In the chapters which have gone before, the manner in which the Federal Government is secured from interference on the part of the States has been considered. We turn now to a topic which, while closely related to this subject, is yet distinct from it. This topic is the extent of the legal power of the Federal Government to examine state laws and supervise their execution with a view to seeing that they do not infringe in any way upon the rights secured to individuals by the federal Constitution. In other words, the question now to be considered is not the maintenance of the supremacy of the Federal Government, but the protection of individuals in the enjoyment of the rights and immunities guaranteed to them by the federal Constitution.

Prior to the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 the laws of the individual States, so long as they related to subjects over which the States had the right of legislation, were not subject to examination in federal courts with a view to ascertaining whether they deprived anyone of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or denied to anyone equal legal protection. The first nine amendments to the federal Constitution which enumerated the fundamental rights of individuals that might not be violated were, from the beginning, construed to limit not theStates but only the Federal Government. Until, therefore, the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted there was, so far as the federal Constitution and laws were concerned, nothing to prevent the several States from enacting laws which denied to their own citizens the equal protection of the laws or deprived them of life, liberty, and property, without due process of law. The only limitations laid upon the States by the Constitution were that they should enact no bills of attainder, or ex post facto laws, or laws impairing the obligation of contracts. As a matter of fact, indeed, all of the States had by their own Constitutions taken from their legislatures the power to enact laws upon certain specified topics, and forbidden them to violate certain declared principles of justice and right. But the adoption of these constitutional limitations was purely voluntary upon their part.

In 1868, however, as one of the results of the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, which, after declaring that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside," goes on to provide that, "no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

For a number of years after the adoption of this Amendment it was by no means certain that the effect of the above-cited provisions would not be to endow the United States Government with additional powers so great as fundamentally to alter the very nature of the Union itself. There can be no question but that the clauses of the Amendment which we have quoted were easily susceptible of an interpretation that would have given them this result, and that, at the time they were framed and adopted by Congress and ratified by the necessary number of state legislatures, there were very many who believed that they would, and desired that they should, work this revolutionary change, in the American constitutional system.1 Fortunately, however, as all must now believe, the Supreme Court has been led to give to these words a construction that robbed them of such an effect.

1 See especially the debates attendant upon the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1866, the doubts as to the constitutionality of which led to the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. See also the dissenting opinion of Justice Harlan in the Civil Eights Cases (100 U. S. 3: 3 Sup. Ct. Rep. 18; 27 L. ed. 835). See also especially Flack, The Adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment.

This the court has been able to do by the principles which it has laid down in the cases which follow.2