The United States Constitution – Part 22
24th Amendment – Getting Rid of the Poll Tax
The poll tax was part of a series of laws that prevented black and poor Americans from voting without violating the tenets of the Fifteenth Amendment stating that voting cannot be limited by “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” It was a method of keeping the poor whites and blacks from participating in the voting process, pure and simple. The whole system was largely ignored by the Feds until the Supreme Court received the case through state-level initiatives.
Unbelievably, the Supreme Court upheld the tactic in Breedlove v. Suttles ruling that “the privilege of voting is not derived from the United States, but is conferred by the state, and the individual states may condition suffrage as each deems fit”.
Passage of poll taxes began in earnest in the 1890s, when no Federal troops remained to enforce black voting rights after the end of Reconstruction in 1877. It remained one of the few “legitimate” methods of restricting voting rights until the 1940’s. Part of the resistance of the Southern states to repeal the practice stemmed from their not wanting to set a precedent giving the Federal government the ability to interfere in elections.
The law finally passed under the wing of President John F. Kennedy during his Civil Rights drive, and the Supreme Court voted that poll taxes were unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. The 24th Amendment was ratified rapidly through the states and became the law of the land in 1964.
25th Amendment – Presidential Disability (1967)
Passed by Congress July 6, 1965. Ratified February 10, 1967. Replaced part of Article II, section 1 of the Constitution, originally written in 1783.
This Amendment was an effort to clean up some of the continuing issues regarding the office of the President and what the succession order would be if the President were no longer sitting in that chair. Eight times in our history, the Vice President has assumed the responsibilities of the office of the President. Even with this process established, for some 20% of US history there had been no Vice President to step up, so this Amendment was to address those issues.
Another interesting dilemma to consider was what happens if the President is removed for a while but then has recovered his ability to hold his elected office (i.e. President Garfield was in a coma for 80 days before finally dying from an assassin’s bullet; Wilson was an invalid resulting from a stroke for the last 18 months of his term). But what would the process be if the President recovered?
The 25th Amendment was ratified in February, 1967 to cover all the possibilities, and yet in the 1970’s – for the first time in our history – we saw the accession to the Presidency AND Vice-Presidency of two men who had not faced the voters in a national election!
First, Vice-President Spiro Agnew resigned amidst scandal, so President Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to succeed him. Then, President Richard Nixon resigned and the new Vice-President Ford stepped up to fill his shoes, selecting Nelson Rockefeller to be Vice-President. So it is conceivable that someone We, the People never elected could end up as President and Vice-President of our United States of America!
References: US Constitution, http://totallyhistory.com, www.FindLaw.com, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_amendments, www.thefreeresource.com/summary-and-meaning-of-the-24th-amendment-for-kids