Fifteenth Amendment Facts

February 3, 1870

Key facts about the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The House Joint Resolution proposing the 15th amendment to the Constitution, December 7, 1868.

The Joint House Resolution proposing the 15th amendment to the Constitution, December 7, 1868. [Wikimedia Commons]

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  • Many Congressmen who supported the First Reconstruction Act were embarrassed and distressed that eleven of twenty-one Northern states, in addition to all five Border States, denied African American men the right to vote.
  • Congressional concern about black disenfranchisement outside of the South may have been partially politically motivated. Republicans had reason to push for the enfranchisement of black voters (who would vote solidly Republican) in the Northern and Border States.
  • During the lame-duck session between Ulysses S. Grant’s election in November 1868 and his inauguration on March 4, 1869, both houses of Congress considered legislation to federally ensure black male suffrage.
  • As was the case with other Reconstruction legislation, Democrats opposed any attempts to change the antebellum status quo, and Republicans disagreed about how much change was needed.
  • Congress considered three versions of proposals to amend the Constitution regarding the establishment of voting rights.
  • One proposed version of the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited states from denying men the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
  • One proposed version of the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited states from denying men the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude AND prohibited the use of literacy tests, property ownership, or nativity as qualifications for the right to vote.
  • Some Congressmen, especially from Northern states, opposed prohibiting the use of literacy tests, property ownership, or nativity as qualifications for the right to vote due to concerns about recent influxes of European immigrants.
  • Some Congressmen, especially from Western states, opposed prohibiting the use of literacy tests, property ownership, or nativity as qualifications for the right to vote due to concerns about recent influxes of Chinese immigrants.
  • Some Congressmen opposed prohibiting the use of literacy tests, property ownership, or nativity as qualifications for the right to vote because they believed it unconstitutionally expanded the power of the federal government into an area that had traditionally been the purview of the individual states.
  • One proposed version of the Fifteenth Amendment simply extended voting rights to all male citizens over the age of twenty-one.
  • On February 25, 1869, by a vote of 143 – 43, the House approved a compromise resolution recommending a Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution that proclaimed: “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 Senate approved the measure by a vote of 39 – 13 the next day.
  • Fourteen senators and thirty-five representatives abstained from voting on the proposal for the Fifteenth Amendment. Many of them believed that by failing to prohibit the use of poll taxes, literacy tests, land ownership, and nativity requirements when establishing suffrage qualifications, the proposed amendment created loopholes that Southern states could use to deny voting rights to black citizens.
  • On March 1, 1869, Nevada became the first state to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment.
  • In April 1869, Congress enacted a measure requiring Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment, in addition to the Fourteenth Amendment, before being readmitted to Congress.
  • Iowa became the twenty-eighth state to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment on February 2, 1870, thus achieving the Constitutional requirement for ratification by three-fourths of the states.
  • On March 30, President Grant informed Congress that Secretary of State Hamilton Fish certified ratification the Fifteenth Amendment.
  • On March 31, 1870, Thomas Peterson-Mundy became the first African American to exercise his newly-established enfranchisement when he voted in a local election in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
  • On paper, the Fifteenth Amendment was a huge step toward the achievement of equal rights for all Americans. Nonetheless, the amendment left the door open for practices that skirted the intent of the law, especially in the South. Congress did not attempt to remedy the situation for nearly one hundred years when it enacted of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Fifteenth Amendment Facts
  • Coverage February 3, 1870
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date December 8, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 4, 2022

Fifteenth Amendment Facts is Part of the Following on AHC

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