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15th Amendment adopted

15th Amendment adopted



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Following its ratification by the requisite three-fourths of the states, the 15th Amendment, granting African American men the right to vote, is formally adopted into the U.S. Constitution. Passed by Congress the year before, the amendment reads, “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” One day after it was adopted, Thomas Peterson-Mundy of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, became the first African American to vote under the authority of the 15th Amendment.

READ MORE: When Did African Americans Actually Get the Right to Vote?

In 1867, the Republican-dominated Congress passed the First Reconstruction Act, over President Andrew Johnson’s veto, dividing the South into five military districts and outlining how new governments based on universal manhood suffrage were to be established. With the adoption of the 15th Amendment in 1870, a politically mobilized African American community joined with white allies in the Southern states to elect the Republican Party to power, which brought about radical changes across the South. By late 1870, all the former Confederate states had been readmitted to the Union, and most were controlled by the Republican Party, thanks to the support of African American voters.

In the same year, Hiram Rhodes Revels, a Republican from Natchez, Mississippi, became the first African American ever to sit in Congress. Although African American Republicans never obtained political office in proportion to their overwhelming electoral majority, Revels and a dozen other African American men served in Congress during Reconstruction, more than 600 served in state legislatures, and many more held local offices. However, in the late 1870s, the Southern Republican Party vanished with the end of Reconstruction, and Southern state governments effectively nullified the 14th and 15th Amendments, stripping Southern African Americans of the right to vote. It would be nearly a century before the nation would again attempt to establish equal rights for African Americans in the South.

READ MORE: Black History Milestones: Timeline


Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

The Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV) to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." It was ratified on February 3, 1870, [1] as the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments.

In the final years of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era that followed, Congress repeatedly debated the rights of the millions of former black slaves. By 1869, amendments had been passed to abolish slavery and provide citizenship and equal protection under the laws, but the election of Ulysses S. Grant to the presidency in 1868 convinced a majority of Republicans that protecting the franchise of black male voters was important for the party's future. On February 26, 1869, after rejecting more sweeping versions of a suffrage amendment, Congress proposed a compromise amendment banning franchise restrictions on the basis of race, color, or previous servitude. After surviving a difficult ratification fight, the amendment was certified as duly ratified and part of the Constitution on March 30, 1870.

United States Supreme Court decisions in the late nineteenth century interpreted the amendment narrowly. From 1890 to 1910, southern states adopted new state constitutions and enacted laws that raised barriers to voter registration. This resulted in most black voters and many poor white ones being disenfranchised by poll taxes and discriminatory literacy tests, among other barriers to voting, from which white male voters were exempted by grandfather clauses. A system of white primaries and violent intimidation by white groups also suppressed black participation.

In the twentieth century, the Court began to interpret the amendment more broadly, striking down grandfather clauses in Guinn v. United States (1915) and dismantling the white primary system in the "Texas primary cases" (1927–1953). Voting rights were further incorporated into the Constitution in the Nineteenth Amendment (voting rights for women) and the Twenty-fourth Amendment (prohibiting poll taxes in federal elections). The Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided federal oversight of elections in discriminatory jurisdictions, banned literacy tests and similar discriminatory devices, and created legal remedies for people affected by voting discrimination. The Court also found poll taxes in state election unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections (1966).


The Promise and Pitfalls of the 15th Amendment Over 150 Years

The amendment gave Black people access to the ballot — but the fight to keep it continues today.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which was adopted to give Black people access to the ballot after the Civil War. The amendment has retained its promise but, unfortunately, the robust democracy that it envisioned remains just out of reach. Today, we should honor the life of the momentous amendment by remembering that the fight to keep it continues.

Case in point: the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). Authorized by the 15th Amendment, the VRA is one of the most consequential laws ever enacted. It dismantled Jim Crow practices that severely restricted African-American access to the ballot, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. For some 50 years, it helped ensure that democracy reflected the country’s diversity.

