Skip to main content

tv   Race Suffrage the 15th Amendment  CSPAN  January 14, 2018 1:50pm-2:26pm EST

1:50 pm
african-american men. though it wasn't until 1965 that the amendment became a reality for most black voters. american history tv, from a symposium entitled in franchising of quality, 115 amendment,e 15th they discussed the flaws and exportation of african american by both republican and democratic parties. the university of the south in sewanee, tennessee host to the daylong symposium. this is about 30 minutes. >> he received his jd from stanford law school and a legal history from the university of oxford, where he was a marshall scholar. after law school, he clerked for
1:51 pm
the honorable ruth bader ginsburg on the united states court of appeals for the d.c. s served at he ha of law, thety stanford law school commented yale law. he has won numerous awards for his teaching and scholarship, which concentrate on constitutional law and history. his first book from jim crow to civil rights, the supreme court and the struggle for racial equality received the 2005 bancroft prize in history. in 2007 he published two books. brown v. board of education and the civil rights movement, and unfinished business, racial equality in american history, both from oxford university press. most recently he has published on the battle for same-sex marriage. he is currently working on a
1:52 pm
revisionist history of the founding, and in 2009 he was inducted into the american academy of arts and sciences. i ask you to please welcome our guest. [applause] prof. klarman: thanks for coming. i'm delighted to be here. i've never given this talk before, so i am not sure how long it is going to take. i will just stop after 30 minutes. there is some overlap for those of you who heard the talk last night. that is not surprising since a great deal of what i know and i suspect what all of us know about this material comes from his scholarship. however, he is a new york yankees fan, whereas i am a red sox fan. so i think what i am going to say is more credible.
1:53 pm
i'm not disagreeing, it's the same fact. [laughter] fair enough. just to preview, i am going to talk briefly about five different topics. first, background to the 15th amendment. second, reason for enacting the amendment when it was enacted hawaii and protecting black suffered -- enacted in 1869 and protecting black suffrage. why is it limited to barring disenfranchisement based on race? talk about the difficulties the republicans had in ratifying the amendment, and briefly describe the reasons and the methods behind disfranchisement and the failure of the national government to do anything about it.
1:54 pm
if i had more time i would talk a little about the beginnings of re-enfranchisement around world war ii, but i doubt i am going to have time to get to that. i may check my clock occasionally. background to the 15th amendment, as you know, the 15th amendment bars the united states and states from denying suffrage based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude, and empowers congress to implement the amendment. in the north before the civil war, five states in new england allowed blacks to vote on the same terms as whites, and allowed blacks to vote, but only if they held $250 in property. that did not apply to whites, so that was a differential requirement. that means in the vast majority of the north, blacks were not allowed to vote.
1:55 pm
african-americans, 90% of them lived in the south. only 10% in the north. of that 10%, only about 7% had the right to vote. there was actually a trend away from blacks average in northern states for the civil war -- black suffrage in northern states before the civil war. a half-dozen northern states held referenda on blacks average after the civil war. those are states such as new york and ohio. black suffrage was rejected in all of those states, sometimes by large margins. most northern whites clearly did not think lacks should be voting, even after the civil war. in the south, no state permitted even free blacks to vote after 1830. before that, a couple of northern states had. obviously slaves were not permitted to vote anywhere. presidents lincoln and andrew johnson had encouraged reconstruction states to allow some african americans to vote, for example, those who read it or had fought in the union army.
