Subversive Historian – 03/30/09

The Fifteenth Amendment

Back in the day on March 30th, 1870 the 15th amendment was added to the constitution of the United States. Coming in the post-Civil War era, the last of the “reconstruction amendments” attempted to federalize enfranchisement for black males. Three versions of the 15th amendment were debated in Congress before final ratification. The agreed upon version was moderate as it simply prohibited states from denying the vote on the basis of race, color or having been enslaved previously. Radical Republicans in Congress had foreseen the coming of Jim Crow in advocating for a version that went further in terms of prohibiting states from imposing property, literacy or birth restrictions on the vote. Of course, since that version was not accepted, the South was able to effectively thwart the 15th amendment by turning to infamous mechanisms such as violence, poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses.

It would be nearly a century later, when an emergent Civil Rights Movement demanded that the Voting Rights Act be legislated so that the 15th Amendment could be fully and effectively be implemented.


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