That all changed with Shelby County v. Holder. The 2013 Supreme Court decision completed a decades long conservative effort to dismantle the VRA by gutting the section that required states with a history of voting discrimination to obtain federal approval before changing their voting laws. Chief Justice John Roberts, a longtime crusader against the VRA, wrote the majority opinion, in which he argued that the law undermined “the fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” among the states. He also highlighted the “‘dramatic’ progress” in minority voting over nearly five decades. In her prescient dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg analogized the majority’s approach to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Indeed, Americans got soaked. Immediately after the ruling, states across the country began to enact strict laws designed to make it more difficult for people of color to vote. Lawmakers have denied that their intent was to discriminate against minority voters, citing imaginary voter fraud as their chief justification. While we haven’t reverted to the level of discrimination seen in the Jim Crow-era, there have been consistent efforts to place obstacles between minority voters and the ballot box. And their impact is clear. When pivotal elections come down to a tiny fraction of votes cast in just a few states, any suppression can have election-altering consequences. It paints a bleak picture for our future.

Tragically, failure is nothing new to the 15th Amendment. One need only look to the amendment’s history — which, by its nature, is the story of African-American experience — to understand why. For nearly 250 years, “the peculiar institution” of slavery fed into the nation’s booming industries and facilitated its boundless growth. Even as the country prospered, enslaved people were denied the fruits of their own labor. They were also denied a voice in America’s fledgling democracy. This only began to change in the middle of the 19th century, as the abolitionist movement picked up steam and the United States split in two.

At the close of the Civil War, the nation wrangled with the future of nearly 4 million Black people who, until the adoption of the 13th Amendment, had been held captive in the South. On the heels of the 13th Amendment, which formally ended slavery, Congress passed the 14th Amendment to guarantee Black people citizenship and equality under the law. But suffrage was an entirely separate question. As lawmakers mapped out plans to reunify the country, extending the right to vote was hardly a priority in the North — even among staunch abolitionists.

In the South, however, Black people were voting. In some states — Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina — the African-American electorate outnumbered its white counterpart. That’s because in 1867, Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts. The new laws established, among other things, conditions for the former Confederate states’ return to the Union. Perhaps the most important stipulation was that the readmitted states had to draft new constitutions that guaranteed suffrage to citizens regardless of their race. Meanwhile, many states in the North and West were voting down ballot measures to broaden the franchise in those regions.

But it didn’t take long for the Radical Republicans to recognize that for Reconstruction to have a chance, African Americans would have to be able advocate for themselves in elections. So in 1869, the lame-duck Congress passed the 15th Amendment over impassioned opposition. (Delaware Senator Willard Saulsbury, for example, called it an “exercise of absolute and tyrannical power.”) The amendment, which was ratified in less than a year, made it illegal to “deny” or “abridge” the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” and gave Congress the power to enforce the new law. Soon, Black people began voting not only in the South but throughout the country. They were elected to statewide office and were even sent to Washington to represent Americans in both houses of Congress.

However, in two key respects, the 15th Amendment came up short.

The first complication was sex. While the original Constitution was written by men and implicitly for men (e.g. “a President . . . shall hold his office during the term of four years”), that understanding was made explicit for the first time after the Civil War. With the adoption of the 14th Amendment, federal lawmakers were authorized to reduce the size of a state’s representation if it denied voting rights to any “male inhabitants” over 21 years old. In other words, the Constitution called on states to extend suffrage rights to men and men alone.

Less than a year later, when Congress proposed the 15th Amendment, its text banned discrimination in voting, but only based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Despite some valiant efforts by activists, “sex” was left out, reaffirming the fact that women lacked a constitutional right to vote. The omission prompted a schism in the woman suffrage movement. Some suffragists, like Lucretia Mott, accepted it as political reality and hailed the adoption of the amendment as a victory. Others, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were much less forgiving. They opposed the 15th Amendment, arguing — at times in strident racist rhetoric — that white women deserved voting rights before Black men.

