Slavery & Emancipation

    15th Amendment  "The Right To Vote"  February 3, 1870

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in July 1868, guaranteed basic civil rights to all citizens; it was intended to persuade Southern states to grant suffrage to blacks by threatening a reduction of their congressional representation. To further the cause of black suffrage, the Radical Republican Congress, which had swept away the Southern regimes organized under presidential Reconstruction, required ex-Confederate states to adopt new state constitutions allowing black suffrage before senators and representatives from those states would be readmitted to Congress. The United States was thus faced with a situation in which all the ex-Confederate states granted blacks the right to vote, while 16 of the loyal Union states still denied black suffrage.

To remedy the inequity and to help shore up the Southern Radical Republican Reconstruction regimes, a 15th Amendment to the Constitution was proposed in February 1869. It stated simply that "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." There was much debate in Congress about what should be included in the Amendment. Henry Adams remarked that the 15th Amendment was "more remarkable for what it does not than for what it does contain."

It did not guarantee blacks the right to hold office, which many congressmen felt should be included. It did not offer a blanket guarantee of the right to vote because many Radical Republicans feared that would void the disenfranchisement of ex-Confederates. Many states, North and South, required payment of poll taxes, property ownership, or literacy as a condition of voting. The 15th Amendment did not address any of those stipulations. Feminists, especially, fought against the amendment because women were not included in the guarantee of suffrage.

Fascinating Fact:  "Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Ung Tung," wrote irate feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, "who do not know the difference between a Monarchy and a Republic, who never read the Declaration of Independence... making laws for Lydia Maria Child, Lucretia Mott, or Fanny Kemble."


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