The 15th Amendment

1870–2020 • 150th Anniversary

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.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV) to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It was ratified on February 3, 1870, as the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments.

In the final years of the American Civil War and the beginning of the Reconstruction Era, Congress repeatedly debated the rights of four million black people, the majority of whom were formerly enslaved. The 13th and 14th amendments had been passed by 1869, abolishing slavery and providing citizenship and equal protection under the laws. But it was the election of Ulysses S. Grant to the presidency in 1868 that convinced a majority of Republicans that protecting the franchise of black male voters was key to any real chances for democracy. On February 26, 1869, after rejecting more sweeping versions of a suffrage amendment, Congress proposed a compromise amendment banning franchise restrictions on the basis of race, color, or previous servitude. After surviving a difficult ratification fight, the amendment was finally certified and became part of the Constitution on March 30, 1870.