Sunday, September 1, 2013

The 14th Amendment and the Debt Ceiling

 City Point, Virginia. Negro soldier guarding 12-pdr. Napoleon. (Model 1857?)

After the Civil War, the United States government was heavily in debt. Through the innovation of government war bonds, most of the debt was held by middle class Northerners, who "viewed the sanctity of the national debt as a moral legacy of the war second only to emancipation itself" (according to Eric Forner writing in Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution).

Upon reunification, Republicans (mostly Northerners) feared representatives from the Confederate states would refuse to pay the Union debts.

Writing in Financial History Magazine, Franklin Noll said the threat of Union debt repudiation was a vital political weapon for the Republicans, and helped secure the passage of the 14th Amendment guaranteeing the right to citizenship, due process, and equal protection under the law. 

Noll writes adding a fourth section--providing for the security of the national debt (and the repudiation of Confederate Debt)--smoothed the way for the more controversial, civil rights elements of the Amendment.

Section 4 states:

"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."

Fast forward and this section is now being used in the recent debt ceiling debates. Today's Democrats (mostly Northerners) argue that by creating the possibility that the government could not repay its debts, the debt ceiling device is unconstitutional.

Legal analyst Jeffrey Rosen has argued that Section 4 gives the President unilateral authority to raise or ignore the national debt ceiling, and that if challenged the Supreme Court would agree.

President Obama disagrees. Press Secretary Jay Carney was quoted in the Huffington Post saying "this administration does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the president the power to ignore the debt ceiling -- period."


September 1 is country singer-songwriter Conway Twitty's birthday, born in 1933.  Listen to him sing You're the Reason Our Kid's are Ugly with Loretta Lynn here.
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Flannery O'Connor

You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.