Though it took another half century, white women eventually did win the right to vote. In 1920, when the states ratified the 19th Amendment, the Constitution finally outlawed sex discrimination in the franchise. Yet, with the recent resurgence of women’s activism, and in light of Virginia’s recent ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, it’s worth pondering today whether these gains could have been realized sooner. At the same time, it’s important to understand that the 19th Amendment left Black women behind.

This is a consequence of the second failure related to the 15th Amendment: the country ignored it.

Reconstruction ended in 1876. From then until the 1960s, the majority of America’s Black population was prevented from voting, as states manufactured “legal” ways to suppress their registration and turnout without violating the 15th Amendment. For nearly a century, Jim Crow flourished in the South, where most African Americans lived. This only changed with the rise of civil rights movement, which achieved a string of historic victories that included the enactment of the VRA.

Within four years of the VRA’s enactment, Black voter registration rates had surged from 35 percent to 65 percent. But now, in the post-Shelby County era, the VRA is not enough to prevent disenfranchisement of African Americans and other people of color.

So on the sesquicentennial of the 15th Amendment, Americans should celebrate the incredible progress made since the country’s founding. But they should also reflect on the rocky route to that progress — and acknowledge that there’s much further to go.


Fifteenth Amendment

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Fifteenth Amendment, amendment (1870) to the Constitution of the United States that guaranteed that the right to vote could not be denied based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The amendment complemented and followed in the wake of the passage of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments, which abolished slavery and guaranteed citizenship, respectively, to African Americans. The passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and its subsequent ratification (February 3, 1870) effectively enfranchised African American men while denying the right to vote to women of all colours. Women would not receive that right until the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.

The full text of the Fifteenth Amendment is:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude—

The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

After the Civil War, during the period known as Reconstruction (1865–77), the amendment was successful in encouraging African Americans to vote. Many African Americans were even elected to public office during the 1880s in the states that formerly had constituted the Confederate States of America. By the 1890s, however, efforts by several states to enact such measures as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses—in addition to widespread threats and violence—had completely reversed those trends. By the beginning of the 20th century, nearly all African Americans in the states of the former Confederacy were again disenfranchised.

Poll taxes in federal elections were abolished by the Twenty-fourth Amendment (1964), and in 1966 the Supreme Court extended that ban to state and local elections. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 abolished prerequisites to registration and voting and also allowed for federal “preclearance” of changes in election laws in certain (“covered”) jurisdictions, including nine mostly Southern states. In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), however, the Supreme Court struck down the section of the VRA that had been used to identify covered jurisdictions, effectively making the preclearance requirement unenforceable.


The Fifteenth Amendment

Most Americans probably believe the &ldquoright to vote&rdquo is one of their most fundamental constitutional rights. It will come as a surprise, therefore, to learn that neither the original Constitution nor the Bill of Rights nor any other provision of the Constitution expressly guarantees the right to vote. Only in the 1960s, when the Supreme Court began to conclude that the Fourteenth Amendment implicitly protected the right to vote, did American constitutional doctrine begin to treat the right to vote as a fundamental constitutional right. Once the Court recognized the right to vote, decisions of the Supreme Court helped revolutionize the way voting was treated under American constitutional law. Most of the law concerning &ldquothe right to vote&rdquo developed under the Fourteenth Amendment, though important Court decisions also have relied at times on the Fifteenth Amendment.

