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By William H. Benson

The Parallel Lives


Roger Williams VS. Cotton Mathers


14th Amendment, Section 1

In early 1866, the Joint Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction in the 39th Congress wrestled with the idea that they must write a 14th Amendment to address certain issues:

Who is a citizen? How does the country’s laws apply to former slaves and slave owners? Will former Confederate officials hold elected office now in the Union? Will former slaveholders receive any compensation for the loss of their property? Who will pay the Confederacy’s debts?

Most importantly, who will rule supreme: state governments or the federal government?

The Joint Committee members wanted an all-encompassing Amendment that addresses each issue because they understood that future Congresses or the courts may disavow the laws that they would write and pass now but an Amendment would make it more or less permanent.

The Joint Committee members argued, debated, negotiated, and compromised, until they submitted to the House and Senate a 14th Amendment that contained five sections.

Section 1 begins: “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.”

Historians have pointed to John Bingham, representative from Ohio and member of the Joint Committee, as primary author of Section 1.

They point out that Bingham’s words in Section 1 unraveled Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney’s words when he wrote the Dred Scott decision back in 1857, that black slaves are not citizens, that they never can become citizens, and that they are without any rights.

Taney based his decision on the Constitution, what some call a slave-holding document.

Remember the 3/5’s clause in the Constitution? Southern states received more representation in Congress and in the Electoral College because each slave was counted as 3/5’s of a person. This unfair advantage meant that the Southern states would control the Presidency until Lincoln.

Bingham declared, “All persons born or naturalized in the U.S. are citizens.” That means both black and white, Jew and Gentile, male and female, oldest in the family or youngest. It makes no difference where a person’s parents were born, their religion, or their culture.

Per the 14th Amendment, all are citizens if born here or are naturalized here, Mr. Trump.

Section 1 continues: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”

The words, “No state shall make or enforce any law . . . ,” is a radical change to the first words in the first Amendment in the Bill of Rights, “Congress shall make no law . . . ”

James Madison of Virginia, who wrote the Bill of Rights, feared a too powerful Congress, but the Civil War demonstrated that it was the states that can cause immense damage to the Union.

The words, “No state shall make or enforce any law,” indicates that the Federal government now stands supreme. Bingham pitched aside the Southern states’ ongoing cry for “States Rights.”

What are “the privileges or immunities of citizens?” Bingham believed they were the rights listed within the first 10 Amendments, the Bill of Rights.

Section 1 continues: “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Please note here, Mr. Trump, that Bingham wrote “any person.” He did not write “citizen.” Any person, citizen or foreigner, is entitled to life, liberty, property, and the due process of law.

Akhil Reed Amar, legal scholar at Yale University, pointed out in his book, The Bill of Rights, that Bingham found this idea of extending rights to non-citizens in Exodus 22, in the fourth Commandment. “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.” All shall rest on that day.

That includes sons, daughters, manservants, oxen, and “the stranger that is within thy gates.”

Bingham asked, “Are we not committing the terrible enormity of distinguishing here in the laws in respect to life, liberty, and property between the citizen and stranger within your gates?”

Next time in these pages I will continue to unpack ideas out of the 14th Amendment.

Bill Benson, of Sterling, is a dedicated historian.

Unique words in history

December 16 marked the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, when colonial Bostonians dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded three ships—Dartmouth, Eleanor, and Beaver—split open 340 chests filled with tea, and dumped their contents into Boston’s harbor.

This defiant act was directed as a protest against Parliament’s insistence that the consignees of the tea in the American colonies pay an import tax, to keep afloat the struggling British East India Company, which brought the tea to the colonists.

The colonists were angry. They paid taxes to their

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Secession and Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln faced an absolute calamity on March 4, 1861, the day when Chief Justice Roger Taney administered the oath of office to Lincoln at his inauguration.

Already seven states from the South had seceded, or withdrawn, from the Union because voters had elected Lincoln President of the United States. Southern voters believed that Lincoln opposed the expansion of slavery into western territories, like Kansas and Nebraska.

South Carolina voted to secede on December 20, 1860, forty-four days…

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Election of 1864

Throughout the year of 1864, President Abraham Lincoln believed that he would lose the election in November. He admitted in August, “I am going to be beaten, and unless some great change takes place, badly beaten.” The odds were stacked against him.

Plenty of voters in the Union had reason to despise, even hate, Lincoln.

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Tunnels and war coincide

People burrow into the subsoil, build tunnels, plus storage rooms, and stockpile food and water, for one reason, and that is to stay alive. Atop the ground, in the open air, in the sunshine, they feel oppressed, insecure, and poised to die or suffer an injury.

On July 4, 1863, thirty-one thousand Confederate soldiers, trapped inside Vicksburg, on the Mississippi River, surrendered to the Union’s commanding officer, Ulysses S. Grant, on the forty-eighth day of Grant’s siege of that town.

During the siege, civilians had dug some five hundred caves into the hillsides, and fitted them out with “rugs, beds, and chairs.” One cave dweller said, “We were in hourly dread of snakes. The vines and thickets were full of them.”

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What can I achieve with Greek mythology?

What is the good that comes from knowing even a little about the ancient Greeks’ religion?

I prefer to learn of actual people who once lived in a historical setting, a time and a place. Greek mythology, instead, is a collection of make-believe fantasy stories I would like to know more of, but I find it hard to gain much traction from them, practical use. I wonder.

Mark Twain disparaged the whole notion. “Classics,” he said, “are the books that everybody wants to claim to have read, but nobody wants to read.”

