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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

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

Edward Morrell, a congressman from Pennsylvania, delivered a speech in 1904 that refutes the argument that African Americans should be deprived of the right to vote. Following his speech are testimonials on both sides of the question, some from men such as Wendell Phillips and James Garfield.

Search in 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

Contains a broadside printed in Connecticut of President Ulysses S. Grant’s message to Congress announcing the ratification of the 15th Amendment.

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation

The House of Representatives passed the 15th Amendment on February 25, 1869, by a vote of 144 to 44, and the Senate passed the 15th Amendment on February 26, 1869, by a vote of 39 to 13. On March 30, 1870, Secretary of State Hamilton Fish issued a proclamation certifying the ratification of the 15th Amendment by the states.

Search this collection in the 40th Congress using keywords such as "suffrage", "amendment" and "constitution" to find additional 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.

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

In 1872, the Union Congressional Republican Committee published a pamphlet outlining policy differences between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of suffrage for African Americans and the 15th Amendment.

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:

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.

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

Constitution of the United States of America, Government Printing Office

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

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]

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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  September 24, 2014
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