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Amendment XV – Right to Vote Not to Be Denied on Account of Race (1870)

The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides: “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, sometimes called the Black Suffrage Amendment, is the last of the reconstruction amendments.  It was designed to close the final loophole in the establishment of civil rights for newly-freed black slaves.  The amendment ensured that a person’s race, color, or prior history as a slave could not be used to bar that person from voting. 

After ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865), which outlawed slavery throughout the Union, Congress approved the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments.  The ratification of these amendments became a prerequisite for former Confederate States to reenter the Union.   In this regard, one of the provisions of the Reconstruction Act required that a state include a provision in its new State constitution similar to the text of the Fifteenth Amendment.  Eventually, all of the former Confederate states except Tennessee, which was immune from the Reconstruction Acts, ratified the Fifteenth Amendment on February 3, 1870.

Motivation for supporting the amendment went beyond an idealistic desire to spread the fruits of democracy to former slaves.  In this regard, the political party that supported its ratification, the Republican party, was seeking to entrench its political power in both the North and the South at the time.  Regardless, the Fifteenth Amendment provided African Americans in northern states with the right to vote, and encouraged voting by African Americans in the South.  However, the full impact of the amendment was not felt in the South for nearly a century.

Inside Amendment XV – Right to Vote Not to Be Denied on Account of Race (1870)