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Fifteenth Amendment

The Fifteenth Amendment protects the voting rights of all citizens regardless of race or the color of their skin. It also protected the voting rights of former slaves. It was ratified on February 3, 1870.

From the Constitution

Here is the text of the Fifteenth Amendment from the Constitution:

Section 1. 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.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Why another amendment?

After the Civil War, amendments were added to the Constitution in order to free the slaves. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and the Fourteenth Amendment gave former slaves the rights of U.S. citizens. However, the states still ran the voting in elections. The Fifteenth Amendment was added to protect the voting rights of all citizens regardless of race.

What effect did the amendment have?

If you read the amendment you would think that all the African-Americans in the U.S. were immediately able to vote. However, this was not the case in many states where they found the following ways around the amendment.

Poll Taxes - One way to keep black people from voting was to charge a poll tax. This was a fee someone had to pay to vote. White people were often exempt from the poll tax through a "grandfather clause" which said that, if their grandfather voted in a previous election, they didn't have to pay the tax.

Literacy Tests - Literacy tests were tests that people had to pass to be eligible to vote. These tests were often unfair as they were given orally by white people who could fail or pass people for pretty much any reason. Many white people didn't have to take the test because of the grandfather clause.

White Primary System - Another way to keep black people from voting was called the white primary system. The Democratic Party in many states made their own primary rules and did not allow black people to vote in their primary.

Intimidation - If all else failed, some groups resorted to violence and intimidation to stop black people from voting.


This process of trying to keep a certain group of people from voting is called disenfranchisement. Despite the Fifteenth Amendment many black people were still disenfranchised until new laws were introduced in 1965.

Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was put into place to make sure that no citizen was denied the right to vote. It is described as an "act to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution." It outlawed literacy tests and directed the Attorney General to challenge the use of poll taxes in state and local elections.

Interesting Facts about the Fifteenth Amendment
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