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John Armor Bingham (January 21, 1815 – March 19, 1900) was a Republican congressman from Ohio, America, judge advocate in the trial of the Abraham Lincoln assassination and a prosecutor in the impeachment trials of Andrew Johnson. He is also the principal framer of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Early life[]

Born in Mercer, Pennsylvania, he attended public schools and pursued academic studies. His family eventually moved to Ohio where he became an apprentice in a printing office for two years. He then studied law at Franklin College and was admitted to the bar in 1840, commencing practice in New Philadelphia, Ohio and eventually became district attorney for the surrounding Tuscarawas County, Ohio. He held this position from 1846 to 1849.


He became active in politics when he was elected to the Thirty-fourth Congress under the Opposition Party. He was reelected to the Thirty-fifth, Thirty-sixth and Thirty-seventh Congresses as a Republican. His candidacy in 1862 for the Thirty-eighth Congress was unsuccessful, though the House of Representatives appointed him that year to be one of the managers to conduct impeachment proceedings against West H. Humphreys.

During the Civil War, he strongly supported the Union and became a Radical Republican. President Abraham Lincoln appointed him Judge Advocate of the Union Army with the rank of major in 1864, and he became solicitor of the United States Court of Claims in 1865. He was also elected to the Thirty-ninth Congress, which first met on March 4, 1865.


John Bingham (left) along with Joseph Holt (center) and Henry Burnett (right) were the three judges in charge of the Lincoln assassination trial.

Lincoln assassination trials[]

Washington was in chaos after John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln and Booth's co-conspirator Lewis Powell came near to assassinating Secretary of State William H. Seward on the night of April 14, 1865. Booth died on April 26, 1865 from a gunshot wound. When the trials for the conspirators involved in the Lincoln assassination were ready to start, Bingham's old friend from Cadiz, Edwin Stanton, appointed him to serve as Assistant Judge Advocate General along with General Henry Burnett, another Assistant Judge Advocate General, and Joseph Holt, the Judge Advocate General. The accused conspirators where George Atzerodt, David Herold, Lewis Powell (Paine), Samuel Arnold, Michael O'Laughlen, Edman Spangler, Samuel Mudd and Mary Surratt. The trial began on May 10, 1865. The three judges spent nearly two months in court, awaiting a verdict from the jury. Bingham and Holt attempted to obscure the fact that there were two plots. The first plot was to kidnap the president and hold him hostage in exchange for the Confederate prisoners held by the Union. The second was to assassinate the president, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward in a plot to throw the government into electoral chaos. It was important for the prosecution not to reveal the existence of a diary taken from the Booth's body. The diary made it clear that the assassination plan dated from 14 April. The defense surprisingly did not call for Booth's diary to be produced in court.

On June 29, 1865, the eight were found guilty for their involvement in the conspiracy to kill the President. Spangler was sentenced to six years in prison; Arnold, O'Laughlen and Mudd where sentenced to life in prison; and Atzerodt, Herold, Paine and Surratt were sentenced to hang. They were executed July 7, 1865. Surratt was the first woman in American history to be executed. O'Laughlen died in prison in 1867. Arnold, Spangler and Mudd were pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in early 1869.

Later life[]

In 1866, during the Thirty-ninth Congress, Bingham was appointed to a subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction tasked with considering suffrage proposals. As a member of the subcommittee, Bingham submitted several versions of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would serve to apply the Bill of Rights to the States. His final submission, which was accepted by the Committee on April 28, 1866, read "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or 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." The Committee recommended that the language become Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Amendment was introduced to the House on May 8, 1866, and to the Senate on May 23, 1866.[1]

In the closing debate in the House, Bingham stated,


John A. Bingham and Thaddeus Stevens before the Senate addressing the vote on President Andrew Johnson's impeachment by the House of Representatives.

"[M]any instances of State injustice and oppression have already occurred in the State legislation of this Union, of flagrant violations of the guarantied privileges of citizens of the United States, for which the national Government furnished and could furnish by law no remedy whatever. Contrary to the express letter of your Constitution, 'cruel and unusual punishments' have been inflicted under State laws within this Union upon citizens, not only for crimes committed, but for sacred duty done, for which and against which the Government of the United States had provided no remedy and could provide none.

It was an opprobrium to the Republic that for fidelity to the United States they could not by national law be protected against the degrading punishment inflicted on slaves and felons by State law. That great want of the citizen and stranger, protection by national law from unconstitutional State enactments, is supplied by the first section of this amendment."[2]

Except for the addition of the first sentence of Section 1, which defined citizenship, the amendment weathered the Senate debate without substantial change.[3] The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868.

John Bingham confirms that understanding and the construction the framers used in regards to birthright and jurisdiction while speaking on civil rights of citizens in the House on March 9, 1866:"[4] [5] [6]

[I] find no fault with the introductory clause [S 61 Bill], which is simply declaratory of what is written in the Constitution, that every human being born within the jurisdiction of the United States of parents not owing allegiance to any foreign sovereignty is, in the language of your Constitution itself, a natural born citizen…. . .

- John Bingham in the United States House on March 9, 1866 (Cong. Globe, 39th, 1st Sess., 1291 (1866))

Despite Bingham's likely intention that the 14th Amendment apply the first eight Amendments of the Bill of Rights to the States, the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently declined to interpret it that way in the Slaughter-House Cases and United States v. Cruikshank. In the 1947 case of Adamson v. California, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black argued in his dissent that the framers' intent should control the Court's interpretation of the 14th Amendment, and he attached a lengthy appendix that quoted extensively from Bingham's congressional testimony.[7] Though the Adamson Court declined to adopt Black's interpretation, the Court during the following twenty-five years employed a doctrine of selective incorporation that succeeded in extending to the States almost of all of the protections in the Bill of Rights, as well as other, unenumerated rights. The Court is currently considering a certiorari petition in the case of McDonald v. Chicago. Along with asking for selective incorporation, the petitioners are asking the Court to overturn the Slaughter-House Cases and apply total incorporation.

The 14th Amendment has vastly expanded civil rights protections and is cited in more litigation than any other amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[8]

Bingham continued his career as a congressman, being reelected to the Fortieth, Forty-first and Forty-second Congresses. He served as Chairman of the Committee on Claims from 1867 to 1869 and a member of the Committee on the Judiciary from 1869 to 1873. In 1868 he was one of the judges involved in the impeachment trials of President Andrew Johnson. In 1872, he was unsuccessful in gaining reelection, this time for the Forty-third Congress. President Ulysses Grant then appointed him a new position as United States Minister to Japan, at which he served from May 31, 1873 to July 2, 1885.

He died in Cadiz, Ohio on March 19, 1900. He was interned in Union Cemetery in Cadiz.


External links[]

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