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The Constitution and Suffrage

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2.04 Reconstruction

Celebration of teh 15th Amendment in Baltimore, Maryland on May 19,1870. This lithography represents the struggle for voting rights and political equality that the Amendment embodied for African Americans. These included land ownership, education, legal marriage, citizenship, religious freedom and military service to defend these rights. It also includes major figures in Reconstruction such as President Ulysses S. Grant, Vice President Schuyler Colfax and African-American leaders Martin Dulany, Frederick Douglas and Hiram Revels, the first African-American U.S. Senator.

The Fifteenth Amendment, adopted in 1870, prevented states and the federal government from restricting suffrage based on "race, color, or previous condition of servitude [i.e., slavery]."

The Amendment was a Republican effort to ensure the rights of African Americans and create a voting base for the party in the South. The large black minorities (or even majorities in Mississippi and South Carolina) in southern states combined with a smaller number of white Republicans to elect Reconstruction governments that sought to transform the economies and societies across the South. This program included the construction of public schools, the encouragement of industry, the creation of a society based upon equality before the law, and, unsuccessfully, the limited redistribution of plantation property to the former slaves. Although much progress was made, Reconstruction would end too soon to complete the transformation of the South.

A combination of enduring racism, a severe economic depression, Northern exhaustion with Reconstruction, a desire for national unity, and a campaign of organized violence against African Americans and their white allies overturned Reconstruction. The Compromise of 1877 removed the last federal troops from southern statehouses and formally ended Reconstruction. African Americans would continue to exercise some voting rights in the South until the 1890s, but they were progressively stripped of political, social, and economic power.

Illustration showing Columbia (the U.S personified as a woman) voting for President Lincoln's re-election in 1864, with the Angel of Peace held captive by the demons of Southern Rebellion and Traitors North.

























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