After all, Greek religion is mythology, a series of stories about the gods and the goddesses whom the Greeks believed resided on or near Mount Olympus.

They included a dozen Olympians: Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Her

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Steve Inskeep’s new book: “Differ We Must”

Since 2004, radio personality Steve Inskeep has hosted National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.” During Covid lockdown in 2020, at home with time to spare, Inskeep researched and wrote a book that was published this past week.

Inskeep found its title, “Differ We Must: How Lincoln Succeeded in a Divided America,” in a letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to his good friend Joshua Speed, dated August 24, 1855.

Last week, Inskeep explained to Amna Nawaz of PBS News Hour, and Scott Simon of NPR, that Speed was from Kentucky, that he was from a rich family that owned more than 50 slaves. Speed approved of slavery. Lincoln also was from Kentucky, but his family was poor, and Lincoln hated slavery.

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Older Posts

Peering into the future

Peering into the future

Peering into the futureSome people possess a talent to peer deep into the future. In Biblical times people called them prophets. In the Middle Ages, people believed them wizards. Today they are economists who make projections based upon previous business data. Thomas...

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The discovery near Motza, Israel

The discovery near Motza, Israel

The main highway running east to west across Israel’s width is Highway One. It connects Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to the Jordan River Valley, near Jericho.

In 2012, highway contractors working 5 kilometers west of Jerusalem near the town of Motza uncovered a Neolithic town, home to perhaps 3,000 people at one time.

A new thing, an interstate highway, led to a discovery of an old thing, a town.

Tel Motza is now the largest Neolithic site in Israel. Archaeologists define a Tel as “a mound or small hill that has built up over centuries of occupation.” Excavators dig down through the layers until they find a bottom layer.

Archaeologists uncovered stone tools made of flint—arrowheads, axes, sickle blades, and knives—as well as human bones, clay figurines, grain silos, and a temple.

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Books and censorship

Books and censorship

The list of banned, censored, and challenged books is long and illustrious.

“Decameron” (1353) by Giovanni Boccaccio, and “Canterbury Tales” (1476) by Geoffrey Chaucer were banned from U. S. mail because of the Federal Anti-Obscenity Law of 1873, known as the Comstock Law.

That law “banned the sending or receiving of works containing ‘obscene, ‘filthy,’ or ‘inappropriate’ material.

William Pynchon, a prominent New England landowner and founder of Springfield, Massachusetts, wrote a startling critique of Puritanism, that he mailed to London and had it published there in 1650. He entitled it “The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption.”

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A summer’s day

A summer’s day

Popular song writers will, on occasion, dub into their lyrics references to summer.

In 1970, Mungo Jerry sang, “In the summertime, when the weather is high, you can stretch right up and touch the sky.” In 1972, Bobby Vinton sang, “Yes, it’s going to be a long, lonely summer.” In 1973, Terry Jacks sang about enjoying his “Seasons in the Sun.”

In 1977, in the film Grease, John Travolta and Olivia Newton John sang a back-and-forth duet about their “summer days drifting away, to summer nights.”

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70th Anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement

70th Anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement

Last Thursday, July 27, 2023, North Korea’s leader Kim Jon Un presided over a military parade that celebrated the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean conflict, from June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry announced

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Abraham Lincoln: infidel or faithful?

Abraham Lincoln: infidel or faithful?

Abraham Lincoln: infidel or faithful?The two books that Abraham Lincoln read often and loved the most throughout his life were the King James Bible, published in 1611, and William Shakespeare’s works, first published as the First Folio in 1623, both the best of...

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William Benson

One of University of Northern Colorado’s 2020 Honored Alumni

William H. Benson

Local has provided scholarships for history students for 15 years

A Sterling resident is among five alumni selected to be recognized this year by the University of Northern Colorado. Bill Benson is one of college’s 2020 Honored Alumni.

Each year UNC honors alumni in recognition for their outstanding contributions to the college, their profession and their community. This year’s honorees were to be recognized at an awards ceremony on March 27, but due to the COVID-19 outbreak that event has been cancelled. Instead UNC will recognize the honorees in the fall during homecoming Oct. 10 and 11……

Newspaper Columns

The Duodecimal System

For centuries, the ancient Romans calculated sums with their clunky numerals: I, V, X, L, C, D, and M; or one, five, ten, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000. They knew nothing better.

The Thirteenth Amendment

On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and by it, he declared that “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are and henceforward shall be free.” Lincoln’s Proclamation freed some 3.1 million slaves within the Confederacy.

The Fourteenth Amendment

After Congress and enough states ratified the thirteenth amendment that terminated slavery, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866. This law declared that “all people born in the United States are entitled to be citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.” The Act equated birth to citizenship.

The New-York Packet and the Constitution

Jill Lepore, the Harvard historian, published her newest book a month ago, These Truths: A History of the United States. In a short introduction, she describes in detail the Oct. 30, 1787 edition of a semi-weekly newspaper, The New-York Packet.


Mr. Benson’s writings on the U.S. Constitution are a great addition to the South Platte Sentinel. Its inspiring to see the history of the highest laws of this country passed on to others.

– Richard Hogan


Mr. Benson, I cannot thank you enough for this scholarship. As a first-generation college student, the prospect of finding a way to afford college is a very daunting one. Thanks to your generous donation, my dream of attending UNC and continuing my success here is far more achievable

Cedric Sage Nixon


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– Extra Times


  • Thomas Paine vs. George Whitefield
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  • Mark Twain vs. Billy Graham
  • Henry Louis Mencken vs. Jim Bakker