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HarpWeek is pleased to present “Black Voting Rights:  The Creation of the Fifteenth Amendment” as a public service for students, teachers, and interested citizens.   

In the aftermath of the American Civil War (1861-1865), slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment (ratified, December 1865) and black Americans were granted citizenship, equal protection, and other rights by the Fourteenth Amendment (ratified, July 1868).  However, voting was still limited at the federal level and in all but five states to white men.  There was much opposition to the enfranchisement of black men, from some who were hesitant to interfere with traditional state authority over voting qualifications, and from others who held racist beliefs of black inferiority.  

Almost without exception, support for black voting rights came from Republicans.  For some, the goal of allowing black men to vote was one of justice and allegiance to the nation’s founding principle of equality under the law.  For others, it was a way to protect the Republican Party in the South and secure implementation of Congressional Reconstruction.  For many, such as Harper’s Weekly editor George William Curtis, the principled and practical aspects of the issue could not be separated.   

In chronicling the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment, this HarpWeek website: 

  • begins with the background of black suffrage before the Civil War;
  • looks at attempts to incorporate black suffrage into wartime Reconstruction;
  • surveys the status of black suffrage in the North and South during 1865;
  • considers early attempts to enfranchise black men in the District of Columbia and the federal territories;
  • explores how the issue was affected by the struggle between President Andrew Johnson and Congress over the control and content of Reconstruction;
  • returns to the passage of black manhood suffrage in the District of Columbia and the federal territories;
  • reviews how black manhood suffrage was incorporated into Congressional Reconstruction;
  • observes black participation in, and the consequences of, elections in 1867 and 1868; and,
  • concludes with the Fifteenth Amendment’s passage by Congress in February 1869 and its ratification by three-quarters of the states by March 1870.

The Fifteenth Amendment

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.

The primary source materials for this website are taken from the pages of Harper’s Weekly, the leading American illustrated newspaper in the second-half of the nineteenth century.  The items include editorials by George William Curtis, cartoons by Thomas Nast and other artists, illustrations of important people and events, feature stories, and news briefs from the “Domestic Intelligence” column.

In addition to the primary source material, HarpWeek has added an annotated timeline, biographical sketches of significant players in the creation of the Fifteenth Amendment, and a glossary of terms.

Historian Robert C. Kennedy selected, organized, and wrote commentary for this website.  Greg Weber and Richard Roy provided the technical skills to make it function effectively on the Internet. 

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact Robert Kennedy at

John Adler, Publisher


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