Contested Franchise

Franchise Neogatied


This political cartoon elicited sympathy for Black men who went to vote in the south but were met with violence. This broadside portrayed Black men crowding the polls and listed “radicals” who favored the 15th Amendment. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In December 1868, Congress convened and addressed the need not only for consistency in voting rights for Americans but also for clarification that suffrage was, indeed, a right of citizenship. Moderate and Radical Republicans called for it. Black political conventions called for it. Stories of violence at the polls made the necessity for it clear. Sponsors expected to pass an Amendment that would positively guarantee the right to vote for all adult male (and possibly female) citizens and to ban property, education, or other requirements to restrict access to voting. 

The debate in Congress immediately bogged down. Western politicians, Republicans included, hesitated to guarantee the franchise as a right of citizenship because they feared American-born Chinese men would then be granted the right to vote. 
Some Eastern politicos also hesitated because (as in Rhode Island) they wished to keep certain qualifications that intended to limit Irish Catholic votes. Some protested on Constitutional grounds that suffrage requirements belonged to the states, not the Federal government.

The democratic promises contained in Republican free labor ideology, the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment, and the expansion of citizenship in the 14th Amendment lay at stake. Would the United States complete those promises?

In the face of these objections, Radical Republican managers reduced the scope of the amendment.

Henry McNeill Turner chaired the National Colored Convention of 1869 that called for federal recognition of voting rights for Black men. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This political cartoon expressed the fear of opponents of the 15th Amendment—Chinese and Irish immigrants. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.