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tv   Race Suffrage the 15th Amendment  CSPAN  January 14, 2018 9:20pm-9:53pm EST

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-- 1965 that the amendment became reality for most voters. next on american history tv from called 150 years of the 15th amendment, discussing the flaws of the 15th amendment and the exploitation and suppression of african-american voters by both the republican and democratic parties. the university of the south in sewanee, tennessee, hosted the daylong symposium. this is about 30 minutes. professor michael carmen is the current professor at harvard law school where he began in 2008. he received his jd from stanford law school and went to the university of oxford where he , was a marshall scholar. after law school, professor klarman clerked for the
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honorable ruth bader ginsburg on the united states court of appeals for the d.c. circuit judge you he at various times served on the faculty of university of virginia school of law, the marshall school of law, the college of william and airy, stanford law school and at yale law. mary, stanford law school and yale law. his first book "from jim crow to civil rights: the supreme court and the struggle for racial equality" received the bancroft prize in history. and "unfinished business: racial inequality in american history" comes from oxford university press. he is currently working on a revisionist history of the
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founding and in 2009 he was inducted into the american academy of arts and sciences. i ask you to please welcome our guest. [applause] >> thank you for coming. i am delighted to be here. there is some overlap for those of you who heard the talk last night. know andeal of what i what all of us know about this material comes from his scholarship.
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-- dr. klarman: just a preview, i am going to talk about five different topics. first, the background to the 15th amendment. for enactingning the amendment. why are the republicans adopting amendment in when they did not do it in the 14th amendment which was adopted in 1866. i will talk about the scope of the 15th amendment, why is it limited to an franchise based on race. and not just literary cap. fourth, i will talk about the difficulties the republicans had amendment and the then i will briefly discuss the reasons and methods behind
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three in franchise. and the failure of the united states government to do anything about it. the 15th amendment bars the united states and states from denying suffrage on account of race, color, previous condition of servitude. and in section two it empowers congress to implement the amendment. the north, before the civil war, five states and new england allowed blacks to vote on the same terms as whites. new york allowed blacks to vote but only if they held $250 in property. that did not apply to whites. that was a differential requirement. that means in the vast majority of the north, blacks were not allowed to vote. 90% of blacks lived in the -- african-americans, 90% of them lived in the south. only 10% in the north. i've seen the estimate that of that 10%, only about 7% had the right to vote. there was a trend away from
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black suffrage in northern states before the civil war. states like connecticut and new jersey had allowed blacks to vote but they lost the right overtime. pennsylvania as well. s half-dozen northern state held referendum on black suffrage in the years after the civil war. 1866, 1867. those are states such as new york and ohio. black suffrage richard jenkins in all of those states sometimes by large margins. in the south, no state allowed free blacks to vote after about 1930. best 1830. before that, -- no date allow free black to those after about 1830. but president lincoln in and inter-had encouraged
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reconstructing states to allow some african-americans to vote, for example those who were educated or those who had fought in the union army. there is a is 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 did not do that, was not going to have much chance of being a national party. before the civil war, the republican party had been a factional party president lincoln is not even on the ballot in the south state of virginia. without support, the republicans have a tenuous hold on power at the national level but without black suffrage in the south, the party has very little prospect of success unless they're going to disenfranchise very large numbers of rebel whites. 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
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for purposes of apportioning the house and electoral college. republicans need to guarantee suffrage for southern blacks but imposing black suffrage in the north runs the risk of alienating their constituents, who of repeatedly made it clear that they do not think african-americans in the north need to be voting. the first shot at solving the dilemma was section two of the 14th amendment which seem like med like the ideal answer to their problems. it creates a powerful inducement for southern states to enfranchise lacks by threatening to reduce their congressional representation if they continue to disenfranchise adult male citizens. that would place pressure on northern states less because there are so few blacks living in the north. the black population in the north very from less than 1% in
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or 2% in states like indiana or illinois. republicans adopted the circuitous route rather than simply maintaining black suffrage in the 14th amendment because they were frankly scared to go back to their constituents in the congressional election having just enfranchise blacks. the problem is that the 14th amendment goes into effect and southern states were refusing to ratify the 14th amendment in 1866, 1867, in some support -- and southern support would be necessary if you are to get to the 3 quarters of the states needed to ratify a constitutional amendment. so in 1867, congress decided to act more directly. a used its power of -- it used mandate states to hold new constitutional conventions through which blacks were to be required to be eligible to vote and those new state constitutions also were required to continue to protect black voters. that is some background to the 15th amendment. the second question is, how did
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we get from that situation to the adoption of the constitutional amendment barring enfranchisement based on race. why did the republicans not just stop. they have imposed segregation that would allow them to build up their political party but they have not imposed on the north where doing so might alienate their constituents who then retaliate against them at the polls. historians have disagreed about how we get from their to the 15th amendment. clearly the ideologically of the civil war play some role. the war had evolved into a war to abolish slavery. that's lead some people to change their views about black suffrage. also the role of black soldiers on the battlefield is a powerful
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way to get whites to reconsider their thoughts about black suffrage. but the soldiers on the battlefield could not explain the timing of the 15th amendment. the republicans made a choice not to pursue black suffrage in the 14th amendment. the reason they change their view seems to be the following. the reconstruction acts was never seen as a permanent solution. exercise of war the republicans needed to find a different solution if they were going to permanently safeguard black suffrage in the southern states. that was perceived as critical to the party's long-term success because they did not have such a hold on the north that they would be able to win elections
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without being able to win at least some states in the south. congress had also extracted promises from the southern states when they were readmitted to congressional representation that they were never disfranchised anyone who at already been an franchised but the problems with that was many people thought they were unconstitutional. not obvious that congress can require state in exchange for their congressional representation to make commitments that other state are not allowed to make.