1:56 pm
their advice was ignored by southern states. republicans faced a political dilemma after the civil war. the party wanted to expand its roots into the south. if they didn't do that, it wasn't going to have much chance of being a national party. before the civil war, the republican party had been entirely a sectional party. president lincoln was not even on the ballot in states south of virginia. republicans have a tenuous hold on power at the national level. without black suffrage in the south, the party has very little prospect of success unless they are going to disenfranchise very large numbers of rebel whites, something nobody seems to think was a viable long-term solution. the problem is exacerbated by the fact that the south was going to gain congressional representation as a result of the abolition of slavery with the 13th amendment. blacks are now going to count 5/5 rather than 3/5. republicans need to guarantee
1:57 pm
the vote for southern blacks, but imposing black suffrage in the north runs the risk of alienating the constituents who have repeatedly made it clear they don't think african-americans in the north ought to be voting. that is the republican dilemma. the first shot at solving that the mentor was section two of the 14th amendment, which seemed like an ideal answer to their problems. it creates a powerful inducement for southern states to enfranchise blacks by threatening to reduce their congressional representation if they continue to disfranchised adult male citizens. that provision will place low-pressure on northern states, because there are so few blacks living in the north. the black population of the north varies from less than 1% in new england to 1% or 2% in states like indiana and illinois and peaks that perhaps three or 4% -- 3% or 4% in new jersey.
1:58 pm
republicans adopted the securities through rather than civilly mandating black suffrage in the 14th amendment, frankly, because they were scared to go back to their constituents in the 1866 congressional election, having just in franchised blacks. southern states were refusing to ratify the 14th amendment in 1866, 67. some zone support would be -- andry if he is in southernseven, states to hold new constitutional conventions, for blacks were be required to be a little to vote. and those new state constitutions were required to continue to protect black voting.
1:59 pm
that's some background to the 15th amendment. the second question to address is how did we get from the situation i just described to the adoption of a constitutional amendment? the reconstruction act allowed them to have their cake and eat it too. they have imposed black suffrage on the south, where it will enable them to build up their political party, but they have not imposed it on the north, where doing so might alienate their constituents who would then retaliate against them at the polls. historians have disagreed to some extent about exactly how we get from there to the 15th amendment. clearly the ideology of the civil war played some role in coming of black suffrage. the war had evolved into a war to abolish slavery that had led at least some people to reconsider their views about race generally and their perspective on black suffrage specifically, also the role of black soldiers on the battlefield during the civil war as a powerful factor leading some whites to reconsider their views about black suffrage.
2:00 pm
the role of blacks is on the battlefield can't really explain the timing of the 15th amendment because those factors would have applied equally in 1866 when republicans had clearly made a choice not to pursue black suffrage in the 14th amendment. why didhe question, they change their view over a couple years? the best answer seems to be something like the following. the reconstruction was never seen as a permanent solution. it was part of the war power and everyone agreed the war power would lapse at some point. that was perceived as critical to the party's long-term national success because republicans didn't have a solid hold on the north that they would win elections without winning at least some states in the south.
2:01 pm
seven states had written new constitutions. state constitutions are not very hard to change. if the military was drawn from the south, republican state-controlled governments might fall quickly and un- reconstructed whites might write new constitutions, disenfranchising blacks. congress members admitted that they would never disenfranchise someone who had already been enfranchised but many thought that they were unconstitutional. it is not obvious that congress can acquire states to make undertakings that other states are not required to make. once the 14th amendment was
2:02 pm
woulded, section two impose pressure on seven states not to disenfranchise blacks by requiring that the representation be diminished if they did so. it is not inconceivable that southern states would have been willing to pay that price. congress didn't do that much that affected the lives of ordinary people. positions more about like sheriff or county counsel are. with the existing protections, not accounting for very much, it is not hard to see why republicans wouldn't decide that a constitutional amendment, protecting black suffrage would
2:03 pm
be useful. the ideal amend it would've been black suffrage guaranteed in the south and not in the north. there is some limit to how much a pot or say you can get away with. democrats were already making political hay of the fact that republicans were running on a platform of black suffrage in the south under the reconstruction act and in the north every state decides for itself. what about the timing? why does the republican party do -- 1869-1870? the results of these 1868 election were too close for comfort for republicans.
2:04 pm
ulysses s. grant was elected president but by a very narrow percentage of the popular vote. he lost the white vote in the country. when congress, that was elected in 1868, was set to meet for the that time, it is not clear republicans were going to have the two thirds majority necessary to adopt a constitutional amendment. in addition, democrats were starting to regain control of it isn'tislatures so clear that republicans would be able to get the three quarters of state legislatures to ratify an amendment if they didn't act quickly. second, the republicans were breaking a promise to their constituents.
