Fifteenth Amendment


  1. an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1870, prohibiting the restriction of voting rights “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”


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What is the Fifteenth Amendment?

The Fifteenth Amendment is an amendment to the US Constitution that forbids the restriction of voting rights based on race.

The Constitution of the United States is the document that serves as the  fundamental law of the country. An amendment is a change to something. An amendment to the Constitution is any text added to the original document since its ratification in 1788. The Constitution has been amended 27 times in American history.

The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified on February 3, 1870. The entire text of the amendment reads:

“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 Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The Fifteenth Amendment, along with the Fourteenth Amendment, was ratified after the end of the American Civil War and gave rights to freed Black men. Despite this, all of the former Confederate states would manage to defy both amendments and prevent Blacks from voting for many years.

Why is Fifteenth Amendment important?

This relatively short amendment gave the right to vote to freed Black men and, in theory, gave Congress the authority to prevent the states from denying this right.

Unsurprisingly, Black voters overwhelmingly voted for Republicans, the party of President Abraham Lincoln, and so the post–Civil War South was at first controlled by Republican politicians, including 16 Black Congressmen and more than 600 Black men in state legislatures. Until the late 1870s, these politicians enacted legislation and policies that benefited freed Blacks, such as outlawing segregated public transport and land sales, despite heavy resistance from white supremacists and President Andrew Johnson.

However, Republican power diminished in the South and Southern Democrats (who supported white supremacy) regained control of the former Confederate states by 1877. For nearly 100 years, the South then passed legislation now known as Jim Crow laws that denied Blacks the right to vote through restrictions that circumvented the Fifteenth Amendment. It took until 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act to outlaw these state laws and give the federal government the authority to review and approve changes in voting laws at the state level.

Did you know … ?

It took only two months after the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified for an American citizen to exercise his new voting rights. Thomas Mundy Peterson of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, was the first Black American to ever cast a vote, which he did on a vote of the town’s charter. Peterson was awarded a medal by the citizens of Perth Amboy, and in 1998 New Jersey named March 31 as Thomas Mundy Peterson Day in recognition of his historic vote.

What are real-life examples of Fifteenth Amendment?

This video provides a more thorough explanation of the history and political situation surrounding the Fifteenth Amendment:

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Equal voting rights and the Fifteenth Amendment are a near-universally supported idea today. Like most amendments, the Fifteenth Amendment is most often brought up in history discussions or when a law is brought to court for possibly violating it.


Quiz yourself!

True or False?

The Fifteenth Amendment forbids laws that prevent people from voting based on their race.