Monday, March 30, 2009

This Day In History: The 15th Amendment Adopted

This post-Civil War amendment, like its predecessor the 14th, was designed to prevent the pervasive discrimination against African-Americans, both former slaves and free blacks.

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The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was adopted this week (March 30) in 1870, has two sections. The first 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.” The second section states that “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

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 a Republican sent in federal troops to restore the elected mayor.

However, after the close election of Rutherford B. Hayes, in order to mollify the South, he agreed to withdraw federal troops. He also overlooked poll violence in the Deep South, despite several attempts by the Republicans to pass laws protecting the rights of black voters and to punish intimidation. An example of the unwillingness of the Congress to take any action at this time, is a bill which would only have required incidents of violence at polling places to be publicized failed to be passed. Without the restrictions, voting place violence against blacks and Republicans increased, including instances of murder. Most of this was done without any interference by law enforcement and often even with their cooperation.

By the 1890s, many Southern states had rigorous voter qualification laws, including literacy tests and poll taxes. Some states even made it difficult to find a place to register to vote.

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