The Fifteenth Amendment The Fifteenth Amendment
The Fifteenth Amendment: To Vote Regardless of Race

The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified on February 3, 1870. The last of the “Reconstruction Amendments,” the Fifteenth Amendment banned the denial or abridgement of suffrage on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. It effectively gave African-American men the right to vote.

The immediate effects of the Fifteenth Amendment were dramatic. Throughout the South, thousands of African-Americans registered to vote. The majority in many areas, they gained substantial political power and soon thereafter began serving as local, state, and federal representatives.

Sadly, this right of suffrage would not remain protected. As federal troops pulled out of the southern U.S. in the late 1870s, many former Confederates found ways to prevent black men from voting. African-Americans faced poll taxes, literacy tests, and outright voter intimidation from white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

The Fifteenth Amendment, though a landmark in our constitutional history, wouldn’t be enforced again in the South for years to come when additional laws were passed during the civil rights movement.

Below is a collection of resources recognizing this crucial piece of American law. Browse these resources or jump from section to section by clicking the links below:

Amendment XV

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 the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Explore the 15th Amendment at NCC’s Interactive Constitution >>

Selected online resources on the Fifteenth Amendment:

American ConstitutionNational Constitution Center’s Interactive Constitution

The National Constitution Center offers a collection of introductory essays by top liberal and conservative legal scholars that give overviews of Fifteenth Amendment as agreed upon by both authors, as well as separate brief statements of these scholars’ disagreements about the law’s interpretation.

Visit NCC’s Interactive Constitution >>

 

 

The Fifteenth AmendmentThe Library of Congress Web Guide to the Fifteenth Amendment

The Library of Congress has amassed a variety of resources on the Fifteenth Amendment, including primary documents from the time of ratification and related exhibitions and websites.

Explore the Library of Congress web guide >>

 

 

Waud (1867) freed blacks votingHarper’s Weekly Resources on the Fifteenth Amendment

Harper’s Weekly was one of the most widely read journals during the Civil War era. HarpWeek, an organization that has indexed all of Harper’s Weekly, has a webpage devoted to the journal’s coverage of the Fifteenth Amendment. The primary source materials on the site include editorials, stories, illustrations, cartoons, as well as documents from key political and military figures of the time. Additionally, HarpWeek has added an annotated timeline, biographical sketches, and a glossary of terms.

Visit the HarpWeek Fifteenth Amendment page >>

 

 

Hiram Revels, Theodor KaufmannThe Fifteenth Amendment in Flesh and Blood: The Symbolic Generation of Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1887

Though it was short-lived, the 1870s and 1880s marked a time of southern African-American representation in Congress. Visit the House of Representatives website to read about the first black congressman, Senator Hiram Revels, and the other African-American members of the 41st-45th Congresses.

Read more at House.gov >>

 

 

*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on suffrage, the Fifteenth Amendment or its history and interpretations, and would like your work included here, send it to us at academics@gojmc.org

Commentary and articles from JMC fellows:

Slavery, Political Philosophy, and Constitutional Law

 

William Allen, Re-Thinking Uncle Tom: The Political Philosophy of H. B. Stowe. (Lexington Books, 2008)

State and Citizen, British America and the Early States, Peter OnufMark Boonshoft, Doughfaces at the Founding: Federalists, Anti-Federalists, Slavery, and the Ratification of the Constitution in New York.” (New York History 93.3, Summer 2012)

Justin Dyer, Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition. (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Justin Dyer, Revisiting Dred Scott: Prudence, Providence, and the Limits of Constitutional Statesmanship.” (Perspectives on Political Science 39.3, 2010)

Justin Dyer, Slavery, Abortion, and the Politics of Constitutional Meaning. (Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Justin Dyer, Slavery and the Magna Carta in the Development of Anglo-American Constitutionalism.” (PS: Political Science and Politics 43.3, July 2010)

Eliga Gould, The Laws of War and Peace: Legitimating Slavery in the Age of the American Revolution.” (State and Citizen: British America and the Early United States, University of Virginia Press, 2013)

Peter Onuf, Statehood and Union: A History of the Northwest Ordinance. (Indiana University Press, 1987)

Justin Lawrence Simard, Slavery’s Legalism: Lawyers and the Commercial Routine of Slavery.” (Law and History Review 37.2, May 2019)

