The Fifteenth Amendment Was Passed On This Day In History

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This Day In History: February 26th

The Fifteenth Amendment granted formerly enslaved men the right to vote and was the last of three Reconstruction Amendments passed following the Civil War. The amendment was passed by Congress on February 26, 1869, and ratified on February 3, 1870.

The Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution were apart of congressional efforts to establish equality for the formerly enslaved population. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery or involuntary servitude except in punishment for a crime (1865). The Fourteenth Amendment defines all people born in the United States as citizens, requires due process of law, and requires equal protection to all people (1868).

After the Civil War, America was divided and the issue of rights and suffrage for African-Americans was brought to the forefront. Ulysses S. Grant won the 1868 Presidential Election and was tasked with the responsibility of sorting through these issues. Reconstruction Acts were already being passed, but they did not apply to the Northern States which led to disagreements in the approach to suffrage. In 1868, 11 of the 21 Northern states and most of the border states blocked African-American’s right to vote.

The goal of adding the Fiftenth Amendment was to guarantee suffrage in all states regardless of which party controlled the government. The writers of the amendment created three different versions, but the most moderate one was presented for a vote. Congress passed the amendment, but there were still states that resisted ratification. 

In order to be accepted into the Union, the Southern States that were not readmitted had to accept the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The states ratified the amendments and were given statehood status. The Fifteenth Amendment became an official part of the Constitution on March 30, 1870. 

Despite the passage of the amendment, there were still tactics employed to keep African-American’s from voting. Southern states enacted “literacy tests” and “grandfather clauses” to prevent voting. White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan also began terrorizing the African-American community, refusing to accept them as equals.

Nearly a century later, The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (extended in 1970, 1975 and 1982) was passed and authorized Federal supervision of voter registration. 

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