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State of Oregon Law Library Legal Research Blog

Black History Month: The 15th Amendment

by Lynne Palombo on 2022-02-22T14:52:00-08:00 in Oregon History | Comments

 Transcript of 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Voting Rights (1870) Fortieth Congress of the United States of America;  At the third Session, Begun and held at the city of Washington, on Monday, the seventh day of December, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-eight.  A Resolution Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  Resolved by the Senate and House of Respresentatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, (two-thirds of both Houses concurring) that the following article be proposed to the legislature of the several States as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States which, when ratified by three-fourths of said legislatures shall be valid as part of the Constitution, namely:  Article XV.  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 the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Passed by Congress February 26, 1869, and ratified February 3, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment granted Black men the right to vote.

Article XV

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 the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution despite failing to pass in Oregon. Oregon, however, could not overturn the rule of the land. The Oregon Supreme Court affirmed this in Wood v. Fitzgerald, 3 Or 568 (1870).  

The manner of the adoption of this amendment is a matter of history, and while individuals may be constrained to believe it an unwise measure of government policy, and while the very peculiar circumstances attending its ratification by the legislatures of some of the states render it obnoxious to exception, yet in view of the ascertained facts in this case, we cannot do otherwise than declare it to be a valid amendment to the federal constitution. To hold otherwise under the circumstances would be to unwarrantably overthrow certain well established principles of law, and give to judicial discussion such a coloring of partisan feeling as would lead to very unfortunate results. --Wood, 3 Or at 579.

Oregon did not ratify the 15th amendment until 1959 — one hundred years after the state joined the Union. 


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