The reason the original Constitution and the Bill of Rights do not expressly protect the right to vote is that doing so would have been too controversial and divisive at the time. Different states had different rules for who could vote (many states had property-holding requirements and differed on the amount some states permitted women and free black men to vote, others did not). To create a uniform standard across the country would have required resolving these major differences. The only place where voting is directly recognized in the original Constitution is for choosing members of the House of Representatives Article I, Section 2 provides that the people eligible to vote for members of the U.S. House will be determined by whom the States let vote for their own house of representatives. Since the Civil War, many constitutional amendments address voting issues, but these amendments are written to prohibit certain bases for denying the vote to some people once the vote is extended to others: the Fifteenth Amendment prohibits racial discrimination in the vote the Nineteenth Amendment prohibits discrimination based on sex the Twenty-Fourth Amendment prohibits the use of poll taxes in national elections and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment prohibits denying the vote to those over 18 years of age.

But in terms of constitutional decisions of the Supreme Court, the two most important provisions with respect to the vote have been the Fourteenth and, to a lesser extent, the Fifteenth Amendments. Although the Fourteenth Amendment was not designed to protect the right to vote and does not expressly mention it, two lines of Supreme Court decisions have provided important protections since the 1960s. In the first line of cases, the Supreme Court created the &ldquoone-vote, one-person&rdquo doctrine, which requires that there must be fairly equal numbers of people in election districts when electing representatives to a political body&mdashfor example, all the congressional districts in a state must have the same number of people. Before the decisions in Baker v. Carr (1962), Reynolds v. Sims (1964), and similar cases, some districts in a state might have had 900,000 people, others only 100,000 people, but voters in each district would elect one representative to Congress. The Court concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment reflected principles of political equality that required each district have, to the extent possible, an equal number of residents, which is what one-vote, one-person means.

The second area of important decisions involves the right to get to the ballot box and cast a vote. Again under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court first began to recognize this right in the 1960s, in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966), Dunn v. Blumstein (1972) and many other cases, the Court decided that restrictions on who could vote would be subject to strict scrutiny, the most demanding judicial standard. Once this standard was announced, the Court quickly held unconstitutional virtually all restrictions on voting other than (1) citizenship (2) residency in the jurisdiction and (3) age under 18. To evaluate other regulations on the voting process, the Court in later cases, such as Burdick v. Takushi (1992) has created a two-part test that first requires courts to decide if a burden on the right to vote is &ldquosevere&rdquo or not. If it is, the regulation can survive only under strict scrutiny, which most regulations fail. But if the burden is not severe, the regulation is much more likely to be upheld. Most current constitutional controversies about regulations of the voting process take place under this Burdick framework and require courts to decide, first, whether a regulation imposes a severe burden on the right to vote.

Added to the Constitution in 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment was the final of the three constitutional amendments enacted during Reconstruction in the aftermath of the Civil War. While the Thirteenth Amendment prohibited slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment barred states from denying &ldquoequal protection of the laws,&rdquo the Fifteenth Amendment established that the right to vote could not be denied on the basis of race. Though its express terms prohibit all racial discrimination in voting qualifications, the Amendment was aimed at ensuring the enfranchisement of African-Americans. Section 2 of this short but momentous Amendment also gave Congress the power to enact legislation to enforce the right against race-based denials of the vote. The constitutional meaning of the Civil War was reflected in these three amendments when the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, it represented the principle that African-American citizens&mdashmany of them former slaves&mdashwere now entitled to political equality.

Yet the most significant fact about the Fifteenth Amendment in American history is that it was essentially ignored and circumvented for nearly a century. This history illustrates that constitutional rights can be little more than words on paper unless institutions exist with the power to make sure those rights are actually enforced. For the first twenty to thirty years after the Amendment was adopted, black adult men (women were generally not permitted to vote at this time) were indeed permitted to vote&mdashand did so in large numbers. Nearly 2,000 African-Americans were elected to public offices during this period. But starting in 1890, Southern states adopted an array of laws that made it extremely difficult for African-Americans (and many poor whites) to vote. This was the start of what is known as the era of disenfranchisement, and it lasted all the way up until 1965. These laws required people to demonstrate literacy, or prove their good character, or pay certain voting taxes, or overcome other hurdles, before they were permitted to vote. As a result of these laws, African-American voting in the South was kept at extremely low levels from 1890 to 1965, despite the Fifteenth Amendment.

