Contested Franchise

The 15th Amendment and the Right To Vote in America

An exploration of voting rights in the Civil War era and how the 15th Amendment changed everything, but did little


“The right to vote of citizens of the United States remains a kind of stepchild in the family of American rights, perhaps because it is not listed in the Bill of Rights, and perhaps because Americans still retain the Framers’ ambivalence about democracy.”
Journalist Garrett Epps, 2013 - The Atlantic

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Photos in Header:
George Caleb Bingham’s The County Election (1852) celebrates American democracy in the pre-Civil War period. Courtesy of The St. Louis Museum of Art.

This 1870 broadside celebrates the passage of the 15th Amendment. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Alfred Waud’s The First Vote marks the Civil Rights Act of 1867. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Women’s voting rights activists, 1894. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

President Calvin Coolidge with Native Americans, 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Activists rally for voting rights for ex-felons, 2013. Courtesy of Flickr User Michael Fleshman, under CC BY-SA 2.0.