Following the Civil War, Radical Republicans in Congress introduced a series of laws and constitutional amendments to try to secure civil and political rights for black people. This wing of the Republican Party was called “radical” because of its strong stance on these and other issues. The right that provoked the greatest controversy, especially in the North, concerned black male suffrage: the right of the black man to vote.
In 1867, Congress passed a law requiring the former Confederate states to include black male suffrage in their new state constitutions. Ironically, even though African American men began voting in the South after 1867, the majority of Northern states continued to deny them this basic right.
In the North, the Republican’s once-huge voter majority over the Democratic Party was declining. Radical Republican leaders feared that they might lose control of Congress to the Democrats.
One solution to this problem called for including the black man’s vote in all Northern states. Republicans assumed the new black voters would vote Republican just as their brothers were doing in the South. By increasing its voters in the North and South, the Republican Party could then maintain its stronghold in Congress.
The Republicans, however, faced an incredible dilemma. The idea of blacks voting was not popular in the North. In fact, several Northern states had recently voted against black male suffrage.
In May 1868, the Republicans held their presidential nominating convention in Chicago and chose Ulysses S. Grant as their candidate. The Republicans agreed that African-American male suffrage continued to be a requirement for the Southern states, but decided that the Northern states should settle this issue for themselves.
Grant was victorious in the election of 1868, but this popular general won by a surprisingly slim margin. It was clear to Republican leaders that if they were to remain in power, their party needed the votes of black men in the North.
The 15th Amendment
When the new year began in 1869, the Republicans were ready to introduce a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the black man’s right to vote. For two months, Congress considered the proposed amendment. Several versions of the amendment were submitted, debated, rejected and then reconsidered in both the House and Senate.
Finally, at the end of February 1869, Congress approved a compromise amendment that did not even specifically mention the black man:
Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States 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 the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Once approved by the required two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, the 15th Amendment had to be ratified by 28, or three-fourths, of the states. Due to the reconstruction laws, black male suffrage already existed in 11 Southern states. Since almost all of these states were controlled by Republican reconstruction governments, they could be counted on to ratify the 15th Amendment. Supporters of the 15th Amendment needed only 17 of the remaining 26 Northern and Western states in order to succeed. At this time, just nine of these states allowed the black man to vote. The struggle for and against ratification hung on what blacks and other political interests would do.
Only days after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox in April, 1865, black abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. In his speech, Douglass explained why the black man wanted the right to vote “in every state of the Union”:
It is said that we are ignorant; admit it. But if we know enough to be hung, we know enough to vote. If the Negro knows enough to pay taxes to support government, he knows enough to vote; taxation and representation should go together. If he knows enough to shoulder a musket and fight for the flag for the government, he knows enough to vote ….What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice.
While Congress debated the 15th Amendment early in 1869, 150 black men from 17 states assembled for a convention in Washington, D.C. This was the first national meeting of black Americans in the history of the United States. Frederick Douglass was elected president of the convention.
The delegates praised the Republicans in Congress for passing the reconstruction laws and congratulated General Grant on his election to the White House. They also pledged their continued support of the Republican Party.
Those attending the convention also spent time meeting with members of Congress, encouraging them to pass a strong amendment guaranteeing black male suffrage nationwide. When the meeting adjourned, the delegates were confident that a new era of democracy for the black man was about to begin.
The Democrats realized they were fighting for political survival. They feared ratification of the 15th Amendment would automatically create some 170,000 loyal black Republican voters in the North and West.
In debates over the amendment, Democrats argued against the ratification by claiming that the 15th Amendment restricted the states’ rights to run their own elections. The Democrats also charged the Republicans with breaking their promise of allowing the states, outside the South, to decide for themselves whether to grant black male suffrage. Democrat leaders cited the low level of literacy in the black population and they predicted black voters would be easily swayed by false promises and outright bribery.
Victory, Then Tragedy
Despite Democratic opposition, the Republicans steadily won ratification victories throughout 1869. Ironically, it was a Southern state, Georgia that clinched the ratification of the 15th Amendment on February 2, 1870.
On March 30, President Grant officially proclaimed the 15th Amendment as part of the Constitution. Washington and many other American cities celebrated. More than 10,000 blacks paraded through Baltimore. In a speech on May 5, 1870, Frederick Douglass rejoiced. “What a country — fortunate in its institutions, in its 15th Amendment, in its future.”