Early on in this process of disenfranchisement, the Supreme Court was asked to hold these laws unconstitutional. But in a 1903 case called Giles v. Harris (1903), the Supreme Court refused to do so the Court stated that it did not have the power to force Southern states to comply with the Fifteenth Amendment. Later that year, in James v. Bowman (1903), the Court held that the Amendment did not authorize Congress to punish private individuals who interfered to prevent African-Americans from voting.

The Supreme Court did eventually invoke the Amendment to hold unconstitutional a few of the specific laws that sought to block African-Americans from effective political participation. In 1944, for example, the Court held unconstitutional rules that in some Southern states prohibited black citizens from voting in political primary elections. Smith v. Allwright (1944). In a well-known case, Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1960), the Supreme Court held that that City of Tuskegee, Alabama, had violated the Fifteenth Amendment when it re-drew the city&rsquos boundaries from a square to an &ldquouncouth twenty-eight sided figure&rdquo that put the residences of nearly all black people outside the city&rsquos boundaries. Yet as of 1965, it was still the case that in Mississippi, for example, only 6.3% of African Americans were able to register to vote.

The situation only began to change dramatically in 1965, when Congress used its power to enforce the Fifteenth (and Fourteenth) Amendment by enacting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (the VRA). The VRA provided a variety of means for the federal government and the federal courts to ensure that the right to vote was not denied on the basis of race.

In modern constitutional law, the Fifteenth Amendment plays a minor role. The reason is that other, broader sources of law have emerged to protect the right to vote. In the 1960s, the Supreme Court concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the right to vote as a general matter, while the Fifteenth Amendment is more limited to protecting against only race-based denials of the right to vote. In addition, federal statutes, such as the VRA and others, now exist to protect the right to vote as well. When cases involving issues of race and the vote are brought today, they will typically be brought simultaneously under the Fifteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the VRA.

If a law explicitly imposes different rules by race for access to the ballot, there is little doubt the courts today would hold such a law to violate the Fifteenth Amendment. The one case like this in recent decades came from Hawaii, where a law permitted only Native Hawaiians, not all Hawaiians, to vote for certain officials. The Supreme Court concluded that a law limiting who could vote based on their ancestry was equivalent to a law that limited the vote based on race and that Hawaii&rsquos law therefore violated the Fifteenth Amendment. Rice v. Cayetano (2000). But if a voting law does not impose different rules by race, and is challenged as nonetheless racially discriminatory, the Court has concluded that the challenger must show that the law is based on a racially-discriminatory purpose before the Fifteenth Amendment is violated. Mobile v. Bolden (1980).

Although the Fifteenth Amendment does not play a major, independent role in cases today, its most important role might be the power it gives Congress to enact national legislation that protects against race-based denials or abridgements of the right to vote.


On This Day in History: Congress Adopted the 15th Amendment Making it Illegal for Anyone to Deny African-Americans Their Right to Vote

The 15th Amendment concedes African Americans the right to vote. Despite the amendment, in the late 1870s, oppressive practices were utilized to continue to hold African Americans from their right to vote. Those tactics include Jim Crow laws, violence, intimidation, unreasonable literacy test, and poll taxes. The Voting Rights act of 1965, promised punishment to those who denied African Americans from their right to vote under the 15th amendment.

Various early forms of the amendment were presented to the senate, tearing republicans between two different approaches in which the direction of the amendment should go. One direction established a general standard for all males to vote and the other direction would be for voting to be granted based on the race of the individual. Congressman, Oliver P. Morton, argues that voting barriers were a “relic of state sovereignty” and the “whole fallacy lies in denying our nationality.”

On February 25, 1869, more than 66% of the individuals from the House of Representatives endorsed the proposed, Fifteenth Amendment. To this day, the amendment stands in the favor of African Americans being the reason for reconstruction.


