1870 – The Fifteenth Amendment

The First Vote – Alfred Rudolph Waud; source: New York Almanack

Made during Reconstruction, the Fifteenth Amendment made it a constitutional right for men of color to vote, by preventing discrimination in voting on the basis of race. This change to the Constitution followed the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendment, which made enslavement illegal and equal protection a Constitutional right.

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 Fifteenth AMendment

The amendment came with no enforcement from Congress through legislation or the executive’s utilization of the bureaucracy. The Voting Rights Act didn’t come until 1965, almost one hundred years later! Up until the Voting Rights Act was passed, grandfather clauses (“a statutory or constitutional device enacted by seven Southern states between 1895 and 1910 to deny suffrage to African Americans” – Britannica), literacy tests, and poll taxes controlled elections in the South. In many southern states, the population of Black Americans was greater than the population of white Americans, so the vote would shift to favor liberal policy.

The so-called white primary was a tactic Southern whites used in which the Democratic Party was declared a private organization that could exclude whomever it pleased. State party rules or state laws that excluded blacks from the Democratic primary virtually disenfranchised all blacks (and only blacks) by keeping them out of the election that generally determined who would hold office in a state that was dominated by the Democratic Party

U.S. Legal

The poll tax was abolished by the Twenty-fourth Amendment as a barrier to suffrage. This was upheld in Harman v. Forssenius, a case regarding Virginia’s laws on poll taxes. The white primary was ruled unconstitutional in Smith v. Allwright.

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