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finally they would require that congressional representation with diminished if they did so but it is not inconceivable that southern states would be willing to pay that price. lady -- in the late 19 century, congress did not do much to affect people's lives. more in touch with their local government. the existing protections for black suffrage that existed in 1867 and 1868, it is not hard to see why republicans would decide that a constitutional amendment protecting black suffrage would be useful. from their perspective, the
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ideal amendment would have been black suffrage guaranteed in the south and not in the north but perhaps even with politics there is a limit to how much hypocrisy you can get away with. i used to think that. maybe not anymore. democrats were already making political hay out of the fact that republicans were running on a platform of black suffrage in the south under the reconstruction act. in the north, every state decides for itself. republicans probably could not have had the amendment they wanted which was black suffrage guaranteed in the south and not in the north. what about timing? why does the republican party do this when they were not willing to do it in 1868 and 67? the results of the 1868 election were way too close for comfort for republicans. ulysses s. grant, that preeminent war hero was elected president but only
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by a narrow percentage of the popular vote and he actually lost the white vote in the country. 1858,ongress, elected in was it to me for the first time were to me for the first time, it is not clear that republicans were going to have the two thirds majority necessary to adopt a constitutional amendment. republicans had lost seats in congress and it was not entirely clear they would still have two thirds. democrats were starting to regain control of state legislatures so it is not clear republicans would be able to get 3 quarters of state legislatures to ratify an amendment at they did not act weekly. -- quickly. by adopting a black suffrage and then the republicans were , breaking a promise to constituents. their platform in 1868 was black suffrage in the south under the reconstruction act, in the north every state decides for itself. , a federal constitutional amendment guaranteeing black
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suffrage throughout the country was breaking a promise to their constituents. republicans may have calculated that if you're going to break a promise, if you're going to lie to your constituents, it is better to do it immediately after the election rather than before the next election. by november 1870, republican voters would've forgotten what they had been told to years earlier. third and finally, some republicans were beginning to conclude that the most direct and conservative way to and reconstruction was to in franchise black bass enfranchise blacks and you could end military role in the south. it's like voting were truly secured, african american in the south would be able to protect their own rights. federal military intervention at some point would be withdrawn, and it was growing increasingly controversial in the north to be using the military to intervene in the south so many republicans concluded this might be the easiest and most conservative
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way to get out of reconstruction. third topic. the scope of the amendment. the 15th amendment is more precise in its language. the 14th amendment talks about due process, privileges and immunities. 15th amendment says you cannot disenfranchise someone based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude. it does not forbid disenfranchisement for other reasons. allowsty clearly disenfranchisement on failure to pass a literacy test, based on lacking property required in a property qualification or based on inability to pay 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 black
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indirectly through literary tax and poll taxes. why didn't they challenge that disenfranchisement in the amendment? many of them wanted to. many best one way to do that would be to require not impartial suffrage. impartial means no disfranchisement based on race . rather the required universal suffrage rather a misnomer given the fact they were not talking about women, but universal suffrage meant all adult males could vote. but not all republicans believed in universal suffrage leaving aside even the disfranchised of women. they believed that suffrage should be limited to those who held property or were literate. that is what most of the nation's founders believed and a lot of that sentiment was still kicking around in the late 1860 's. other republicans from particular parts of the country -- their unspecific
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unspecific reasons for wanting to avoid universal suffrage. in new england, the protestant elite felt challenged by a the -- the migration caused by the potato famine. they wanted literacy requirements to curtail what professor marshall was alluding to in her talk earlier. in massachusetts and connecticut, they pioneered the use of literacy tests as a disenfranchisement technique. 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 that blacks comprise. the republicans were thus internally divided. at one point in time, each house approved something broader than impartial suffrage. but it was dominated by moderate to conservative republicans and
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they embraced the least common denominator, which was impartial suffrage. there was another thing that divided the republicans. there was an issue over if it should protect from ray 's from holding office -- race based bars from holding office. the georgia legislature had denied blacks from holding office after they had been elected. it did not say anything about racial requirements for office-holding. congress responded by promptly kicking georgia's representatives out of the house. that episode led southern republicans to demand any amendment the past should should was passed protect officeholding as well as
