The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1870, just a few years after the end of the Civil War. This Amendment prohibits both federal and state governments from infringing on a citizen’s right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The Fifteenth Amendment is the third of three “Reconstruction Amendments” ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War. The other two are the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery, and the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to all persons, “born or naturalized in the United States.”
Prior to the Fifteenth Amendment, the states were empowered to set the qualifications for the right to vote. The Fifteenth Amendment essentially transferred this power to the federal government. Its ratification, however, had little effect for nearly a century. It had practically no effect in southern states, which devised numerous ways such as poll taxes and grandfather clauses to keep blacks from voting. Over time, federal laws and Supreme Court judicial opinions eventually struck down voting restrictions for blacks. Eventually, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 which established a commission to investigate voting discrimination. And in 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed to increase black voter registration by empowering the Justice Department to closely monitor voting qualifications.