The Constitution of the United States – Part 14

The United States Constitution – Part 14

The Fifteenth Amendment

Section 1.  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.
 Section 1.  The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
 The Fifteenth Amendment is the third of the Reconstruction Amendments.   Set free by the 13th Amendment, with citizenship guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, black males were given the vote with the 15th Amendment.   (    Some in Congress wanted to add a gender clause in this Amendment to appease the women’s suffrage movement, but that didn’t make the cut, so this Amendment only included black males – but offered no protection to them either.
 This one was a tough sell to the states when presented for ratification.   The Southern states vehemently opposed it and signed on only as a precondition for once again having Congressional representation after they seceded during the Civil War, and California and Oregon both opposed the measure out of fear of Chinese immigrants getting the vote.   It was finally ratified on March 30, 1870.
 Even after the ratification of the 15th amendment, there continued to be barriers to black voters.   By the 1890s, many Southern states had strict voter eligibility laws, including literacy tests and poll taxes.  For instance, African Americans were turned away from voting on grounds of illiteracy or through discriminatory administration of literacy tests, while illiterate whites were permitted to register to vote without taking the literacy test.  Some states even made it difficult to find a place to register to vote.  Anothr tactic was using grandfather clauses, which allowed voters – and any descendents – registered before the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to skip the illiteracy tests.  It would not be until the adoption of the 24th Amendment in 1962, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the US Supreme Court’s decision in Harper vs VA Board of Elections in 1966, that these measures were prohibited in all elections.  (

“Despite the efforts of groups like the Ku Klux Klan to intimi-date black voters and white Republicans, assurance of federal support for democratically elected southern governments meant that most Republican voters could both vote and rule in confidence.   President Ulysses S. Grant had to send in federal troops to restore order at one point.

However, in order to appease the South after his close
Rutherford B.Hayes agreed to withdraw federal
troops.  He also
chose to overlook the rampant fraud and
electoral violence in the
Deep South, despite several attempts  by Republicans to pass laws protecting the rights of black
voters and to punish intimidation.  

Without those restrictions, voting-place violence against blacks and Republicans increased, including murder.   Most of this was done with no intervention by, and often with the support of, law enforcement.”  (

(These days, we have the New Black Panther Party trying to intimidate white Republican voters!  Ya can’t make this stuff up, folks . . .)

Interestingly, on a per capita and absolute basis, more blacks were elected to public office during the period from 1865 to 1880 than at any other time in American history!   Strong African American caucuses created legislatures that brought in new programs such as universal public education.
 So while the 15th Amendment was a noble idea whose time had come, it was almost 100 years before its promise was fully realized

"Peace is that brief glorious moment in history when everybody stands around reloading" ~ Thomas Jefferson