Contested Franchise

Ballots for Bullets


In an 1864 speech Frederick Douglass demanded not only the end of slavery, but also the elevation of Black men to citizenship with the right to vote. Few White Americans agreed with the aspiration, but the process of emancipation already underway had unleashed a great reconsideration of who counted as an American.

The Emancipation Proclamation permitted the United States to enlist Black men in the army. At least 198,000 eventually served in the Army and Navy. Since serving in the nation’s military had long been considered a privilege of American citizens, Black soldiers claimed their service entitled them to the rights of American citizens as well.

Still, the Emancipation Proclamation’s assault on slavery and the practical destruction of the institution at the hands of the United States Army and enslaved people themselves did not mean Black men and women automatically became citizens at the end of the Civil War.

(Above) Political cartoonist Thomas Nast calls attention to the quick pardon of former Confederates and the still-outstanding question of the status of freedpeople, including United States Army veterans, in August, 1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

(Left) Frederick Douglass. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.