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Primary Documents in American History

15th Amendment to the Constitution

The first vote drawn by A.R. Waud "The first vote"
A.R. Waud.
Wood engraving. 1867.
Prints & Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:
LC-USZ62-19234

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: Pamphlets from the Daniel A.P.Murray Collection, 1818-1907

The Daniel A. P. Murray Pamphlet Collection presents a panoramic and eclectic review of African-American history and culture, spanning almost one hundred years from the early nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries, with the bulk of the material published between 1875 and 1900.

Search this collection using the words "suffrage" to find additional documents related to African Americans and voting rights.

An American Time Capsule: 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

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.

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

The Chronicling America site allows you to search and view newspaper pages from 1860 to 1922 from the following states: Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

Search this collection to find newspaper articles about the 15th Amendment.

A selection of articles on the 15th Amendment includes:

Congress.gov

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.

Exhibitions

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.

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

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. [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. Union, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange, 2001. [Catalog Record]

Younger Readers

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

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  March 19, 2015
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