Skip to main content
Select Source:

Fifteenth Amendment

FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT


The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1789) guarantees that an American citizen cannot be discriminated against in exercising the right to vote. The amendment was proposed in Congress on February 26, 1869, and ratified by the required number of states on February 3, 1870. The amendment states that 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 language applied to people of all races, it was sometimes called the Black Suffrage (right to vote) Amendment because, during the period in which it was passed, legislators intended to prevent southern states from denying African American citizens the right to vote.

After ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865), which outlawed slavery throughout the Union, the U.S. Congress made approval of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments a prerequisite for reentry to the Union. Before a southern state could be readmitted, its legislature had to approve both amendments. Congress thus assured that former slaves would be made citizens of both the United States and the state where they lived, that equal rights would be granted to all citizens, and that suffrage (the right to vote) was extended to African American men. Under these conditions all southern states were readmitted to the Union by July 15, 1870.

By the end of the 1800s, however, state legislatures in the South had devised ways to prevent their African American citizens from voting. Methods included instituting a poll tax (requiring a voter to pay a fee in order to cast his vote) and literacy tests, which had to be passed as a prerequisite for voting. Most states also adopted legislation by which voting rights were extended only to those citizens who had been able to vote in 1867a date when few if any African Americans would have had the right. Because these laws also established high voting requirements for the descendants of men who could not vote in that year, they were called "grandfather clauses."

Attempts to deny citizens the right to vote were made unlawful in 1964 by the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (One of the features of that Amendment outlawed the poll tax in federal elections and primaries.) Moreover, in 1966, poll taxes at state and local levels were also declared illegal. Literacy tests and grandfather clauses were also struck down as unconstitutional.

See also: Poll Tax, Thirteenth Amendment

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fifteenth Amendment." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fifteenth Amendment." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fifteenth-amendment-0

"Fifteenth Amendment." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fifteenth-amendment-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Fifteenth Amendment

FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT

The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

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 power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified by the states in 1870 and also gave Congress the power to enforce such rights against governments that sought to undermine this guarantee through the enactment of appropriate legislation. Enforcement was, however, difficult as states employed grandfather clauses and other eligibility requirements to maintain racial discrimination in the electoral process.

cross-references

Elections; Voting.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fifteenth Amendment." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fifteenth Amendment." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fifteenth-amendment

"Fifteenth Amendment." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fifteenth-amendment

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.