Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
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The Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV) to the
United States Constitution The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It superseded the Articles of Confederation, the nation's first constitution, in 1789. Originally comprising seven articles, it delineates the nat ...
prohibits the federal government and each state from denying or abridging a citizen's
right to vote Suffrage, political franchise, or simply franchise, is the right to vote in representative democracy, public, political elections and referendums (although the term is sometimes used for any right to vote). In some languages, and occasionally i ...
"on account of race,
color Color (American English) or colour (British English) is the visual perception, visual perceptual Physical property, property deriving from the spectrum of light interacting with the photoreceptor cells of the eyes. Color categories and physica ...
, or previous condition of servitude." It was ratified on February 3, 1870, as the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments. In the final years of the
American Civil War The American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 26, 1865; also known by Names of the American Civil War, other names) was a civil war in the United States. It was fought between the Union (American Civil War), Union ("the North") and t ...
and the
Reconstruction Era The Reconstruction era was a period in History of the United States, American history following the American Civil War (1861–1865) and lasting until approximately the Compromise of 1877. During Reconstruction, attempts were made to rebui ...
that followed, Congress repeatedly debated the rights of the millions of black
freedmen A freedman or freedwoman is a formerly enslaved person who has been released from slavery, usually by legal means. Historically, enslaved people were freed by manumission (granted freedom by their captor-owners), abolitionism, emancipation (gra ...
. 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, Republicans proposed a compromise amendment which would ban franchise restrictions on the basis of race, color, or previous servitude. After surviving a difficult ratification fight and opposition from Democrats, the amendment was certified as duly ratified and part of the Constitution on March 30, 1870. According to the
Library of Congress The Library of Congress (LOC) is the research library A library is a collection of materials, books or media that are accessible for use and not just for display purposes. A library provides physical (hard copies) or digital access (so ...
, in the House of Representatives 144 Republicans voted to approve the 15th Amendment, with zero Democrats in favor, 39 no votes, and seven abstentions. In the Senate, 33 Republicans voted to approve, again with zero Democrats in favor.
United States Supreme Court The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all U.S. federal court cases, and over state court cases that involve a point ...
decisions in the late nineteenth century interpreted the amendment narrowly. From 1890 to 1910, the Democratic Party in the
Southern United States The Southern United States (sometimes Dixie, also referred to as the Southern States, the American South, the Southland, or simply the South) is a geographic and cultural List of regions of the United States#Official regions of the United Stat ...
adopted new state constitutions and enacted "Jim Crow" laws that raised barriers to voter registration. This resulted in most black voters and many Poor Whites being
disenfranchised Disfranchisement, also called disenfranchisement, or voter disqualification is the restriction of suffrage (the right to vote) of a person or group of people, or a practice that has the effect of preventing a person exercising the right to vote. D ...
by
poll taxes A poll tax, also known as head tax or capitation, is a tax levied as a fixed sum on every liable individual (typically every adult), without reference to income or resources. Head taxes were important sources of revenue for many governments fr ...
and discriminatory literacy tests, among other barriers to voting, from which white male voters were exempted by
grandfather clause A grandfather clause, also known as grandfather policy, grandfathering, or grandfathered in, is a provision in which an old rule continues to apply to some existing situations while a new rule will apply to all future cases. Those exempt from t ...
s. A system of white primaries and violent intimidation by Democrats through the
Ku Klux Klan The Ku Klux Klan (), commonly shortened to the KKK or the Klan, is an American white supremacist, Right-wing terrorism, right-wing terrorist, and hate group whose primary targets are African Americans, Jews, Hispanic and Latino Americans, L ...
(KKK) 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 created by the Democratic party 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 The suffrage, Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of Federal government of the United States, federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. It was signed into law by President of the United ...
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).


