The Fifteenth Amendment contains two short sections. The first prohibits the government of the United States or of any state to deny any male citizen the right to vote "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The second section grants Congress enforcement power.
Because Virginia had been a Confederate state and had not yet been fully reinstated to the Union, no Virginians served in Congress when it submitted the amendment to the states. Following the end of the Civil War, the Senate and House of Representatives placed the states of the former Confederacy (except Tennessee but including Virginia, part of which had remained one of the United States during the war) under military rule and refused to seat any men elected to either house of Congress from those states.
On the fourth day of its next session, the General Assembly ratified the Fifteenth Amendment, making Virginia the eighteenth state to do so. Both houses of the General Assembly ratified the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments on October 8, 1869. The vote on the Fifteenth Amendment was 132 to 0 in the House of Delegates and 40 to 2 in the Senate of Virginia. All twenty-one of the twenty-three African American members of the House of Delegates who were present voted for it; one of the six African American senators, Isaiah L. Lyons, voted against it. The Fifteenth Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution on February 3, 1870, when the legislature of Iowa was the twenty-eighth state to ratify it.
Virginia's ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments and enfranchisement of African Americans in the new state constitution ended Congressional Reconstruction in the state. Congress passed a bill that the president signed on January 26, 1870, permitting Virginia's senators and elected representatives to take their seats in Congress.
Many white Virginians disapproved of black men voting. In 1876 a majority of Virginia's voters, who were white men, ratified a constitutional amendment requiring pre-payment of a poll tax for men who wished to vote. The tax reduced the number of African Americans who were able to vote during the remainder of the decade. At the end of the 1870s, a biracial coalition known as the Readjuster Party gained control of both houses of the General Assembly and two years later elected a governor. The Readjusters then repealed the poll tax. After Democrats regained control of the assembly and the governorship in the mid-1880s, they adopted new laws governing the conduct of elections that made it increasingly difficult for black men to vote in Virginia.
Registering and voting remained difficult for African Americans in Virginia until ratification of the Twenty-fourth Amendment in 1964, passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Supreme Court's decision in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections in 1966 removed most of the barriers.
March 2, 1867 - The U.S. Congress requires that the legislature of each state in the former Confederacy ratify the Fourteenth Amendment before its senators and elected representatives can be seated in Congress.
October 22, 1867 - The U.S. Army conducts an election in Virginia to authorize a state constitutional convention and to elect delegates. The army allows African American men to vote in the election.
February 25, 1869 - The U.S. House of Representatives approves the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
February 26, 1869 - The U.S. Senate approves the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
July 6, 1869 - Voters ratify a new state constitution, often called the Underwood Constitution, rejecting separate provisions that would have disfranchised men who had held civil or military office under the Confederacy. The new constitution supplants the former one, proclaimed on April 7, 1864.
October 8, 1869 - Both houses of the General Assembly of Virginia ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
January 26, 1870 - The U.S. Congress passes an act permitting Virginia's senators and elected representatives to take their seats in Congress. This ends Congressional Reconstruction in Virginia.
February 3, 1870 - Iowa becomes the twenty-eighth state to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, completing the ratification process.
1876 - Democrats devoted to white supremacy amend the state constitution to make payment of the poll tax a prerequisite for voting, hoping to disfranchise some black voters.
1902 - Provisions of the newly passed Virginia Constitution effectively deny suffrage to most of Virginia's African American men and to about half of the white men who had voted before it was passed.
January 23, 1964 - South Dakota becomes the thirty-eighth state to ratify the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, completing the ratification process.
May 1964 - Evelyn Thomas Butts's case charging that the poll tax is unconstitutional is dismissed for failure to prosecute the case with due diligence.
November 12, 1964 - The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia decides Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, upholding the constitutionality of the poll tax.
August 6, 1965 - President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law. It prohibits racial discrimination in voting.
March 24, 1966 - In the case of Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the poll tax is unconstitutional.
February 25, 1977 - Both houses of the General Assembly of Virginia ratify the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, outlawing poll taxes.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Tarter, B. Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (2015, October 26). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Fifteenth_Amendment_to_the_U_S_Constitution.
- MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent. "Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 26 Oct. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: September 15, 2014 | Last modified: October 26, 2015
Contributed by Brent Tarter, founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.