15th Amendment Ratified

On February 3, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by the states. This Amendment is considered to be the third and final of the Reconstruction Amendments.

The 15th Amendment says:
Section 1. 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—
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

There was much celebration after the Amendment was ratified. The African American community celebrated, as did abolitionist societies. Many of these societies disbanded under the belief that they had secured African American rights and that their work was complete. Ulysses S. Grant, the President at the time, said that the Amendment “completes the greatest civil change and constitutes the most important event that has occurred since the nation came to life.”[1] Future President and current Congressman James A. Garfield stated that the Amendment’s passage “confers upon the African race the care of its own destiny. It places there fortunes in their own hands.”[2]

Since the end of the Civil War, three Amendments had been passed. The thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth Amendments all guaranteed rights to African American citizens. However, to attract as much support as possible, wording to prohibit poll taxes was left out of the 15th Amendment. African Americans had the right to vote, but others still had the right to suppress them.

[1] Ulysses S. Grant, “Special Message,” March 30, 1870.
[2] Orville Vernon Burton and Peter Eisenstadt, Lincoln’s Unfinished Work: The New Birth of Freedom from Generation to Generation (LSU Press, 2022).

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