Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

The Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV) of the United States Constitution prohibits each government in the United States to prevent a citizen from voting based on that citizen's race, [The Amendment applies to all races (read "Rice v. Cayetano")] color, or previous condition of servitude (i.e., slavery). It was ratified on February 3, 1870.


cquote|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 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


The Fifteenth Amendment is one of the Reconstruction Amendments. This amendment prohibits the states and the federal government from using a citizen's race, color, or previous status as a slave as a voting qualification. Its basic purpose was to enfranchise former slaves. While some states had permitted the vote to former slaves even before the ratification of the Constitution, this right was rare, not always enforced, and often under attack. The Supreme Court of North Carolina upheld this right of free men of color to vote; in response, amendments to the North Carolina Constitution removed the right in 1835. [Citation|url=|title=The Constitution of North Carolina|accessdate=2008-04-16|publisher=State Library of North Carolina] The right to vote for free men of color could be seen as granting them the rights of citizens, an argument made explicitly by Justice Curtis's dissent in "Dred Scott v. Sandford":

Of this there can be no doubt. At the time of the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, all free native-born inhabitants of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina, though descended from African slaves, were not only citizens of those States, but such of them as had the other necessary qualifications possessed the franchise of electors, on equal terms with other citizens. [Citation|url=|title=Dred Scott v. Sandford, Curtis dissent|accessdate2008-04-16|publisher=Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School]

The first person to vote under the provisions of the amendment was Thomas Mundy Peterson who cast his ballot in a Perth Amboy school board election being held on March 31, 1870. [ [ More about Thomas Mundy Peterson] ] It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, almost a century later, that the full promise of the Fifteenth Amendment was actually achieved in all states. After the passage on a per capita and absolute basis, more blacks were elected to political office during the period from 1865 to 1880 than at any other time in American history. Although no state elected a black governor during Reconstruction, a number of state legislatures were effectively under the control of a substantial African American caucus. These legislatures brought in programs that are considered part of government's duty now, but at the time were radical, such as universal public education. They also set aside all racially biased laws, including anti-miscegenation laws (laws prohibiting interracial marriage).

Despite the efforts of groups like the Ku Klux Klan to intimidate 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. For example, when an all-white mob attempted to take over the interracial government of New Orleans, President Ulysses S. Grant sent in federal troops to restore the elected mayor.

However, after the close election of Rutherford B. Hayes, Hayes, in order to mollify the South, agreed to withdraw federal troops. He also overlooked poll violence in the deep south, despite several attempts by the Republicans to pass laws assuring the rights of black voters and to punish intimidation. To show the unwillingness of Congress to take any action at this time, even a bill that would have required incidents of violence only at polling places to be publicized failed to be passed. Without the restrictions, voting place violence against blacks and Republicans increased, including instances of murder. Most of this was done without any interference by law enforcement, and often even with their co-operation.

By the 1890s, many southern states had rigorous voter qualification laws, including literacy tests and poll taxes. Some states even made it difficult to find a place to register to vote.

The original House and Senate draft of the Amendment stated that the right to vote and to be a candidate would not be denied or abridged by the States based on race, color or creed. [ [ The Fifteenth Amendment And "Political Rights"] ] This was eventually omitted due to the desire among many Northern Republicans to leave their own laws limiting black participation in government intact. The amendment did not establish true universal male suffrage partly because Southern Republicans were afraid to undermine loyalty tests, which the Reconstruction state governments used to limit the influence of ex-Confederates. [See Eric Foner's Reconstruction p. 448]

Proposal and ratification

The Congress proposed the Fifteenth Amendment on February 26, 1869. [cite web|url=|title=Ratification of Constitutional Amendments|accessmonthday=Feb 24|accessyear=2007|last=Mount|first=Steve|year=2007|month=Jan] The following states ratified the amendment:
#Nevada (March 1, 1869)
#West Virginia (March 3, 1869)
#Illinois (March 5, 1869)
#Louisiana (March 5, 1869)
#Michigan (March 5, 1869)
#North Carolina (March 5, 1869)
#Wisconsin (March 5, 1869)
#Maine (March 11, 1869)
#Massachusetts (March 12, 1869)
#Arkansas (March 15, 1869)
#South Carolina (March 15, 1869)
#Pennsylvania (March 25, 1869)
#New York (April 14, 1869, rescinded on January 5, 1870, rescinded the rescission on March 30, 1870)
#Indiana (May 14, 1869)
#Connecticut (May 19, 1869)
#Florida (June 14, 1869)
#New Hampshire (July 1, 1869)
#Virginia (October 8, 1869)
#Vermont (October 20, 1869)
#Alabama (November 16, 1869)
#Missouri (January 7, 1870)
#Minnesota (January 13, 1870)
#Mississippi (January 17, 1870)
#Rhode Island (January 18, 1870)
#Kansas (January 19, 1870)
#Ohio (January 27, 1870, after having rejected it on April 30, 1869)
#Georgia (February 2, 1870)
#Iowa (February 3, 1870)Ratification was completed on February 3, 1870. The amendment was subsequently ratified by the following states:
#Nebraska (February 17, 1870)
#Texas (February 18, 1870)
#New Jersey (February 15, 1871, after having rejected it on February 7, 1870)
#Delaware (February 12, 1901, after having rejected it on March 18, 1869)
#Oregon (February 24, 1959)
#California (April 3, 1962, after having rejected it on January 28, 1870)
#Maryland (May 7, 1973, after having rejected it on February 26, 1870)
#Kentucky (March 18, 1976, after having rejected it on March 12, 1869)
#Tennessee (April 2, 1997, after having rejected it on November 16, 1869)


ee also

*Voting Rights Act
*Ballot access

External links

* [ Fifteenth Amendment and related resources at the Library of Congress]
* [ National Archives: Fifteenth Amendment]
* [ CRS Annotated Constitution: Fifteenth Amendment]

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