Text


Background

In the final years of the
American Civil War The American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 26, 1865; also known by Names of the American Civil War, other names) was a civil war in the United States. It was fought between the Union (American Civil War), Union ("the North") and t ...
and the
Reconstruction Era The Reconstruction era was a period in History of the United States, American history following the American Civil War (1861–1865) and lasting until approximately the Compromise of 1877. During Reconstruction, attempts were made to rebui ...
that followed, Congress repeatedly debated the rights of black former slaves freed by the 1863
Emancipation Proclamation The Emancipation Proclamation, officially Proclamation 95, was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by United States President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, during the American Civil War, Civil War. The Proclamation c ...
and the 1865 Thirteenth Amendment, the latter of which had formally abolished slavery. Following the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment by Congress, however, Republicans grew concerned over the increase it would create in the congressional representation of the Democratic-dominated Southern states. Because the full population of freed slaves would be now counted rather than the three-fifths mandated by the previous Three-Fifths Compromise, the Southern states would dramatically increase their power in the population-based
House of Representatives House of Representatives is the name of legislative bodies in many countries and sub-national entitles. In many countries, the House of Representatives is the lower house of a bicameral Bicameralism is a type of legislature, one divided ...
. Republicans hoped to offset this advantage by attracting and protecting votes of the newly enfranchised black population. In 1865, Congress passed what would become the
Civil Rights Act of 1866 The Civil Rights Act of 1866 (, enacted April 9, 1866, reenacted 1870) was the first United States federal law to define citizenship and affirm that all citizens are equally protected by the law. It was mainly intended, in the wake of the Amer ...
, guaranteeing citizenship without regard to race, color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude. The bill also guaranteed equal benefits and access to the law, a direct assault on the Black Codes passed by many post-war Southern states. The Black Codes attempted to return ex-slaves to something like their former condition by, among other things, restricting their movement, forcing them to enter into year-long labor contracts, prohibiting them from owning firearms, and by preventing them from suing or testifying in court. Although strongly urged by moderates in Congress to sign the bill, President Johnson vetoed it on March 27, 1866. In his veto message, he objected to the measure because it conferred citizenship on the freedmen at a time when 11 out of 36 states were unrepresented in the Congress, and that it discriminated in favor of African Americans and against whites. Three weeks later, Johnson's veto was overridden and the measure became law. Despite this victory, even some Republicans who had supported the goals of the Civil Rights Act began to doubt that Congress possessed the constitutional power to turn those goals into laws. The experience encouraged both radical and moderate Republicans to seek Constitutional guarantees for black rights, rather than relying on temporary political majorities. On June 18, 1866, Congress adopted the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship and equal protection under the laws regardless of race, and sent it to the states for ratification. After a bitter struggle that included attempted rescissions of ratification by two states, the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted on July 28, 1868. Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment punished, by reduced representation in the House of Representatives, any state that disenfranchised any male citizens over 21 years of age. By failing to adopt a harsher penalty, this signaled to the states that they still possessed the right to deny ballot access based on race. Northern states were generally as averse to granting voting rights to blacks as Southern states. In the year of its ratification, only eight Northern states allowed blacks to vote. In the South, blacks were able to vote in many areas, but only through the intervention of the occupying
Union Army During the American Civil War, the Union Army, also known as the Federal Army and the Northern Army, referring to the United States Army, was the land force that fought to preserve the Union (American Civil War), Union of the collective U.S. st ...
. Before Congress had granted suffrage to blacks in the territories by passing the Territorial Suffrage Act on January 10, 1867 (Source: Congressional Globe, 39th Congress, 2nd Session, pp. 381-82), blacks were granted the right to vote in the
District of Columbia ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall, United States Capitol, Logan Circle (Washington, D.C.), Logan Circle, Jefferson Memoria ...
on January 8, 1867.


