What is the 15th Amendment?

Crystal Hall, Michael Knoedl
  • Author
    Crystal Hall

    Crystal has a bachelor's degree in English, a certification in General Studies, experience as an Educational Services Editor, and has assisted in teaching both middle and high school English.

  • Instructor
    Michael Knoedl

    Michael teaches high school Social Studies and has a M.S. in Sports Management.

What is the 15th Amendment? What did the 15th Amendment do? Read the 15th Amendment definition and the 15th Amendment summary. Learn the history of the amendment. Updated: 06/25/2021

Table of Contents


What Is the 15th Amendment?

What is the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution? A brief 15th Amendment summary states that the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution gives the right to vote to any United States citizen regardless of race, color, or prior enslavement. It also gives Congress the right to enforce this law.

What Did the 15th Amendment Do?

Passed by Congress on February 26, 1869, and ratified on February 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment gave the right to vote to United States citizens regardless of race, color, or former enslavement in its first section. The second section of the amendment gave Congress the right to enforce the law allowing all races and formerly enslaved people to vote.

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  • 0:00 What was the 15th Amendment?
  • 0:49 Historical Background
  • 1:50 Southern Resistance
  • 2:59 Political Significance
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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15th Amendment Summary and History

What was the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution? It was an amendment to the United States constitution that banned racial and former servitude discrimination, giving all races and previously enslaved people the right to vote and Congress the power to enforce and protect that right. The 15th Amendment was written in two sections:

  • 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.

Coming on the heels of the Civil War, the abolishing of slavery, and the Reconstruction period, the 15th Amendment was a significant advancement in what would become the Civil Rights Movement. The Suffrage Movement had begun as well. This movement advocated for the right to vote for both women and African Americans. Leaders like feminist Susan B. Anthony and abolitionist Frederick Douglass were at the forefront of those voicing the need for social and political advancement.

Politicians saw the 15th Amendment as a means of furthering their careers and garnering support in the South. African Americans gained the right to vote with the passing of the 15th Amendment on February 26, 1869; females were granted the right to vote by the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. President Ulysses S. Grant also lent his support to the 15th Amendment, publicly declaring his opinion in a message to Congress on March 30, 1870.

Slavery and the Civil War

The Virginia Slavery Debate of 1831-1832 occurred after abolitionist Nat Turner led a revolt in Southampton County, Virginia on August 21-22, 1831, that led to the murders of 58 white men, women, and children, making it the most deadly rebellion to date. Virginia's state militia, called to arms by Governor John Floyd and supported by military units from North Carolina, ended the rebellion. They executed 120 African Americans with no trial; they captured Nat Turner on October 30, 1831, and hanged him on November 11, 1831.

On December 6, 1831, Virginia Governor John Floyd appealed to the General Assembly for stricter laws governing slaves and for the colonization of free Blacks. On December 14, 1831, William H. Roane took a completely different direction than Governor John Floyd; he requested permission to read two anti-slavery petitions to the House of Delegates, beginning the debate. On January 25, 1832, after several months of deliberation, the House of Delegates voted against emancipation.

While the North was lobbying for emancipation, the South was concerned for their economy, which was based on farming performed by the enforced labor of enslaved people. As a result, 13 southern states seceded and formed the Confederate States; the remaining states were known as the Union States. On April 12, 1861, Confederate soldiers fired the shots that began the Civil War at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

The Confederate States were:

  • South Carolina
  • Mississippi
  • Florida
  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • Louisiana
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Arkansas
  • North Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Missouri
  • Kentucky

Emancipation Proclamation

President Lincoln presented the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all enslaved people.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all enslaved people free after January 1, 1863. On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln presented the Gettysburg Address:

'"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the 15th Amendment in simple terms?

The 15th Amendment says United States citizens cannot be denied the right to vote based on race, color, or previous servitude.

When was the 15th Amendment passed?

The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed on February 26, 1869 and ratified on February 3, 1870.

Why is the 15th Amendment Important?

The importance of the 15th Amendment is that it grants the right to vote to all American citizens regardless of race, color, or previous servitude.

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