Friday, March 28, 2008

15th Amendment to the US Constitution March 30, 1870

Guest commentary by Tom Watkins:

What a difference 138 years make. On March 30, 1870, 83 years after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted. Fast forward 138 years and it is possible that an African American may become the 44th President of the United States. How time flies when you are being denied.
The irony of the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution during 1869 is that it was enacted along party lines. But not as the racial politics break down in the 21st century, with the Democratic Party capturing the majority of the Black vote. No, in 1869 Republicans primarily supported the amendment and Democrats mostly opposed it. What a difference 138 years make.
If it were not for the Black vote in 1868, the Republican presidential candidate Ulysses S. Grant would have lost the popular vote. To put it succinctly, without the Black vote General Grant might have lost the election. The Republicans were not going to leave future elections to chance - they were going to give the former slaves the right to vote as a means of maintaining their control. They were the Karl Rove's of their day - doing whatever was necessary in order to hold on to power.
While there was some idealism and sense of justice from Democrats and Republicans for equal rights that prompted this amendment, it was equally, if not more so, done as a counterweight against a Democratic Party that was making electoral gains across the South. Many believe that the main impetus behind the 15th Amendment was the Republican goal to entrench its political power in both the North and the South. Black votes would help accomplish that end.
Let's remember that passing laws are only part of any battle. While the 15th Amendment was passed, there were still tremendous efforts to deny Black people the right to vote in this country for nearly another hundred years. There were efforts of voter intimidation, poll taxes, the establishment of grandfather clauses, (i.e., you could vote if your grandfather did), property ownership clauses and literacy tests to try to circumvent the law and prevent the "Negro" the right to vote, thereby disenfranchising Blacks.
Republicans regarded the 15th Amendment as the crowning achievement of Reconstruction after the Civil War.
Today we can see the result of providing all the tools that our founding fathers called for when they wrote the Constitution of the United States of America that was adopted on September 17, 1787.
The Founding Fathers were far from perfect. They were unable to find an acceptable compromise on the issue of slavery which divided the Colonies and was thwarting an agreement on the remainder of the Constitution. Accordingly, they made the decision to keep the status quo, leaving people enslaved and kicking the tough issue down the road for future generations to solve. It would take the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 178 years after the adoption of the Constitution, before the majority of African Americans in the South were registered to vote.
Today an African American, Sen. Senator Barack Obama is poised to become our next President. We have reason to stand tall as Americans as we continue to act out our forefathers' dream - of a country where all men and women are created equal.
It has taken many years, a Civil War, countless struggles, sacrifices, lost lives, political machinations and the Constitution being amended seventeen times, besides the ten included in the Bill of Rights, to get to this point today.
Today, Sen. Obama is the exclamation point on a great experiment of self government: the United States of America.
Regardless of your political affiliation or what happens on election day, it is a proud day for us all. We have come along way. As Sen. Obama likes to remind us, "Yes We Can."
This Col. is part one of a two part series. It provides a snapshot of how Sen. Barack Obama is poised to become the next President of the United States of America. Come back to this same space next week and read about how the 19th Amendment has helped women and how Sen. Clinton is standing on the shoulders of women who fought for the right to vote and may be poised to leap to the Presidency.

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