Proposal and ratification


Proposal

Anticipating an increase in Democratic membership in the following Congress, Republicans used the lame-duck session of the 40th United States Congress to pass an amendment protecting black suffrage. Representative John Bingham, the primary author of the Fourteenth Amendment, pushed for a wide-ranging ban on suffrage limitations, but a broader proposal banning voter restriction on the basis of "race, color, nativity, property, education, or religious beliefs" was rejected. A proposal to specifically ban literacy tests was also rejected. Some Representatives from the North, where nativism was a major force, wished to preserve restrictions denying the franchise to foreign-born citizens, as did Representatives from the West, where ethnic Chinese people were banned from voting. Both Southern and Northern Republicans also wanted to continue to deny the vote temporarily to Southerners disenfranchised for support of the Confederacy, and they were concerned that a sweeping endorsement of suffrage would enfranchise this group. A House and Senate conference committee proposed the amendment's final text, which banned voter restriction only on the basis of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." To attract the broadest possible base of support, the amendment made no mention of
poll taxes A poll tax, also known as head tax or capitation, is a tax levied as a fixed sum on every liable individual (typically every adult), without reference to income or resources. Head taxes were important sources of revenue for many governments fr ...
or other measures to block voting, and did not guarantee the right of blacks to hold office. Preliminary drafts did include officeholding language, but scholars disagree as to the reason for this change. This compromised proposal was approved by the House on February 25, 1869, and the Senate the following day. 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 3Republicans voting against it, some because they thought the amendment did not go far enough in its protections. The House of Representatives passed the amendment, with 143 Republicans and oneConservative Republican voting "Yea" and 39 Democrats, three Republicans, oneIndependent Republican and oneConservative voting "No"; 26 Republicans, eightDemocrats, and oneIndependent Republican did not vote. The final vote in the Senate was 39 to 13, with 14 not voting. The Senate passed the amendment, with 39 Republicans voting "Yea" and eightDemocrats and five Republicans voting "Nay"; 13 Republicans and oneDemocrat did not vote. Some Radical Republicans, such as Massachusetts Senator
Charles Sumner Charles Sumner (January 6, 1811March 11, 1874) was an American statesman and United States Senator from Massachusetts. As an academic lawyer and a powerful orator, Sumner was the leader of the anti-slavery forces in the state and a leader of th ...
, abstained from voting because the amendment did not prohibit literacy tests and poll taxes. Following congressional approval, the proposed amendment was then sent by Secretary of State William Henry Seward to the states for ratification or rejection.