2:05 pm
their platform in 1868 was, and i said, black suffrage in the south under the reagan action act, and the north every state decide for itself. a federal constitutional amendment guaranteeing black suffrage throughout the country was breaking a promise to their constituents. republicans may have calculated that if you are going to break a promise, if you're going to live your constituents, it is better to do it immediately after the election rather than before the next election. maybe by november 1870 republican voters would have forgotten. the most conservative way to and reconstruction was to enfranchise blacks, and that way you could end military rule in the south. if black voting were truly secured, african-americans in the south might be to protect -- be able to protect their own rights. federal military intervention at some point could be withdrawn. it was growing increasingly controversial in the north to be using the military to intervene in the south. many republicans concluded this
2:06 pm
might be the easiest and most conservative way to get out of reconstruction. the 15th amendment is much more precise in its language than the 14th, which talks about things like equal protection, due process, privileges, immunities. 15th amendment says you can't disfranchise someone based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude. it does not forbid disfranchisement for other reasons, thus a pretty clearly allows disfranchisement based on failure to pass a literacy test, based on lacking property required in a property qualification, based on inability to pay a poll tax. 90% of african-americans were illiterate in the south. after the civil war, it had been a crime to teach african-american slaves to read and write. most former slaves had no significant amount of property, obviously. it is easy for southern states to disenfranchise blacks
2:07 pm
indirectly through literary tests and poll taxes. why didn't republicans challenge those methods of disfranchisement in the amendment? the answer is many of them wanted to. one way to do that would be to require not impartial suffrage, but rather to require universal suffrage, somewhat of a misnomer because they were not talking about women. universal suffrage to them meant that all male voters could vote. but not all republicans didn't believe in universal suffrage. many conservatives thought that, apart from racial considerations, suffragette ought to be limited to those who held property and who were literate. that's what most of the nation's founders believed in 1787, and there is a lot of that still kicking around in the late 1860's. other republicans from particular parts of the country had their own passivity grievance -- own specific reasons.
2:08 pm
in new england, the protestant elite felt threatened by the catholic migration accelerated by the potato famine. they wanted literacy requirements to curtail suffrage rights for catholic irish. massachusetts and connecticut pioneered the use of literacy tests as a disenfranchisement technique in the 1850's. on the west coast, republicans in oregon and california were worried about the chinese voting. chinese were about 10% of the population in california in 1860. that is a vastly larger share of the population than blacks. republicans thus were internally divided. the vote on the amendment in congress was closed. at one point in time, each house approved something broader than simply impartial suffrage, but the committee was dominated by moderate to conservative republicans, and they embraced the least common denominator, which was impartial suffrage. there was another issue that
2:09 pm
divided republicans, which was whether the image protect against race-based exclusion from holding office. that issue was very concrete and immediate in 1868 because the georgia legislature that year excluded blacks who had been duly elected on the ground that the state constitution did not contemplate black office holding. of course, the state constitution didn't explicitly contemplate white office holding either. it didn't say anything about racial requirements for office holding. congress had responded to that action by promptly kicking georgia's representative out of the house. that led southern republicans to demand that any amendment to be
2:10 pm
passed on to protect office holding as well as the right to vote. the senate version of the amendment embrace that position, but the house did not. the provision was then rejected by the joint conference committee. the explanation is pretty simple. northern republicans who might barely be able to convince their constituents to accept black voting were never going to convince them to accept black office holding. the 15th amendment ended up being very narrow in its scope despite many republicans hoping for something broader. they were under a severe time pressure. this was a lame-duck session. there are going to perhaps a lose their super majorities at the end of 1869. they needed a 2/3 majority and they needed to get some moderate and conservative republicans who didn't believe in universal suffrage. the fourth topic is ratification. the campaign was very closely fought. there was intense resistance to
2:11 pm
