There is no right to vote
Happy 150th birthday to the #15thAmendment!— Stephen West (@Stephen_A_West) February 3, 2020
Feb. 3 is now recognized as its ratification date. But back in 1870, it wasn’t proclaimed part of the Constitution for another 8 weeks.
Therein lies not a mere technicality, but an important truth about Reconstruction.
So, a thread:
So let’s spend a little more time on what it said, and the pattern it set.
The 15th Amendment says “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 19th Amendment - which was first drafted in 1870 in hope and belief that it would be the 16th Amendment - says “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 sex.”
The 24th Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1964, before Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. It says: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.”
Note that the 24th Amendment only applies to federal elections.
All of our voting amendments are negative commandments: they tell states what they CAN’T do, but they don’t affirmatively guarantee all citizens the right to vote. This wasn’t an accident - it reflects what was thought possible under the severe restrictions we must work within.
Because the Constitution gave white men all the power, +extra to Southern white men, these restrictions on that power are the most we’ve been able to amend it. They haven’t been enough.
Each amendment gives Congress the power to “enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Congress did so after the 15th Amdt, but the Supreme Court nullified those laws. Life for African-Americans in the South reverted to slavery-like conditions for another hundred years.
After the passage of the 19th Amendment, Congress did nothing. In 1920 Black women in Southern states should have been protected as new voters, but instead they got an equal share of nothing. Marking the centennial of the 19th & sesquicentennial of the 15th, we can see a pattern.
In today’s op-ed on the 15th Amdt @JesseWegman describes the shortcomings of this pattern. It’s a good summary, though I disagree with his conclusion that “Today’s efforts to reduce voting are rooted more in partisanship than in race.”
I appreciate that @jessewegman twice acknowledges that women were excluded from the 15th Amendment. My hope, though, is that we can all shift the language we use when we talk about women’s suffrage.
Women didn’t “get” the right to vote. We didn’t “wait” for it. We worked and worked and worked and after the 19th Amdt we continued to work.
The goal of @DailySuffragist is for people today to know how much work women did to win the vote and protect it. Nobody gave us anything.