Ratification

Though many of the original proposals for the amendment had been moderated by negotiations in committee, the final draft nonetheless faced significant hurdles in being ratified by three-fourths of the states. Historian William Gillette wrote of the process, "it was hard going and the outcome was uncertain until the very end." One source of opposition to the proposed amendment was the
women's suffrage Women's suffrage is the women's rights, right of women to Suffrage, vote in elections. Beginning in the start of the 18th century, some people sought to change voting laws to allow women to vote. Liberal political parties would go on to gran ...
movement, which before and during the Civil War had made common cause with the
abolitionist Abolitionism, or the abolitionist movement, is the movement to end slavery Slavery and enslavement are both the state and the condition of being a slave—someone forbidden to quit one's service for an enslaver, and who is trea ...
movement. State constitutions often connected race and sex by limiting suffrage to "white male citizens." However, with the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, which had explicitly protected only male citizens in its second section, activists found the civil rights of women divorced from those of blacks. Matters came to a head with the proposal of the Fifteenth Amendment, which barred race discrimination but not sex discrimination in voter laws. One of Congress's most explicit discussions regarding the link between suffrage and officeholding occurred during discussions about the Fifteenth Amendment. Initially, both houses passed a version of the amendment that included language referring to officeholding but ultimately the language was omitted. During this time, women continued to advocate for their own rights, holding conventions and passing resolutions demanding the right to vote and hold office. Some preliminary versions of the amendment even included women. However, the final version omitted references to sex, further splintering the women's suffrage movement. After an acrimonious debate, the
American Equal Rights Association The American Equal Rights Association (AERA) was formed in 1866 in the United States. According to its constitution, its purpose was "to secure Equal Rights to all American citizens, especially the right of suffrage, irrespective of race, color o ...
, the nation's leading suffragist group, split into two rival organizations: the
National Woman Suffrage Association The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was formed on May 15, 1869, to work for women's suffrage in the United States. Its main leaders were Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It was created after the women's rights movement spl ...
of Susan B. Anthony and
Elizabeth Cady Stanton Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) was an American writer and activist who was a leader of the women's rights movement in the U.S. during the mid- to late-19th century. She was the main force behind the 1848 Seneca ...
, who opposed the amendment, and the American Woman Suffrage Association of
Lucy Stone Lucy Stone (August 13, 1818 – October 18, 1893) was an American orator, Abolitionism in the United States, abolitionist and Suffrage, suffragist who was a vocal advocate for and organizer promoting Women's rights, rights for women. In 1847, Sto ...
and
Henry Browne Blackwell Henry Browne Blackwell (May 4, 1825 – September 7, 1909), was an American advocate for social and economic reform. He was one of the founders of the Republican Party (United States), Republican Party and the American Woman Suffrage Associat ...
, who supported it. The two groups remained divided until the 1890s. Nevada was the first state to ratify the amendment, on March 1, 1869. The New England states and most Midwest states also ratified the amendment soon after its proposal. Southern states still controlled by Radical reconstruction governments, such as North Carolina, also swiftly ratified. Newly elected President Ulysses S. Grant strongly endorsed the amendment, calling it "a measure of grander importance than any other one act of the kind from the foundation of our free government to the present day." He privately asked Nebraska's governor to call a special legislative session to speed the process, securing the state's ratification. In April and December 1869, Congress passed Reconstruction bills mandating that Virginia, Mississippi, Texas and Georgia ratify the amendment as a precondition to regaining congressional representation; all four states did so. The struggle for ratification was particularly close in Indiana and Ohio, which voted to ratify in May 1869 and January 1870, respectively. New York, which had ratified on April 14, 1869, tried to revoke its ratification on January 5, 1870. However, in February 1870, Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, and Texas ratified the amendment, bringing the total ratifying states to twenty-nine—one more than the required twenty-eight ratifications from the thirty-seven states, and forestalling any court challenge to New York's resolution to withdraw its consent. The first twenty-eight states to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment were: #
Nevada Nevada ( ; ) is a U.S. state, state in the Western United States, Western region of the United States. It is bordered by Oregon to the northwest, Idaho to the northeast, California to the west, Arizona to the southeast, and Utah to the east. N ...
: March 1, 1869 #
West Virginia West Virginia is a U.S. state, state in the Appalachian Mountains, Appalachian, Mid-Atlantic (United States), Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States, Southeastern regions of the United States.The United States Census Bureau, Census Burea ...
: March 3, 1869 #
North Carolina North Carolina () is a U.S. state, state in the Southeastern United States, Southeastern region of the United States. The state is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 28th largest and List of states and territories of the United ...
: March 5, 1869 #
Illinois Illinois ( ) is a state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. Its largest metropolitan areas include the Chicago metropolitan area, and the Metro East section, of Greater St. Louis. Other smaller metropolitan areas inc ...
: March 5, 1869 #
Louisiana Louisiana , group=pronunciation (French: ''La Louisiane'') is a U.S. state, state in the Deep South and South Central United States, South Central regions of the United States. It is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 20th-smal ...
: March 5, 1869 #
