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Primary Documents in American History

15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The first vote drawn by A.R. Waud "The first vote"
A.R. Waud.
Wood engraving. 1867.
Prints & Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution granted African American men the right to vote by declaring 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." Although ratified on February 3, 1870, the promise of the 15th Amendment would not be fully realized for almost a century. Through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means, Southern states were able to effectively disenfranchise African Americans. It would take the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the majority of African Americans in the South were registered to vote.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

Digital Collections

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation

This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.

Search this collection in the 40th Congress using keywords such as "suffrage", "amendment" and "constitution" to find additional legislative information on the 15th Amendment. After conducting a search look for references to Senate Joint Resolution 8, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which is often referred to as S. R. No. 8 or S. R. 8.

African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection

“African American Perspectives” gives a panoramic and eclectic review of African American history and culture from the early 19th through the early 20th centuries, with the bulk of the material published between 1875 and 1900.

From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1822-1909

This collection presents 396 pamphlets from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, published from 1822 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics.

Search this collection using the word "suffrage" to retrieve over twenty documents on this topic.

Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

The Printed Ephemera collection comprises 28,000 primary-source items dating from the seventeenth century to the present and encompasses key events and eras in American history

Ulysses S. Grant Papers

The papers of Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), army officer and eighteenth president of the United States, contain approximately 50,000 items dating from 1819-1974, with the bulk falling in the period 1843-1885. They include general and family correspondence, speeches, writings, reports, messages, military records, financial and legal records, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, memorabilia, and other papers.

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

Chronicling America

This site allows you to search and view millions of historic American newspaper pages from 1836-1922. Search this collection to find newspaper articles about the 15th Amendment.

A selection of articles on the 15th Amendment includes:

Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation

The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (popularly known as the Constitution Annotated) contains legal analysis and interpretation of the United States Constitution, based primarily on Supreme Court case law. This regularly updated resource is especially useful when researching the constitutional implications of a specific issue or topic. It includes a chapter on the 15th Amendment.


African-American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship

This exhibition showcases the African American collections of the Library of Congress. Displays more than 240 items, including books, government documents, manuscripts, maps, musical scores, plays, films, and recordings. Contains a section on Reconstruction that includes a picture from Harper's Weekly entitled "The First Vote."

American Treasures of the Library of Congress - The Fifteenth Amendment

Contains a lithograph of a parade in Baltimore, Maryland, celebrating the 15th Amendment on May 19, 1870.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom

This exhibition, which commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, explores the events that shaped the civil rights movement, as well as the far-reaching impact the act had on a changing society.

Prints & Photographs

Today in History

March 7, 1965

The Selma-to-Montgomery March for African American voting rights began on March 7, 1965. On the outskirts of Selma the marchers, in plain sight of photographers and journalists, were brutally assaulted by heavily armed state troopers and deputies.

Link disclaimerExternal Web Sites

Black Voting Rights: The Creation of the Fifteenth Amendment, HarpWeek

Documents from Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, University of Maryland

The Fifteenth Amendment, National Constitution Center

Landmark Legislation: Thirteenth, Fourteenth, & Fifteenth Amendments, U.S. Senate

Our Documents, 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, National Archives and Records Administration

Toward Racial Equality: Harper’s Weekly Reports on Black America, 1857-1874, HarpWeek

Selected Bibliography

Avins, Alfred, comp. The Reconstruction Amendments' Debates: The Legislative History and Contemporary Debates in Congress on the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Richmond: Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government, 1967. [Catalog Record]

Darling, Marsha J. Tyson, ed. Race, Voting, Redistricting, and the Constitution: Sources and Explorations on the Fifteenth Amendment. New York: Routledge, 2001. [Catalog Record]

Gillette, William. The Right to Vote: Politics and the Passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1969. [Catalog Record]

Hay, Jeff, ed. Amendment XV: Race and the Right to Vote. Farmington Hills, Mich: Greenhaven Press, 2009. [Catalog Record]

Maltz, Earl M. Civil Rights, the Constitution, and Congress, 1863-1869. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 1990. [Catalog Record]

Mathews, John Mabry. Legislative and Judicial History of the Fifteenth Amendment. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1909. [Catalog Record] [Full Text] External Link

Younger Readers

Banfield, Susan. The Fifteenth Amendment: African-American Men's Right to Vote. Springfield, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, 1998. [Catalog Record]

Burgan, Michael. The Reconstruction Amendments. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2006. [Catalog Record]

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  June 27, 2018
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