What were the effects of the 15th Amendment?

The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted African American men the right to vote by declaring that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Although ratified on

Subsequently, question is, how did the 15th Amendment help slaves? The 15th Amendment was the last of the &ldquoReconstruction Amendments" to be adopted. It was designed to prohibit discrimination against voters on the basis on race or previous condition of servitude. Blacks could not vote in the North - if they had had that right, Grant would have taken New York.

Also know, what major effect did the 15th Amendment have on American society?

It ended slavery permanently in the United States. It provided greater access to voting for African Americans. It established equal protection and due process.

What was the vote count on the 15th Amendment?

The vote in the House was 144 to 44, with 35 not voting. The House vote was almost entirely along party lines, with no Democrats supporting the bill and only 3 Republicans voting against it, some because they thought the amendment did not go far enough in its protections.


Fifteenth Amendment: About

Added to the Constitution in 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment was the final of the three constitutional amendments enacted during Reconstruction in the aftermath of the Civil War. While the Thirteenth Amendment prohibited slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment barred states from denying &ldquoequal protection of the laws,&rdquo the Fifteenth Amendment established that the right to vote could not be denied on the basis of race. Though its express terms prohibit all racial discrimination in voting qualifications, the Amendment was aimed at ensuring the enfranchisement of African-Americans. Section 2 of this short but momentous Amendment also gave Congress the power to enact legislation to enforce the right against race-based denials of the vote. The constitutional meaning of the Civil War was reflected in these three amendments when the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, it represented the principle that African-American citizens&mdashmany of them former slaves&mdashwere now entitled to political equality.

Yet the most significant fact about the Fifteenth Amendment in American history is that it was essentially ignored and circumvented for nearly a century. This history illustrates that constitutional rights can be little more than words on paper unless institutions exist with the power to make sure those rights are actually enforced. For the first twenty to thirty years after the Amendment was adopted, black adult men (women were generally not permitted to vote at this time) were indeed permitted to vote&mdashand did so in large numbers. Nearly 2,000 African-Americans were elected to public offices during this period. But starting in 1890, Southern states adopted an array of laws that made it extremely difficult for African-Americans (and many poor whites) to vote. This was the start of what is known as the era of disenfranchisement, and it lasted all the way up until 1965. These laws required people to demonstrate literacy, or prove their good character, or pay certain voting taxes, or overcome other hurdles, before they were permitted to vote. As a result of these laws, African-American voting in the South was kept at extremely low levels from 1890 to 1965, despite the Fifteenth Amendment. ( Continue reading from National Constitution Center )

In modern constitutional law, the Fifteenth Amendment plays a minor role. The reason is that other, broader sources of law have emerged to protect the right to vote. In the 1960s, the Supreme Court concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the right to vote as a general matter, while the Fifteenth Amendment is more limited to protecting against only race-based denials of the right to vote. In addition, federal statutes, such as the VRA and others, now exist to protect the right to vote as well. When cases involving issues of race and the vote are brought today, they will typically be brought simultaneously under the Fifteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the VRA.

If a law explicitly imposes different rules by race for access to the ballot, there is little doubt the courts today would hold such a law to violate the Fifteenth Amendment. The one case like this in recent decades came from Hawaii, where a law permitted only Native Hawaiians, not all Hawaiians, to vote for certain officials. The Supreme Court concluded that a law limiting who could vote based on their ancestry was equivalent to a law that limited the vote based on race and that Hawaii&rsquos law therefore violated the Fifteenth Amendment. Rice v. Cayetano (2000). But if a voting law does not impose different rules by race, and is challenged as nonetheless racially discriminatory, the Court has concluded that the challenger must show that the law is based on a racially-discriminatory purpose before the Fifteenth Amendment is violated. Mobile v. Bolden (1980). (Continue reading from National Constitution Center)


Literacy Tests.

