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U.S. Supreme Court: Slaughterhouse Cases, 1872

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Courtesy of Library of Congress, Miller, Samuel Freeman, "U.S. Reports: Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873)," 1872


In March 1869, the Louisiana state legislature enacted a law granting a monopoly to the Crescent City Livestock Landing and Slaughterhouse Company to slaughter animals in the New Orleans area. The goal was to eliminate the waste runoff that collected in the city from slaughterhouses upstream the Mississippi River. Although all slaughterhouses were banned from operating in the area, independent butchers could still slaughter animals on the company's grounds for a fee. A group of local butchers sued, arguing that the law violated Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, most notably the amendment's Privileges and Immunities Clause. With this case, the U.S. Supreme Court was tasked with interpreting the recently ratified 14th Amendment for the first time. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled against the butchers by rejecting what would eventually become the doctrine of incorporation of the Bill of Rights. Instead, the Court argued that the 14th Amendment textually distinguished between citizens of the United States and citizens of the several states, which mattered because the Privileges and Immunities Clause that followed protected the privileges or immunities of national citizenship from interference by state action. However, the clause did not forbid the states from withholding the privileges and immunities that belonged to state citizenship. Through this narrow interpretation of the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court essentially ruled that the federal government did not have broad power to enforce civil rights, believing that to do so would infringe on a power that had always and needed to continue to belong to the individual states in a federal system of government.

Full Transcript of U.S. Supreme Court: Slaughterhouse Cases

Transcribed Excerpts from U.S. Supreme Court: Slaughterhouse Cases

Source-Dependent Questions

Question Relating to Excerpt, Paragraphs 1-7 

  • How did the Supreme Court interpret the first clause of the 14th Amendment (the Citizenship Clause)? How is it possible that a person can have two types of citizenship?

Questions Relating to Excerpt, Paragraphs 8-11

  • How did the Supreme Court interpret the second clause of the 14th Amendment (the Privileges and Immunities Clause)? Consider the emphasis the Supreme Court placed on the wording of this clause.
  • What did the Supreme Court mean when it argued that "it is only the former which are placed by this clause under the protection of the Federal Constitution, and that the latter, whatever they may be, are not intended to have any additional protection by this paragraph of the amendment?" Consider what type of privileges and immunities the 14th Amendment does and does not protect.

Questions Relating to Excerpt, Paragraphs 12-15

  • According to the Supreme Court's ruling, what was not the purpose of the 14th Amendment?
  • This decision was made by the Supreme Court in the midst of Radical Republican Reconstruction of the South. When Reconstruction eventually ends, how might this interpretation of the Privileges and Immunities Clause and the powers of the state and national governments affect African American civil rights in the South?

Citation Information 

Miller, Samuel Freeman, "U.S. Reports: Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873)," 1872. Courtesy of Library of Congress