2/3/1870: 15th Amendment of the Constitution Ratified

Ratified during the post-Civil War, Reconstruction period, the main purpose of the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution was to enfranchise former slaves. It states: "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." Though the amendment empowered Congress to enforce the article, its purpose was not really achieved until the Voting Rights Act.

After the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, southern blacks voted in numbers that on a per capita basis would probably exceed black political participation today. On both a per capita and absolute basis, more blacks were elected to political office during the period from 1865 to 1880 than at any other time in American history. Although no state elected a black governor during Reconstruction, a number of state legislatures were effectively under the control of a substantial African American caucus. These legislatures brought in programs that are considered part of government's duty now, but at the time were radical, such as universal public education. They also set aside all racially biased laws, even those prohibiting interracial marriage.

Despite the efforts of groups like the Ku Klux Klan to intimidate black voters and white Republicans, assurance of federal support for democratically elected southern governments meant that most Republican voters could both vote and rule in confidence. For example, when an all-white mob attempted to take over the interracial government of New Orleans, President Ulysses S. Grant sent in federal troops to restore the elected mayor.

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1 comment:

Roadkill said...

Great post, and one worth pondering.

Being a bit of a history buff, I was always struck by the parallels between the 1876 and 2000 presidential elections, the former of which is related to this post and the plight of southern black voters.

The U.S. presidential election of 1876 was perhaps the most disputed and intense presidential election in American history. Democrat Samuel J. Tilden of New York defeated Ohio's Republican Rutherford Hayes in the popular vote, with 184 electoral votes to Hayes' 165, but with 20 votes yet uncounted. These 20 electoral votes in dispute involved the states of South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida, and after a bruising electoral dispute, all were awarded to Hayes.

Many historians believe that an informal deal was struck to resolve the dispute. In return for Southern acquiescence in Hayes' election, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction. This deal became known as the Compromise of 1877. The Compromise effectively pushed African-Americans out of power in the government; soon after the compromise, African-Americans were barred from voting by poll taxes and grandfather clauses.

It took the vision and courage of Martin Luther King, Jr. to point out, in clear and eloquent terms, how dismally our county had failed in its constitutional obligations to our black brethren. And too, the courage of our 36th president, Lyndon Johnson – a son of the south (Texas) – to champion the Civil Rights Act and sign it into law in defiance of racist southern Democrats.