Michigan Michigan () is a U.S. state, state in the Great Lakes region, Great Lakes region of the Upper Midwest, upper Midwestern United States. With a population of nearly 10.12 million and an area of nearly , Michigan is the List of U.S. states and ...
: March 8, 1869 #
Wisconsin Wisconsin () is a U.S. state, state in the Upper Midwest, upper Midwestern United States. Wisconsin is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 25th-largest state by total area and the List of U.S. states and territories by populatio ...
: March 9, 1869 #
Maine Maine () is a U.S. state, state in the New England and Northeastern United States, Northeastern regions of the United States. It borders New Hampshire to the west, the Gulf of Maine to the southeast, and the Provinces and territories of Canad ...
: March 11, 1869 #
Massachusetts Massachusetts (Massachusett language, Massachusett: ''Muhsachuweesut assachusett writing systems, məhswatʃəwiːsət'' English: , ), officially the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is the most populous U.S. state, state in the New England ...
: March 12, 1869 #
Arkansas Arkansas ( ) is a landlocked U.S. state, state in the South Central United States. It is bordered by Missouri to the north, Tennessee and Mississippi to the east, Louisiana to the south, and Texas and Oklahoma to the west. Its name is from ...
: March 15, 1869 #
South Carolina )''Animis opibusque parati'' ( for, , Latin, Prepared in mind and resources, links=no) , anthem = "Carolina (state song), Carolina";"South Carolina On My Mind" , Former = Province of South Carolina , seat = Columbia, South Carolina, Columbia , ...
: March 15, 1869 #
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania (; (Pennsylvania Dutch language, Pennsylvania Dutch: )), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a U.S. state, state spanning the Mid-Atlantic (United States), Mid-Atlantic, Northeastern United States, Northeastern, Appa ...
: March 25, 1869 # New York: April 14, 1869 (Rescinded ratification: January 5, 1870; re-ratified: March 30, 1870) #
Indiana Indiana () is a U.S. state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. It is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 38th-largest by area and the List of U.S. states and territories by population, 17th-most populous o ...
: May 14, 1869 #
Connecticut Connecticut () is the southernmost state in the New England region of the Northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, New York (state), New York to the west, and Long Island Sound to the ...
: May 19, 1869 #
Florida Florida is a U.S. state, state located in the Southeastern United States, Southeastern region of the United States. Florida is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the northwest by Alabama, to the north by Georgia (U.S. state), Geo ...
: June 14, 1869 #
New Hampshire New Hampshire is a U.S. state, state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Massachusetts to the south, Vermont to the west, Maine and the Gulf of Maine to the east, and the Canadian province of Quebec t ...
: July 1, 1869 #
Virginia Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a U.S. state, state in the Mid-Atlantic (United States), Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States, Southeastern regions of the United States, between the East Coast of the United Stat ...
: October 8, 1869 #
Vermont Vermont () is a U.S. state, state in the northeast New England region of the United States. Vermont is bordered by the states of Massachusetts to the south, New Hampshire to the east, and New York (state), New York to the west, and the Provin ...
: October 20, 1869 #
Alabama (We dare defend our rights) , anthem = " Alabama" , image_map = Alabama in United States.svg , seat = Montgomery , LargestCity = Huntsville , LargestCounty = Baldwin County , LargestMetro = Greater Birmingham , area_total_km2 = 135,7 ...
: November 16, 1869 #
Missouri Missouri is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States. Ranking List of U.S. states and territories by area, 21st in land area, it is bordered by eight states (tied for the most with Tennessee ...
: January 10, 1870 #
Minnesota Minnesota () is a state in the upper midwestern region of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primaril ...
: January 13, 1870 #
Mississippi Mississippi () is a U.S. state, state in the Southeastern United States, Southeastern region of the United States, bordered to the north by Tennessee; to the east by Alabama; to the south by the Gulf of Mexico; to the southwest by Louisiana; a ...
: January 17, 1870 #
Rhode Island Rhode Island (, like ''road'') is a U.S. state, state in the New England region of the Northeastern United States. It is the List of U.S. states by area, smallest U.S. state by area and the List of states and territories of the United States ...
: January 18, 1870 #
Kansas Kansas () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. Its Capital city, capital is Topeka, Kansas, Topeka, and its largest city is Wichita, Kansas, Wichita. Kansas is a landlocked state bordered by Nebras ...
: January 19, 1870 #
Ohio Ohio () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States. Of the List of states and territories of the United States, fifty U.S. states, it is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 34th-l ...
: January 27, 1870 (After rejection: April 1/30, 1869) # Georgia: February 2, 1870 #
Iowa Iowa () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States, bordered by the Mississippi River to the east and the Missouri River and Big Sioux River to the west. It is bordered by six states: Wiscon ...
: February 3, 1870 Secretary of State
Hamilton Fish Hamilton Fish (August 3, 1808September 7, 1893) was an American politician who served as the List of Governors of New York, 16th Governor of New York from 1849 to 1850, a United States Senate, United States Senator from New York (state), New Y ...
certified the amendment on March 30, 1870, also including the ratifications of: The remaining seven states all subsequently ratified the amendment: The amendment's adoption was met with widespread celebrations in black communities and abolitionist societies; many of the latter disbanded, feeling that black rights had been secured and their work was complete. President Grant said of the amendment that it "completes the greatest civil change and constitutes the most important event that has occurred since the nation came to life." Many Republicans felt that with the amendment's passage, black Americans no longer needed federal protection; congressman and future president James A. Garfield stated that the amendment's passage "confers upon the African race the care of its own destiny. It places their fortunes in their own hands." Congressman John R. Lynch later wrote that ratification of those two amendments made Reconstruction a success.


