This Day in History – February 3rd, 1870

The_First_Vote

“The First Vote”

The Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV) to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It was ratified on February 3rd, 1870, as the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments.

In the final years of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era that followed, Congress repeatedly debated the rights of the millions of black former slaves. By 1869, amendments had been passed to abolish slavery and provide citizenship and equal protection under the laws, but the election of Ulysses S. Grant to the presidency in 1868 convinced a majority of Republicans that protecting the franchise of black voters was important for the party’s future. After rejecting more sweeping versions of a suffrage amendment, Congress proposed a compromise amendment banning franchise restrictions on the basis of race, color, or previous servitude on February 26th, 1869. The amendment survived a difficult ratification fight and was adopted on March 30th, 1870.

United States Supreme Court decisions in the late nineteenth century interpreted the amendment narrowly. From 1890 to 1910, most black voters in the South were effectively disenfranchised by new state constitutions and state laws incorporating such obstacles as poll taxes and discriminatory literacy tests, from which white voters were exempted by grandfather clauses. A system of whites-only primaries and violent intimidation by white groups also suppressed black participation.

President_Barack_Obama

138 years later, the USA elects it first president who is not full caucasian.

In the twentieth century, the Court began to interpret the amendment more broadly, striking down grandfather clauses in Guinn v. United States (1915) and dismantling the white primary system in the “Texas primary cases” (1927–1953). Along with later measures such as the Twenty-fourth Amendment, which forbade poll taxes in federal elections, and Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections (1966), which forbade poll taxes in state elections, these decisions significantly increased black participation in the American political system. To enforce the amendment, Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which provided federal oversight of elections in discriminatory jurisdictions, banned literacy tests and similar discriminatory devices, and created legal remedies for people affected by voting discrimination.

The twenty first century has seen much progress, and the first president of color, but there is still much bigotry and hatred that echoes from the nineteenth century that needs to be laid to rest.

Flourish 3

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