The thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the United States Constitution are also known as the Reconstruction Amendments and were adopted in the aftermath of the Civil War. The three amendments aimed at making the United States a more liberal and tolerant country and were set to do that in three stages. First and through the thirteenth amendment the USA abolished slavery and ended thereby centuries of servitude and injustice. Second and through the fourteenth amendment the United States redefined the notion of American citizenship and overruled with that the Dred Scott v.
Sanford case that had excluded slaves from having any Constitutional rights whatsoever. Third and last there was the fifteenth amendment that led to a lot of violence in the century that followed against blacks in an attempt to keep them from exercising their right stipulated within this specific amendment: the right to vote. The fifteenth amendment clearly states 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.
” The last of the three reconstruction amendments aimed thus at enfranchising the black population of the United States. It was initially successful as more blacks poured in to cast their vote or run for governmental offices. Laws were passed to support mixed white and black public education and the first steps towards a more tolerant America seemed to have been made. However events took a different turn not long after postponing with that the dream of equal rights for all for another century. The election of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, the 19th president of the United States, set the tone of change towards the pre-civil war era.
He ended the reconstruction and withdrew the federal troops from the South which allowed the white majority to victimize the blacks again without intervention. His policy towards the South was one of pacification and as a result he did not interfere in abating the violence against blacks which led in several instances to cases of murder. The supporters of black enfranchisement, the Republicans, were also targeted but Hayes did not attempt to save the reconstruction amendments and allowed the situation to worsen. As a result, many southern States had by 1890 several confining laws to prevent blacks from voting.
The most famous methods to disenfranchise the black vote were poll taxing and literacy tests. Black people were also requested to register to vote and then not allowed to or they were simply threatened economically, physically and emotionally. They were not allowed to register or enter polling stations or simply rejected on the basis of the Grandfather Clause that simply means, in regard to the disenfranchisement of blacks, that black men could vote despite property and education standards if they just had ancestors who had the right to vote before the Civil War.
This obviously was a way of confining the vote to white men since blacks did not have the right of suffrage before the Civil War. The Clause was adopted by seven southern States and came as a reaction towards the increase in power of the Populists( the People’s party, a short-lived party in the 19th century) and the Republicans. The Democrats attempted to restrict those from rising in power through annulling the vote of the black population that was sympathetic with their ideology and campaign. The three most used methods to disenfranchise the vote of the freedmen are thus literacy tests, poll taxes and the Grandfather Clauses.
The poll taxes required a voter to pay a fee and that was a turn down for many black people regarding the hard economic conditions they endured as a result of their lower civilian status in the South. Literacy tests on the other hand became a prerequisite to vote and the tests were administered by white males and made up in such a manner that made it impossible for any black man to pass it. The joke is that the freedmen were presented with Chinese documents and asked to read them. Whether this is true or not is not our concern.
What remains obvious is that the South was not willing to let the Civil War alter its perspective on how to treat the largest minority, or majority in some states, of its citizens. The Democrats, which was the dominant party, feared the effects the black vote could bring along with it too much to give it a chance and resorted to such unconstitutional laws that were a clear violation of the fifteenth amendment that did not require taxes, literacy tests or a grandfather who had the right to vote before the Civil War. It was easy for whites to register to vote but the black population encountered many problems when it attempted to.
Economic intimidation was successful to keep blacks from voting. The names of those who tried to register would be published the next day in the newspaper and consequentially fired soon after that by the white boss. These harsh measures were very successful in keeping the blacks from the polling stations as many had a hard time economically. The aftermath of the fifteenth amendment saw some progress and gave many hope that the era of the Jim Crow laws might have passed forever Pubic education for all was set in motion and several laws combating racism were passed including one that ended the prohibition against interracial marriage.
It was also the time many black men were elected to governmental positions despite the harassment of the Ku Klux Klan. However, as the blacks casted their votes more and more the Democrat Party feared for the decrease or even loss of its influence in the South against the more tolerant Republican Party that even after Hayes was elected to presidency continued to try and protect the rights of the blacks. We need to understand the demographic picture to grasp the fear of the Democrats and their subsequent actions to limit the blacks from contributing or influencing the political scene.
African Americans were an absolute majority of the population in Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana and a vast minority in the other Confederate States. The Democrats feared for loss of power against the Republicans and blacks as a result of this. If the black man was allowed to continue voting this scenario was a very possible reality. The Democratic Party moved quickly to action when it became aware of the significant threat the black vote constituted. For example, the majority of the population in the Mississippi was, as stated, black.
Allowing them to vote would have meant a new black dominated government in the region. The Democrats resorted to unethical methods as violence to keep the black man from changing the political scene of the South. They even allied with white supremacists and allowed those to practice whatever form of gruesome intimidation to harass the black people away from the polling stations. But the most effective means that really reduced the black vote were the poll taxes and literacy tests. The injustice suffered as a result of those laws was tremendous.
The African Americans of the Southern States were hereby reduced to voiceless participants in their societies and lost as a result many of their rights that were granted to them in the reconstruction amendments. This policy of discrimination continued until the rise of the civil right movement in the 69’s of the twentieth century. In 1964 a Freedom Summer was organized to register more black voters. The campaign was obstructed by the murder of three volunteers at the hands of a group of white men that could not be convicted for the murder charges.
The event did not stop volunteers from registering voters. The year that succeeded the freedom summer saw the National Voting Rights Act that made the discrimination against black voters illegal. Literacy tests and poll taxes were stated to be a clear violation of the fifteenth amendment and it started to finally look like the fifteenth amendment was finally going to grant the African American population of the South the advantage of casting their vote and contributing in making a change in both heir lives as well as the national social and political scene.
References Stephenson D. G. (2004) The Right to vote: rights and liberties under the law. ABC-CLIO Publishers. Foner E& Garraty J. A. (1991) The Reader’s companion to American history. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers. McElrath, j. The fifteenth amendment. Retrieved June 25, 2009 from http://afroamhistory. about. com/od/reconstruction/a/15thamendment. htm Voting Rights Act of 1965—History and Overview. Retrieved June 24, 2009 from http://www. usdoj. gov/usao/eousa/foia_reading_room/usam/title8/cvr00019. htm