The jubilation over victory did not last long. While Republicans acquired loyal black voters in the North, the South was an entirely different matter. The Ku Klux Klan and other violent racist groups intimidated black men who tried to vote, or who had voted, by burning their homes, churches and schools, even by resorting to murder.
When the election for president in 1876 ended with a dispute over electoral votes, the Republicans made a deal with the Southern Democrats. First, the Southerners agreed to support Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes for president. In turn, the Republicans promised to withdraw troops from the South and abandon federal enforcement of black’s rights, including the right to vote.
Within a few years, the Southern state governments required blacks to pay voting taxes, pass literacy tests and endure many other unfair restrictions on their right to vote. In Mississippi, 67 percent of the black adult men were registered to vote in 1867; by 1892 only 4 percent were registered. The political deal to secure Hayes as president rendered the 15th Amendment meaningless. Another 75 years passed before black voting rights were again enforced in the South.
For Discussion and Writing
For Further Reading
Douglass, Frederick. Frederick Douglass; selections from his writings, edited, with an introduction, by Philip S. Foner. New York International Press, 1964.
Gillette, William. The Right to Vote: Politics and Passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1965.
A C T I V I T Y
Voting Rights Convention
In this activity, you will have a chance to re create history by going back to the year 1868 to participate in a voting rights convention. You will be assigned to a group that had a particular viewpoint on voting rights in 1868. Your group and four others at the convention will write a voting rights amendment to recommend to Congress. In this way, your class will have the opportunity to improve upon the original 15th Amendment that was passed by Congress early in 1869. For the purposes of this activity, it does not matter what your own sex or race is when you are assigned to one of the convention groups listed below.
Voting Rights Convention Groups: Republicans, Blacks, Abolitionists, Woman Suffragists, Democrats
a google doodle worth reposting … google
URGENT: Email your members of Congress and tell them to oppose potentially deadly seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean.
President Trump and his administration just gave oil exploration companies the green light to harass marine mammals with seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic. Seismic airgun blasting can harm, injure and potentially even kill marine mammals like whales and dolphins as well as other marine life in the pursuit of new offshore drilling.
We must take a strong stance that seismic airgun blasting simply is not acceptable.
Your members of Congress speak for you – please let them know where you stand and to oppose the administration’s reckless and dangerous actions.
Email your members of Congress right now and tell them to oppose potentially deadly seismic airgun blasting and new offshore drilling.
Two weavers are approached by a vain, pompous Emperor who desires the finest and most luxurious clothes in all the land for himself – clothes which are befitting of his supreme status. The two weavers promise him just such a set of clothes, so fine and wonderful that they will only be for the eyes of the great and good in society; indeed, they will be quite invisible to anyone who is stupid, incompetent or unworthy of their position in society. What’s more, the clothes will be made of a material so fine (‘as light as a spider web‘) that they will not weigh down the wearer, so fine, the wearer will not even be aware of them draped over his body. Such a set of clothes would be perfect for a great Emperor. They would suit his sense of his own importance, and their magical properties of invisibility to the unworthy, would enable him to find out which of his ministers were unfit for their jobs (‘and I could tell the wise men from the fools‘).
Of course, the weavers are nothing more than a pair of con-men – swindlers who have no intention of creating a fine set of clothes. They have heard of the Emperor’s vanity and they believe they can turn his failings to their own advantage. So they decide to go to the pretence of making this set of fine clothes. Of course when the Emperor goes to visit the weavers at their work and they make a show of enthusing over the cloth and the clothes they are making, he cannot see anything at all. But he is too proud to admit that he cannot see the clothes. To do so, would be to label himself as stupid and unfit to be Emperor. And of course when his courtiers and ministers visit the weavers, they also cannot see these clothes, but they also pretend that they can – because if they say anything different, they will be admitting their own incompetence and unworthiness. (‘Can it be that I’m a fool? It would never do to let on that I can’t see the cloth‘). What’s more, if any of them did have their suspicions about the existence of the clothes, well to voice their doubts would be to imply that the Emperor himself was stupid enough and gullible enough to be taken in by this foolery.