At an early date the Court held that literacy tests that are drafted so as to apply alike to all applicants for the voting franchise would be deemed to be fair on their face and in the absence of proof of discriminatory enforcement could not be said to deny equal protection .Voter qualifications19 But an Alabama constitutional amendment, the legislative history of which disclosed that both its object and its intended administration were to disenfranchise African-Americans, was held to violate the Fifteenth Amendment.20


March 30, 1870: Fifteenth Amendment

On March 30, 1870, the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution was formally adopted. It had been ratified on February 3, 1870 as the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments. On March 30, Secretary of State Hamilton Fish proclaimed the 15th Amendment to be officially part of the U.S. Constitution. Historian Stephen West explains, “That was considered necessary because of questions about its status amidst the messy and irregular politics of Reconstruction.”

The 15th Amendment is described in Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution,

In 1870, two years after the 14th Amendment was ratified, Congress and the states responded to another round of racial violence in the South by providing additional constitutional protection for the Black electorate. The 15th Amendment declared that the right of U.S. citizens to vote could “not be abridged or denied” by any state” on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The 14th and 15th Amendments — sporadically enforced until 1876 (the end of Reconstruction), then rarely enforced until 1954 (the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision by the Supreme Court) — provided the legal foundation for the civil rights movement of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. They are part of the enduring constitutional legacy of Reconstruction.

On March 31, Thomas Mundy Peterson became the first African-American to participate in an election in a state where African Americans had not been allowed to vote before the 15th Amendment. He participated in a local election in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. He later held political office and sat on a jury.

Decades later, the school where Peterson had worked as a custodian was renamed after him. This is just one of many stories from the Reconstruction Era that are missing from most textbooks. Note that,

On a per capita and absolute basis, more African Americans were elected to public office during the period from 1865 to 1880 than at any other time in U.S. history. These legislatures brought in programs of public benefit such as universal public education.

Over time, the amendment would be narrowly interpreted, allowing states to implement restrictions such as poll taxes and literacy tests that did not mention race by name, but effectively prevented most African Americans from voting.

Related Resources

Who Gets to Vote? Teaching About the Struggle for Voting Rights in the United States

Teaching Activity. By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca. 2020.
Unit with three lessons on voting rights, including the history of the struggle against voter suppression in the United States.

Reconstructing the South: A Role Play

Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow. 17 pages.
This role play engages students in thinking about what freedpeople needed in order to achieve—and sustain—real freedom following the Civil War. It’s followed by a chapter from the book Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution.

When Black Lives Mattered: Why Teach Reconstruction

Article. By Adam Sanchez. If We Knew Our History series.

Reconstruction, the era immediately following the Civil War and emancipation, is full of stories that help us see the possibility of a future defined by racial equity. Though often overlooked in classrooms across the country, Reconstruction was a period where the impossible suddenly became possible.

The Voting Rights Act: Ten Things You Should Know

With the 2016 presidential election in the news, we share this article by Emilye Crosby and Judy Richardson, “The Voting Rights Act: Ten Things You Should Know.” Crosby and Richardson discuss key points in the history of the 1965 Voting Rights Act missing from most textbooks. We also share a segment from Democracy Now! on voting rights today.

Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution: Teaching a People’s History of Reconstruction

Background Reading for Teachers. By Bill Bigelow. 4 pages.
A review of Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution, a collection of primary documents for high school on the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Black Reconstruction in America

Book – Non-fiction. By W. E. B. Du Bois. Introduction by David Levering Lewis. 2014. 623 pages.
Originally published in 1935, Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction was the first book to challenge the prevailing racist historical narrative of the era and in sharp, incisive prose, tell the story of the Civil War and Reconstruction from the perspective of African Americans.

Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All

Book — Non-fiction. By Martha S. Jones. 2020. 352 pp.
This book excavates the lives and work of Black women from the earliest days of the republic to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and beyond.


Watch the video: How to Remember The 27 Amendments (August 2022).