black suffrage in the border states and the west and lower north. ratification was pretty straightforward in the south, not because most whites wanted blacks to vote, but because blacks were already voting under the reconstruction act and republicans, as a result, controlled most of the southern state legislatures. in the upper north there was little opposition to black suffrage. blacks already were permitted to vote in five of the six states in new england, and in 1868, for the first time, voters in minnesota and iowa approved black suffrage in a referendum. in the border states, like kentucky and maryland, where reconstruction had never happened and slavery had only recently ended, those governments had never been reconstructed because they never left the union during the civil war, but they were certainly not going to agree to black suffrage. western states like california and oregon were not going to agree to black suffrage either. they were controlled by
2:12 pm
democrats, and voting on black suffrage was almost entirely along party lines. the critical contest came in the lower north states like indiana and york, republicans narrowly controlled state legislatures and ratified the amendment a strict partyline votes. in those states, as one might have predicted, voters then quickly retaliated against republicans for having broken their promise and returned democrats to majorities in the state legislature. democratic-controlled legislatures then tried to rescind the amendment, so indiana and new york are trying to rescind. the justification for that position, which is a little bit peculiar -- the state
2:13 pm
legislature can change its mind, but only in one direction -- the proper justification was the famous bear trap theory. so long as you have not been caught in the trap, you can always be caught. once you have been ensnared, there is no getting out. why ratifying an amendment is like a bear trap the republicans never bothered to explain, but that is the beauty of political power. you just exercise but you don't necessarily need to justify. it is interesting to note that the 15th amendment might very well have not been supported by a majority of the country. if you had taken a national referendum of everybody at the time who was authorized to vote, they might very well have voted against the amendment. i don't say that to suggest that the amendment was illegitimate. that is certainly how white southerners overwhelmingly regarded it. i say it only to contrast it with most amendments in american constitutional history.
2:14 pm
most amendments require super majority support to get ratified. member how hard it is to get an amendment. 2/3 of each house and 3/4 of the state legislators. many elements have been defeated that clearly had majorities in favor. for example, one thinks of the school prayer amendment, the flagburning amendment, the equal rights amendment. by contrast, it became a part of the constitution even though it is possible to believe that a majority of americans opposed it. you ask yourself, how could that happen? the explanation is probably the majority wing of the majority party supported it. republicans drove it through state legislatures in the lower north, states where we know majorities rejected black suffrage, but they just had referenda rejecting black suffrage. this is also how southern slaveowners had tended to
2:15 pm
dominate the national government before the civil war. they were the majority wing of the majority party, only it was the democratic party. now the tables were turned. i don't have a lot of time left. i'm going to talk about subsequent disenfranchisement and get as far as i can. 15th amendment bars race-based disenfranchisement. it was utterly and completely nullified within 30 or 40 years, certainly by 1910. black political participation in the south was about 0%. this is one of the most extraordinary examples in american constitutional history of constitutional nullification. a provision in the constitution being rendered utterly worthless. congress did nothing to check this disfranchisement under section two of the 14th amendment, which it is obliged to enforce. it is not discretionary. congress is mandated to reduce representation for a state that disfranchises adult males, and the courts did nothing to prevent this under the 15 the
2:16 pm
moment. 15th amendment. african-americans in the south did not start voting again until after world war ii, and not in substantial numbers until the civil rights act of 1965. blacks turned out in enormous numbers and voted overwhelmingly republican because all southern states had very large african-american populations, and three southern states had black majorities. republican candidates won resounding victories everywhere, and many blacks were actually elected to office. at times during reconstruction, blacks were close to a majority of the lower house of the mississippi and louisiana legislature, and they were a majority in south carolina. 16 african-americans served in congress. thousands of african americans held the critically important local offices like sheriff,
2:17 pm
school board member, local county counselor. the political power of southern blacks was short-lived. southern whites, even when they were in a minority demographically, wielded preponderate economic thomas social, and physical power through fraud, intimidation, and violence, whites eventually succeeded in suppressing black voting to allow democrats to redeem the southern states. . from republican rule president -- from republican rule. in the fall of 1875, the administration made a calculation that further military intervention necessary to save mississippi from redemption would alienate too many northern votes and would specifically cost republicans the governorship and perhaps the electoral college votes of ohio in 1875 and 1876. freed from an external constraint, southern whites were