When the Emperor finally walks out among his subjects in his non-existent finery, the crowds watch eagerly. They all want to see which of their friends or neighbours are so stupid that they cannot see the clothes. What actually happens of course, is that none of them see any clothes. But no one says anything. Perhaps some are embarressed to tell the truth because they think that they themselves must be too stupid to see the cloth. Perhaps others believe that to say anything derogatory would be to draw attention to the truth of the Emperor’s own stupidity. Perhaps others simply do not wish to be the first to speak out with a contrary voice. Only one small child who is far too innocent of all this pretension and social convention shouts out ‘But he hasn’t got anything on!’ At first the little boy’s father tries to correct the boy, but gradually the news breaks out and so everyone finally realises they are not alone in their inability to see the clothes. And now everybody begins to find the strength in numbers to admit there is nothing to see, and they begin to laugh.
The Emperor cringes, but continues with the procession, because to turn back now would be to admit his own gullibility. Better by far to carry on in the pretence that he is the only one who has the wisdom to see the clothes. His courtiers likewise feel they have to continue to live the lie, and dutifully follow their leader.
First posted ~ November of 2012
Second hand or flea market shopping has been in the news a lot lately, but as folks join the movement to keep material out of landfills or reduce their eco-footprint; some push buy made in the US of A only while others believe reusing is best. The problem that needs to be address over and over is how toxic are our fashions?
The idea of wearing toxic fashions let alone recycling it is a disturbing thought given what we now know and at the end of the day, it always seems to go back to making that dollar dollar
There are a few who do 2ndhand because of financial issues, some wear it for personal reasons and even more, are on that path toward sustainable living, but as a whole 2nd hand, up-cycling or Eco-friendly seem like great names but being ethically stylish? I guess that means intentionally buying, wearing, devoting your dollar dollars to sustainably made only. The fact is …it is a lot tougher than folks think. Have you looked at your labels? The dictionary states that being ethical means acting in an ethical manner from an ethical point of view. Being “ethically stylish” is almost a mission impossible.
Before you say she needs more education don’t get me wrong because I definitely get being “ethically stylish,” “acting with intent” but when store buyers, the fashion industry and whatnot go out of their way to use cheap labor or toxic material, being ethical demands that the industry cooperate as well.
Unfortunately, this is an ongoing fight and here we are in the year 2019. I have bought and overpaid for a dress or two; tried buying American made only as well, but found myself buying because of the “cute factor” first then looking at the tag later finding that it was not made in the US of A or out of sustainable material, which definitely offends the “ethically stylish “code. The likelihood of fashion corporations outsourcing was more cost-effective, cheap material and maybe not sustainable meant more for the money; remember when big-name models, entertainment folks and designers were caught using sweatshops. Levis’s, are not just made in the US but are imported as well and 501’s are my favorite but the prices can be insane though more sustainable. I buy them.
Lately, I have to say hearing the fashion industry in all its forms, say they are selling or being more ethically stylish is frustrating. There are reports of companies and brands, which sell USA, made, but may among others in the industry possibly be using toxic materials, which made the giant move toward 100% Organic, Natural or Sustainable take several giant steps backward. We need to buy and sell local, but again, almost a mission impossible as” Made in America” is not only more expensive the labels are far and few these days, the material is often blended with stuff we cannot pronounce. The history of the fashion industry and American Made is definitely a love-hate thing as designers and stars back in the day were wearing fabulous clothes rarely found on the racks, only to find out they were actually getting their clothes made by sweatshops, in some well-known and unknown countries … and sustainable; probably not.
Yes, “Made in the USA” faded out to a blank whiteboard and the NYC garment district was but a memory for quite a while. There were some great “Where and what are they doing now” shows with older “go to” fashion designers, clothiers stating the fabric just is not the same nor are the people. The opportunity to make more clothes with cheap labor & material seemed to have become addictive and the image of what was going on in those countries is not good. Fashion will always be a work in progress, but learning that unfair labor practices and or that companies are producing great looking garments, but possibly using toxic material since or before 2013 is sad given all that has happened to the industry over the last fifteen years or so.
Thus, making it tough to be ethical let alone wear fashion that is ethically stylish or sustainable.
I believe in reuse reclaim repurpose redecorate and reduce … which keeps most material out of landfills
FYI … this was written back in November of 2012