1249 - 1964 5c Register and Vote
US #1249 is one of the few American stamps without “US” or “USA” in the design.

On February 26, 1869, the US Senate passed the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, giving people of all races and colors the right to vote.  The Amendment would be ratified and become official US law a year later.

Following the issuance of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the passage of the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery, Congress began to debate the rights of former slaves.  Those African Americans would now be counted as citizens in the South, which would increase Southern power in the population-based House of Representatives.  Northern Republicans hoped to decrease the South’s advantage by giving African Americans the right to vote.

1344 - 1968 6c Register and Vote
US #1344 was issued to encourage Americans to exercise their right to vote.

The first major step came with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which guaranteed citizenship regardless of race, color, or previous slavery or involuntary servitude.  Though President Andrew Johnson had vetoed the bill, Congress got enough votes to override his veto, the first time this ever happened in US history.  To ensure that this law was enacted, Congress also proposed the 14th Amendment, which was passed in 1868.

Under these new laws, African Americans were allowed to vote, but little was done to enforce or encourage that.  Some states still did not allow them to vote, and in many cases, Union Army soldiers needed to be present to protect them.

Then in 1869, Republicans in Congress were in a lame-duck session (meeting after the Democrats were elected but before their term began) and sought to pass an amendment to protect black suffrage.  During that session, several different proposals were submitted and rejected.  Ultimately, a House and Senate conference committee submitted a proposal banning voter restriction based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  It didn’t mention poll taxes or the right of African Americans to hold office in the hopes of gaining wider support.

3937 - 2005 37c To Form a More Perfect Union
US #3937 features significant events from the Civil Rights Movement.

The House approved the bill on February 25 in a vote of 144 to 44, with 35 not voting.  The Senate passed it the following day with a vote of 39 to 13.  After that, it was sent to the states for ratification.  Ratification would be a long, hard fight.  One of the groups that opposed it was women’s suffragists.  They had long supported black suffrage, as well as their own, but the 14th Amendment had specifically only granted rights to men, and the proposed 15th Amendment only barred racial discrimination, but not gender discrimination.

4384 - 2009 42c Civil Rights Pioneers
US #4384 honors several Civil Rights pioneers.

In spite of this opposition, Nevada became the first state to ratify the amendment on March 1, 1869.  They were quickly followed by several New England and Midwest states, as well as some Southern states still controlled by reconstruction governments.  President Ulysses S. Grant supported the amendment, saying it was “a measure of grander importance than any other one act of the kind from the foundation of our free government to the present day.”  By February 1870, enough states ratified the amendment and it became law on March 30 of that year.

5251 - 2017 First-Class Forever Stamp - Celebrating African American History
US #5251 pictures the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Many African Americans celebrated and disbanded their abolitionist societies, considering their work complete.  Unfortunately, many voters in the South were still kept from voting through new state constitutions and laws that created poll taxes and discriminatory literacy tests.  It would be nearly 100 years before African Americans could freely vote in the US with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  This Act granted federal oversight, outlawed literacy tests, and gave those affected by voting discrimination, legal aid.

M11267 - 2013 Marshall Islands Civil Rights 10v
Item #M11267 – Marshall Islands sheet honoring key events from the Civil Rights Movement.

Click here to read the text of the amendment. Click here and here to view interesting artwork from the time relating to the amendment.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. The voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to help African Americans register and vote in states (mostly southern) that continued to disenfranchise black voters. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court recently struck down key portions of that act and several “red” (ie. Republican) states have enacted a variety of schemes to reduce voting by minorities who generally tend to vote Democratic.

      1. Shorter voting hours (like 9:00-4:00 when many working people are still people are work) , fewer precincts especially in minority areas, elimination of early voting such as on the previous weekends, dropping names from the registration lists if they haven’t voted recently, stopping registration efforts on college campuses, requiring a picture I.D. (Many poor people don’t have one.)…

  2. Everyone should have to have picture ID to vote, get government benefits, or even get a job. Social security card is required (or should be) for employment. It is slanderous to say that Republicans want to interfere with peoples’ right to vote.

  3. In Indiana voting is from 6am to 6pm and picture ID’s are in place to keep the integrity of voting! Minorities are accorded many avenues of voting and can avail themselves of them . I continue to wonder why African Americans vote for the Democrats when it was Republicans who supported their right to be free!! And why support a party who supports abbortions and same sex marriages!! I’m glad all rightful citizens can vote freely, that is, legal citizens!

    1. Tom H. African Americans tend to vote for the Democrats because President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. President Johnson forecast the political consequences, remarking that evening to his special assistant Bill Moyers, ‘Well, I think we may have lost the south for your lifetime – and mine.’ The Republican Party of Lincoln became the party of southern Democrats four years later when Nixon implemented his “southern strategy”. Nixon was able to reassure Southern voters that he would be less aggressive in pursuing a civil rights agenda than the previous Democratic administration headed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Nixon’s campaign helped gain the support of the Southern states through his opposition to school busing, judicial activism and by remarking that the South should not be treated “as a whipping boy.” You are mistaken that legal citizens are able to vote freely. Sadly, many legal US citizens continue to have their right to vote obstructed, often times by Republican law makers at all levels of government.

  4. The only thing that make me shamed is that I live in a US colony of Puerto Rico that is a type of discrimination the same as slavery or racism. And still for more than 100 years. We hope to be full citizens of the US or be ourself with full independent nation.

  5. My husband knows two people who are cousins with the same last name. It’s a name with an ‘ in it. It’s not able to go on the DL but shows up on the computer.
    They went in together to vote showing their IDs. The one with darker skin had a problem because it was not a perfect match. The other cousin went right through.
    So even having a proper ID is not a guarantee.

  6. Unbelievable! If you honestly believe there is NOT an attack against voting rights in the US then you got to get your head out of the sand. And abortion, women’s rights, the gay community, immigrant policy…what business is it of yours how someone lives. You’re the first to use your beliefs as a basis for your bias yet you fail to realize Jesus preached against such thinking. When you watch a republican try to explain what he said wrong he/she looks worst. Just take a look at racist videos from the sixties. Those people look the same and say the same as people today. There’s no place in the future for people who think like you. Just stay inside your house and out of our way, you’ll be okay.

  7. TO TOM H.: If you really believe Indiana is a great place for voting rights you have been sadly misinformed. As for the other crap you wrote, what gives you the right to tell anybody what to do or how to live? I feel sorry for people like you. There’s no place in the future for that kind of thinking. And for your comment on GOP… what a joke those people are.

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