Keith Whittington, The Road Not Taken: Dred Scott, Constitutional Law, and Political Questions.” (Journal of Politics 63.2, May 2001)

Keith Whittington, Slavery and the U.S. Supreme Court.” (The Political Thought of the Civil War, University Press of Kansas, 2018)

Jean Yarbrough, Race and the Moral Foundation of the American Republic: Another Look at the Declaration and the Notes on Virginia.” (The Journal of Politics 53.1, February 1991)

Michael Zuckert, Transcript of the 2013 Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture: Slavery and the Constitutional Convention. (American Enterprise Institute, September 17, 2013)

 

The Impact of the Fifteenth Amendment

 

American ConstitutionalismKeith E. Whittington (co-author), American Constitutionalism: Powers, Rights, and Liberties. (Oxford University Press, 2014)

Michael Zuckert, “Natural Rights and the Post-Civil War Amendments.” (Natural Law, Natural Rights and American Constitutionalism, Witherspoon Institute/National Endowment for the Humanities, 2011)

 

 

 

 

Reconstruction

 

Lincoln and Johnson political cartoonMichael Douma (co-author), The Danish St. Croix Project: Revisiting the Lincoln Colonization Program with Foreign-Language Sources.” (American Nineteenth Century History 15.3, 2014)

Michael Douma, Holland’s Plan for America’s Slaves.” (New York Times, July 11, 2013)

Michael Douma, The Lincoln Administration’s Negotiations to Colonize African Americans in Dutch Suriname.” (Civil War History 61.2, June 2015)

Allen Guelzo, “The History of Reconstruction’s Third Phase.” (History News Network, February 4, 2018)

The Supreme Court and American Constitutionalism, 1997James Patterson, Free Markets, Racial Equality, and Southern Prosperity: The Rise and Fall of Lewis Harvie Blair.” (Library of Law and Liberty, November 21, 2014)

Diana Schaub, “Lincoln and the Other Washington.” (Law & Liberty, February 15, 2016)

Rogers Smith, “Legitimating Reconstruction: The Limits of Legalism.” (Yale Law Journal 108, 1999)

Kyle Volk, Desegregating New York City: The Amazing pre-Civil War History of the Public Transit Integration in the North.” (Salon.com, August 10, 2014)

Michael Zuckert, Fundamental Rights, the Supreme Court and American Constitutionalism: The Lessons of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.” (The Supreme Court and American Constitutionalism, Rowman & Littlefield, 1997)

Michael Zuckert, Natural Rights and the Post Civil War Amendments.” (Witherspoon Institute’s Natural Law, Natural Rights and American Constitutionalism, Online Resource Center, 2009)

 

Voting Rights

 

Waud (1867) freed blacks votingGideon Cohn-Postar, Mississippi: African-American Voters Sue Over Election Law Rooted in the State’s Racist Past.” (The Conversation, September 23, 2019)

Gideon Cohn-Postar, Mississippi Governor’s Race Taking Place Under Jim Crow-era Rules After Judge Refuses to Block Them.” (The Conversation, November 1, 2019)

Rogers Smith (co-author), The Last Stand? Shelby County v. Holder and White Political Power in Modern America.” (Du Bois Review 13.1, Spring 2016)

Rogers Smith (co-author), Racial Inequality and the Weakening of Voting Rights in America.” (Discover Society 33, June 1, 2016)

Rogers Smith (co-author), Restricting Voting Rights in Modern America.” (Transatlantica 1, 2015)

Joey Torres, The Voting Rights Act’€™s Pre-Clearance Provisions: The Experience of Native Americans in South Dakota.” (American Indian Culture and Research Journal 41.4, 2017)

Justin Wert (co-author), The Rise and Fall of the Voting Rights Act. (University of Oklahoma Press, 2016)

Jonathan White, Canvassing the Troops: The Federal Government and the Soldiers’ Right to Vote.” (Civil War History 50.3, 2004)

Jonathan White, Supporting the Troops: The Soldiers’ Right to Vote in Civil War Pennsylvania.” (Pennsylvania Heritage, Winter 2006)

 

 

*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on suffrage, the Fifteenth Amendment or its history and interpretations, and would like your work included here, send it to us at academics@gojmc.org

 


 

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