House cases of 1873 set a regrettable precedent that limited the power of the federal government to protect the rights of individuals regardless of the state in which they resided. This has resulted in a much narrowed reading of the clauses within the Fourteenth Amendment that renders them almost meaningless in the eyes of many scholars. If the Slaughter-House Case had resulted in a broader interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment perhaps the federal government would have had more power to effectively protect the rights of individuals when those rights are being encroached upon the state level authorities.


Abernathy, M.G. (1972). Civil liberties under the Constitution (2d ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.

Gerdhart, M. (1990). The Ripple Effects of Slaughter-House: A Critique of a Negative Rights View of the Constitution.. Vandervilt Law Review, 43(409), 1. Retrieved July 13, 1983, from

Lee, P.Y. (2008). Meat, modernity, and the rise of the slaughterhouse . Durham, N.H.: published by University Press of New England.

Menez, J.F., Vile, J.R., & Bartholomew, P.C. (2004). Summaries of leading cases on the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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"Slaughter-House Cases Impact."  August 4, 2011.  Accessed September 28, 2020.