2:18 pm
going to do whatever was necessary to regain political power. black voting in the south, though it was reduced after the troops came out of the south, did not end with the fall of reconstruction in 1877. a majority of african americans were still voting in the south in 1880. many blacks continued to sit in state legislatures and local offices. it really wasn't until 1890 that the precipitous decline began. formal disfranchisement took many forms. i won't run through all of them. residency requirements would penalize itinerants. secret ballot laws functioned as quasi-literacy tests because you had to be able to read and mark your ballot without assistance. disfranchisement for crime was gerrymandered to reflect white perceptions of black criminal propensities. most of southern states use literacy tests which would disproportionately disqualify
2:19 pm
illiterate blacks, even if they were fairly implied. of course, they weren't. local registrars had tremendous discretion in how they administered literacy tests, which meant they were going to administer them to exclude lacks even if they were -- exclude blacks even if they were literate. there were poll taxes as voting restrictions. as a result of formal and informal disfranchisement among black voter registration turnout was reduced to almost nothing by the early 20th century. in louisiana, black voter registration fell from over 95% before an 1896 registration law was enacted to just under 10% immediately thereafter, and to 1.1% in 1904. that is in eight years.
2:20 pm
black voter registration in alabama it fell from 180,000 to 3000 in 1903. registration figures undoubtedly exaggerate turnout. in mississippi, the estimates for black voter turnout were 29% in 1888, 2% in 1892, and 0% in 1895. disenfranchisement had calamitous consequences. when they could not vote, neither could they hold office. no black sat in the mississippi legislature after 1895. there had been a peek of 64 blacks in the mississippi legislature in 1873. in south carolina's lower house, which had a black majority during reconstruction, a single black representative remained in 1896. the last black southern congressman until the 1970's relinquished his seat in north carolina in 1901.
2:21 pm
sheriffs, justices of the peace, school board members, those were the most important governmental actors in the late 19th century. the preferred method of southern whites to deny constitutional rights to blacks was to administer broad discretion in a discriminatory way. disfranchisement was essential to the success of that strategy. it has to be the case that blacks are no longer voting for these local officials if they are to be trusted to administer their discretion in a way that will enforce white supremacy. once blacks were not voting it made it possible to exclude blacks from juries, to divert the share of african-american school funds to white schools, and finally the dramatic number of unpunished black lynchings. while blacks were voting for
2:22 pm
sheriffs, sheriffs had adequate incentive and the capacity to do something about lynching. with black political power nullified in the south, radical racists swept to power. one bragged he would leave the office of governor of south carolina to "lead the mob." rather than prevent nigger lynching." the supreme court did nothing to challenge black disenfranchisement. instead they used slightly subtler methods. the regard going to use whatever methods they could in order to avoid it.
2:23 pm
that is 30 minutes. i think maybe i should quit. thank you very much. [applause] announcer: you are watching american history tv, 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter @cspanhistory for information on our schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. >> tonight, georgetown law professor peter edelman looks at the way the court affects the poor with panel is a sand's and fees in his book "not a crime to be poor." issue inverty and terms of the war on drugs or the victims of the war on drugs? how did poverty play into that? families withs to
2:24 pm
no men around, what happens to the men who have been locked up in the collateral consequences. they cannot get jobs, they cannot live in public housing. laws across the country with collateral consequences. it destroy somebody's life. if they were not poor when they went into prison, their poverty-stricken for the rest of their lives. it is totally connected to poverty. tonight onfterwords c-span two. c-span, where history unfolds daily. c-span was created as a public service by america's public television companies and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider. >> next come at william kunz and
2:25 pm
richard hansen look at federal voting rights cases for the past 50 years and talk about how gerrymandering constitute modern forms of voter suppression. this was part of a symposium -- tled "and franchising enfranchasing." it is 1.5 hours. from lunch.ack --m a >> our first speaker is william


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on