The 24th Amendment: Definition, Summary, History & Court Cases

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  • 0:01 What Is the 24th Amendment?
  • 0:35 History of the 24th Amendment
  • 2:20 Court Cases Affecting…
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrea Stephenson

Andrea has a Juris Doctor and has spoken at legal conferences on government transparency.

This lesson discusses the 24th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. Additionally, this lesson will summarize the history behind the amendment and a couple of significant U.S. Supreme Court cases which the amendment influenced.

What Is the 24th Amendment?

Imagine it's your first time to vote in a national election and how excited you are to finally be able to finally take part! You walk up to your voting precinct, and you're told that you must pay a tax in order to vote. Do you pay the tax? Or, do you say no thanks and not vote? This is the situation that affected some voters before the 24th Amendment was passed.

The 24th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America abolished the poll tax for all federal elections. A poll tax was a tax of anywhere from one to a few dollars that had to be paid annually by each voter in order to be able to cast a vote.

History of the 24th Amendment

After Congress passed the 15th Amendment, which afforded the right to vote to all men, there was opposition, especially in the South. In an effort to deter African-American voters, many Southern states enacted poll taxes. However, poll taxes also deterred poor white voters.

Legislation to end poll taxes began to be introduced every year in Congress, beginning in 1939. Many members of Congress suggested that poll taxes could be outlawed under the 14th Amendment, which abolished slavery by giving equal rights to all men, or the 15th Amendment. However, it was decided that drafting an amendment that specifically made poll taxes illegal would be a stronger statement and have more far-reaching effects.

Finally, on August 27, 1962, after approximately 23 years of trying to pass legislation, the 24th Amendment was passed by Congress by a vote of 295 to 86. At that time, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas were the only states with poll taxes, but Congress still deemed it necessary because poll taxes were previously deemed constitutional by the U.S. Courts.

After the amendment was passed by Congress, it was submitted to the states for ratification. Ratification is the process where the states each approve the constitutional amendment via the respective state's ratification procedures. In order for the amendment to be passed by the states, three-quarters of the states, or 38 states, had to ratify it. On January 23, 1964, South Dakota became the 38th state to ratify the 24th Amendment. After ratification, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 24th Amendment into existence on February 4, 1964.

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