top of page

15th Amendment: Voting Rights

The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, stands as a critical milestone in American history by prohibiting the denial of voting rights based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude. This constitutional change emerged from the tumultuous aftermath of the Civil War and the ongoing struggle for civil rights during the Reconstruction era. The amendment was a response to the denial of suffrage to African Americans, even after the abolition of slavery, and aimed to secure their right to participate in the democratic process. Visionaries like Frederick Douglass, Senator Charles Sumner, and the broader civil rights movement played a significant role in advocating for the amendment's passage.

The 15th Amendment's significance cannot be understated, as it sought to address a long-standing injustice in American society. By ensuring that no citizen could be denied the right to vote based on race, the amendment aimed to rectify the systemic disenfranchisement of African Americans. However, while the amendment marked a significant step towards equality, the subsequent decades saw the rise of voter suppression tactics such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and violent intimidation, particularly in the Southern states. These efforts effectively negated the amendment's intended impact, limiting African Americans' ability to exercise their newfound voting rights.

The 15th Amendment's legacy is both complex and enduring. While its immediate impact was hindered by the proliferation of discriminatory practices, it laid the groundwork for future generations to fight for voting rights and civil rights more broadly. The Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century drew upon the principles of the 15th Amendment in its campaigns to dismantle segregation and secure equal voting rights for all Americans. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which aimed to eliminate racial discrimination in voting, can be seen as a direct extension of the 15th Amendment's goals. Despite ongoing challenges and the need for continued vigilance, the 15th Amendment serves as a symbol of the ongoing struggle for equal access to the ballot box and the importance of safeguarding democratic principles.


Additional Resources:


15th Amendment – Voting Rights


National Archives:

15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Voting Rights (1870)


US Constitution Center:

Right to Vote Not Denied by Race


Library of Congress:


Civil Rights in America: A Resource Guide


15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Primary Documents in American History


Jack Miller – 15th Amendment

The 15th Amendment: To Vote Regardless of Race

The Founders and the Vote

Voting Rights for African Americans


Voting Rights for Native Americans



1  "The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution" by Eric Foner

2  "Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War" by Nicholas Lemann

3  "Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction" edited by Eric Foner

4  "The 15th Amendment: African American Men's Right to Vote" by Patricia Hruby Powell

5  "The Fourteenth Amendment and the Privileges and Immunities of American Citizenship" by Kurt T. Lash 

6  "The Reconstruction Amendments' Debates: The Legislative History and Contemporary Debates in Congress on the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments" edited by Hans Trefousse

7  "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877" by Eric Foner 

8  "The Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment" by Michael Kent Curtis 

9  "Liberty and Union: The Civil War Era and American Constitutionalism" by Timothy S. Huebner 

10  "American Constitutionalism: Volume II: Rights & Liberties" by Howard Gillman, Mark A. Graber, and Keith E. Whittington

bottom of page