Application

In the year of the 150th anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment Columbia University history professor and historian
Eric Foner Eric Foner (; born February 7, 1943) is an American historian. He writes extensively on History of the United States, American political history, the history of freedom, the early History of the United States Republican Party, history of the Rep ...
said about the Fifteenth Amendment as well as its history during the
Reconstruction era The Reconstruction era was a period in History of the United States, American history following the American Civil War (1861–1865) and lasting until approximately the Compromise of 1877. During Reconstruction, attempts were made to rebui ...
and Post-Reconstruction era:


Reconstruction

African Americans called the amendment the nation's " second birth" and a " greater revolution than that of 1776" according to historian Eric Foner in his book ''The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution''. The first black person known to vote after the amendment's adoption was Thomas Mundy Peterson, who cast his ballot on March 31, 1870, in a
Perth Amboy, New Jersey Perth Amboy is a city (New Jersey), city in Middlesex County, New Jersey, Middlesex County, New Jersey. Perth Amboy is part of the New York metropolitan area. As of the 2020 United States census, 2020 U.S. census, the city's population was 55,4 ...
referendum election adopting a revised city charter. African Americans—many of them newly freed slaves—put their newfound freedom to use, voting in scores of black candidates. During Reconstruction, 16 black men served in Congress and 2,000 black men served in elected local, state and federal positions. In '' United States v. Reese'' (1876), the first U.S. Supreme Court decision interpreting the Fifteenth Amendment, the Court interpreted the amendment narrowly, upholding ostensibly race-neutral limitations on suffrage including
poll taxes A poll tax, also known as head tax or capitation, is a tax levied as a fixed sum on every liable individual (typically every adult), without reference to income or resources. Head taxes were important sources of revenue for many governments fr ...
, literacy tests, and a
grandfather clause A grandfather clause, also known as grandfather policy, grandfathering, or grandfathered in, is a provision in which an old rule continues to apply to some existing situations while a new rule will apply to all future cases. Those exempt from t ...
that exempted citizens from other voting requirements if their grandfathers had been registered voters. The Court also stated that the amendment does not confer the right of suffrage, but it invests citizens of the United States with the right of exemption from discrimination in the exercise of the elective franchise on account of their race, color, or previous condition of servitude, and empowers Congress to enforce that right by "appropriate legislation".See ' The Court wrote: White supremacists, such as the
Ku Klux Klan The Ku Klux Klan (), commonly shortened to the KKK or the Klan, is an American white supremacist, Right-wing terrorism, right-wing terrorist, and hate group whose primary targets are African Americans, Jews, Hispanic and Latino Americans, L ...
(KKK), used
paramilitary A paramilitary is an organization whose structure, tactics, training, subculture, and (often) function are similar to those of a professional military, but is not part of a country's official or legitimate armed forces. Paramilitary units carr ...
violence to prevent blacks from voting. A number of blacks were killed at the Colfax massacre of 1873 while attempting to defend their right to vote. The
Enforcement Acts The Enforcement Acts were three bills that were passed by the United States Congress between 1870 and 1871. They were criminal codes that protected African Americans’ right to vote, to hold office, to serve on juries, and receive Equal Protecti ...
were passed by Congress in 1870–1871 to authorize federal prosecution of the KKK and others who violated the amendment. However, as Reconstruction neared its end and federal troops withdrew, prosecutions under the Enforcement Acts dropped significantly. In '' United States v. Cruikshank'' (1876), the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government did not have the authority to prosecute the perpetrators of the Colfax massacre because they were not
state actor In United States constitutional law, a state actor is a person who is acting on behalf of a governmental body, and is therefore subject to limitations imposed on government by the United States Constitution The Constitution of the United ...
s. Congress further weakened the acts in 1894 by removing a provision against conspiracy. In 1877, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was elected president after a highly contested election, receiving support from three Southern states in exchange for a pledge to allow white Democratic governments to rule without federal interference. As president, he refused to enforce federal civil rights protections, allowing states to begin to implement racially discriminatory
Jim Crow laws The Jim Crow laws were U.S. state, state and local laws enforcing Racial segregation in the United States, racial segregation in the Southern United States. Other areas of the United States were affected by formal and informal policies of ...
. A Federal Elections Bill (the ''Lodge Bill'' of 1890) was successfully filibustered in the Senate.


