Amdt15.2 Historical Background on Fifteenth Amendment

Fifteenth Amendment:

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–The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

In the second session of the Thirty-ninth Congress, Congress extended the right to vote to African American men by statute in the District of Columbia and the territories, and in the seceded states, as a condition of readmission, the states had to guarantee Black men suffrage.1 Following the election of President Ulysses S. Grant, the “lame duck” third session of the Fortieth Congress passed the amendment on February 26, 1869, and sent the proposed Fifteenth Amendment to the states for ratification. The struggle was intense because Congress was divided into roughly three factions: those who opposed any federal constitutional guarantee of Black male suffrage, those who wanted to go beyond a limited guarantee and enact universal male suffrage, including abolition of all educational and property-holding tests, and those who wanted or who were willing to settle for an amendment merely proscribing racial qualifications in determining who could vote under any other standards the states wished to have.2 The latter group ultimately prevailed, and the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified by the states on February 3, 1870.3

W. Gillette, The Right to Vote: Politics and The Passage of The Fifteenth Amendment 29–31 (1965); Act of Jan. 8, 1867, ch. 6, 14 Stat. 375 (District of Columbia); Act of Jan. 25, 1867, ch. 15, 14 Stat. 379 (territories); Act of Feb. 9, 1867, ch. 36, 14 Stat. 391 (admission of Nebraska to statehood upon condition of guaranteeing against racial qualifications in voting); Act of Mar. 2, 1867, ch. 153, 14 Stat. 428 (First Reconstruction Act). back
Gillette, supra note 1, at 46–78. The congressional debate is set forth at 1 B. Schwartz, Statutory History of The United States: Civil Rights 372 (1971) back
See Amdt14.S2.1 Overview of Apportionment of Representation. The Equal Protection Clause has been extensively used by the Court to protect the right to vote. See Amdt14.S1.8.6.1 Voting Rights Generally. back