SEWARD, William H. Printed document signed ("William H. Seward"), as Secretary of State, Washington, D. C., 27 February 1869. Official certified copy of the Concurrent Resolution of Congress, "A Resolution proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of the United States." 2 pages, 4to, printed in various typefaces, bound at side with blue ribbon, official red paper State Department seal in lower left corner.
"THE RIGHT OF CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES TO VOTE SHALL NOT BE DENIED OR ABRIDGED"
Seward certifies a copy of the proposed 15th Amendment, being submitted to the states for ratification: "Resolved by the Senate and House... (two-thirds of both houses concurring,) That the following article be proposed to the legislatures 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 power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
The capstone of the Civil War amendments to the Constitution, this along with the 13th and 14th Amendments, put into the nations' charter the political rights that abolitionists like Seward had long fought for--and for which countless soldiers had died between 1861 and 1865. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery. The 14th extended federal guarantees of citizenship, life, liberty and due process to all state citizens, thus preventing Southern governments from stripping freed blacks of their rights. The 15th Amendment emerged out of a similar concern. Since the laws governing voting rights and qualifications were exclusively state concerns, the northern Republicans in Congress wanted to make sure that states did not find ways of denying the franchise to blacks. They also eagerly looked forward to a massive infusion of Republican voters in the South.
Sadly, many Southern states eventually did throw up exclusionary barriers. They imposed literacy tests, poll taxes, and sometimes resorted to outright violence to keep blacks away from the polls. Not until 1965 would the Congress and President pass the Voting Rights Act and make the Amendment a legal reality. Johnson also oversaw the passage of the 24th Amendment, abolishing poll taxes.
The Amendment was also controversial among some abolitionists at the time, especially women abolitionists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They resented the exclusion of women from the Amendment's protections. But men like Frederick Douglass worried that too sweeping a change would doom the Amendment in conservative state legislatures. In his mind, the immediate need of solidifying black voting rights took precedence over the claims of women. Another fifty years would pass before women finally won the right to vote in 1920.