Post-Reconstruction

From 1890 to 1910, poll taxes and literacy tests were instituted across the South, effectively disenfranchising the great majority of black men. White male-only primary elections also served to reduce the influence of black men in the political system. Along with increasing legal obstacles, blacks were excluded from the political system by threats of violent reprisals by whites in the form of lynch mobs and terrorist attacks by the Ku Klux Klan. Some Democrats even advocated a repeal of the amendment, such as William Bourke Cockran of New York. In the 20th century, the Court began to read the Fifteenth Amendment more broadly. In '' Guinn v. United States'' (1915), a unanimous Court struck down an Oklahoma grandfather clause that effectively exempted white voters from a literacy test, finding it to be discriminatory. The Court ruled in the related case '' Myers v. Anderson'' (1915), that the officials who enforced such a clause were liable for civil damages. The Court addressed the white primary system in a series of decisions later known as the "Texas primary cases". In '' Nixon v. Herndon'' (1927), Dr. Lawrence A. Nixon sued for damages under federal civil rights laws after being denied a ballot in a Democratic party primary election on the basis of race. The Court found in his favor on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law, while not discussing his Fifteenth Amendment claim. After Texas amended its statute to allow the political party's state executive committee to set voting qualifications, Nixon sued again; in '' Nixon v. Condon'' (1932), the Court again found in his favor on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment. Following ''Nixon'', the Democratic Party's state convention instituted a rule that only whites could vote in its primary elections; the Court unanimously upheld this rule as constitutional in '' Grovey v. Townsend'' (1935), distinguishing the discrimination by a private organization from that of the state in the previous primary cases. However, in '' United States v. Classic'' (1941), the Court ruled that primary elections were an essential part of the electoral process, undermining the reasoning in ''Grovey''. Based on ''Classic'', the Court in '' Smith v. Allwright'' (1944), overruled ''Grovey'', ruling that denying non-white voters a ballot in primary elections was a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. In the last of the Texas primary cases, '' Terry v. Adams'' (1953), the Court ruled that black plaintiffs were entitled to damages from a group that organized whites-only pre-primary elections with the assistance of Democratic party officials. The Court also used the amendment to strike down a gerrymander in '' Gomillion v. Lightfoot'' (1960). The decision found that the redrawing of city limits by
Tuskegee, Alabama Tuskegee () is a city in Macon County, Alabama, Macon County, Alabama, United States. It was founded and laid out in 1833 by General Thomas Simpson Woodward, a Creek War veteran under Andrew Jackson, and made the county seat that year. It was i ...
officials to exclude the mostly black area around the
Tuskegee Institute Tuskegee University (Tuskegee or TU), formerly known as the Tuskegee Institute, is a private, historically black land-grant university A land-grant university (also called land-grant college or land-grant institution) is an institution of ...
discriminated on the basis of race. The Court later relied on this decision in '' Rice v. Cayetano'' (2000), which struck down ancestry-based voting in elections for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs; the ruling held that the elections violated the Fifteenth Amendment by using "ancestry as a racial definition and for a racial purpose". After judicial enforcement of the Fifteenth Amendment ended grandfather clauses, white primaries, and other discriminatory tactics, Southern black voter registration gradually increased, rising from five percent in 1940 to twenty-eight percent in 1960. Although the Fifteenth Amendment was never interpreted to prohibit poll taxes, in 1962 the Twenty-fourth Amendment was adopted banning poll taxes in federal elections, and in 1966 the Supreme Court ruled in '' Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections'' (1966) that state poll taxes violate the Fourteenth Amendment's
Equal Protection Clause The Equal Protection Clause is part of the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The clause, which took effect in 1868, provides "''nor shall any State ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal ...
. Congress used its authority pursuant to Section2 of the Fifteenth Amendment to pass the
Voting Rights Act of 1965 The suffrage, Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of Federal government of the United States, federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. It was signed into law by President of the United ...
, achieving further racial equality in voting. Sections 4 and5 of the Voting Rights Act required states and local governments with histories of racial discrimination in voting to submit all changes to their voting laws or practices to the federal government for approval before they could take effect, a process called "preclearance". By 1976, sixty-three percent of Southern blacks were registered to vote, a figure only five percent less than that for Southern whites. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Sections 4 and5 in ''South Carolina v. Katzenbach'' (1966). However, in ''Shelby County v. Holder'' (2013), the Supreme Court ruled that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which established the coverage formula that determined which jurisdictions were subject to preclearance, was no longer constitutional and exceeded Congress's enforcement authority under Section2 of the Fifteenth Amendment. The Court declared that the Fifteenth Amendment "commands that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race or color, and it gives Congress the power to enforce that command. The Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future." According to the Court, "Regardless of how to look at the record no one can fairly say that it shows anything approaching the 'pervasive', 'flagrant', 'widespread', and 'rampant' discrimination that faced Congress in 1965, and that clearly distinguished the covered jurisdictions from the rest of the nation." In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, "Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet." While the preclearance provision itself was not struck down, it will continue to be inoperable unless Congress passes a new coverage formula.


See also

* Ballot access * Black suffrage#United States, Black suffrage * Forty acres and a mule * Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1920, women's right to vote) * Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1971, minimum voting age must be 18 or younger) * Voting rights in the United States


References


Notes


Citations


Bibliography

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External links


Fifteenth Amendment and related resources at the Library of Congress



"Campaign to Commemorate 150th Anniversary of the 15th Amendment"
Zinn Education Project, 2020. {{DEFAULTSORT:15 1870 in American law, Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution 1870 in American politics Aftermath of the American Civil War Amendments to the United States Constitution History of voting rights in the United States Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant Reconstruction Era