Fact of the day: 3rd February

On this day in 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified, guaranteeing voting rights to citizens regardless of race.

In the final years of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era that followed, Congress repeatedly debated the rights of the millions of black former slaves. By 1869, amendments had been passed to abolish slavery and provide citizenship and equal protection under the laws, but the narrow election of Ulysses S. Grant to the presidency in 1868 convinced a majority of Republicans that protecting the franchise of black voters was important for the party’s future. After rejecting more sweeping versions of a suffrage amendment, Congress proposed a compromise amendment banning franchise restrictions on the basis of race, colour, or previous servitude on February 26, 1869. The amendment survived a difficult ratification fight and was adopted on March 30, 1870.

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From 1890 to 1910, poll taxes and literacy tests were instituted across the South, effectively disenfranchising the great majority of blacks. White-only primary elections also served to reduce the influence of blacks in the political system. Along with increasing legal obstacles, blacks were excluded from the political system by threats of violent reprisals by whites in the form of lynch mobs and terrorist attacks by the Ku Klux Klan.

In the 20th century, the Court began to read the Fifteenth Amendment more broadly. In Guinn v. United States (1915), a unanimous Court struck down an Oklahoma grandfather clause that effectively exempted white voters from a literacy test, finding it to be discriminatory. The Court ruled in the related case Myers v. Anderson (1915) that the officials who enforced such a clause were liable for civil damages

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