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the right to vote. the senate embraced a provision but the house did not. it was rejected by the joint conference committee. the explanation is simple. northern republicans who might be barely able to get there constituents to accept voting of blacks would never get them to accept black officeholding. the 15th amendment ended up being narrow in its scope despite what was probably a majority of support from republican from something broader. they were acting under severe time pressure. this was the lame duck session in january 1869. they were going to lose their super majorities by the time the congressman again at the end of 1869. they needed two thirds majority and they need to get some moderate and conservative republicans who did not believe in universal suffrage. even the radicals seem to have calculated it is better to get something rather than nothing. maybe you can get more in the future. the 4th topic is ratification. the campaign was closely odd. -- the campaign was closely fo
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ught. there was intense resistance to black suffrage in the border states and the lower north. ratification was pretty straightforward in the south, not because most whites when a that wanted blacks to vote but because --not because most whites wanted blacks to vote but because they were already voting under the reconstruction acts. in the upper north come there -- in the upper north there was , little opposition to black suffrage. blacks were already allowed to vote and 5 of the six states and finally for the first time, voters in minnesota and iowa had actually approved black suffrage in an referendum. but in the border states, kentucky and maryland where , reconstruction had never happened and slavery had only recently ended, they were not going to agree to black suffrage. western states like california and oregon were not going to
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agree to black suffrage. they were controlled by they were voting entirely along party lines. the critical contest game in the lower north states like indiana and new york, were republicans -- where republicans narrowly controlled state legislatures in 1869 and they ratified the amendment by strict partyline votes. however, voters quickly retaliated against republicans for having broken their promise in they returned democrats to majorities in the state legislature. the democratic control legislature then tried to their state's ratification of the 15th amendment. indiana and new york are trying to resend but republicans in congress say the constitution does not permit a state to resend its ratification. the justification for that position, which if you think about it is a little particular
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. you can change your mind from ratifying but not too rejecting. as long as you have not been caught in the trap, you can always because the once you have been -- you can always be caught trapped, youare are trapped. why ratifying and amendment is like a bear trap, the republicans never bothered to explain but that is the beauty of political power. you just exercise it, you don't necessarily need to justify. it is interesting to note given what i just described you did the 15th amendment might very well have not been supported by a majority of the country. that is, if you take a national referendum of everybody authorized to vote, they might very well have voted against the amendment. i don't say that to suggest the amendment was illegitimate. although that is how white southerners overwhelmingly regarded it. i say that to contrast it with most of amendment's that
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require super majority support to get ratified. remember how hard it is to get an amendment. two thirds of each house and 3 quarters of the state legislature. many proposed amendments have been defeated the clearly had -- that clearly had majorities in waiver. -- in favor. one thinks of the school prayer amendment, the flagburning amendment, the equal rights amendment. by contrast the 18th of , amendment became part of the constitution even know it is plausible to believe that the majority of americans oppose it. how can that happen? the answer 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 is dutch suffrage because they had referenda rejecting black suffrage. ironically, this is how southern slave owners had tended to dominate the government before
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the civil war. they were the majority wing of the majority party only was the -- only it was the democratic party. now the tables are turned. i will talk about subsequent disenfranchisement. the15th amendment barred disenfranchisement based on race. 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 that disenfranchises adult
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males. african-americans in the south really did not begin voting again until roughly world war ii and in very substantial numbers, not until the 1965 voting rights act. how did disfranchisement happen? with the suffrage rights of african-americans protected by the 15th amendment, blacks turned out in enormous numbers and they voted overwhelmingly republican. because all southern states had very large african-american populations and 3 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. african-americans served in congress. thousands of african-americans held the critically important local offices like sheriffs or school board member or local
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county counselor. the political power of southern blacks were short-lived. even when they were in power whites eventually succeeded in suppressing black voting which in turn allowed democrats to redeem the southern states from republican rule. ulysses s. grant occasionally authorized military intervention to suppress electoral violence but in the fall of 1875, the administration made an explicit calculation that further such military intervention which , would've been 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. constraint,xternal southern whites were willing to
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do whatever was necessary to regain public power. like betting in the south was reduced -- black voting was theced but did not end with fall of reconstruction in 1877. the majority of african-americans were still voting in the south in 1880, many blacks continue to sit in state legislatures and local offices. it was not until 1890 that the precipitous decline began. formal disfranchisement took many forms. residency requirements would penalize itinerant's and blacks were perceived as more likely to move around. figure valid functions -- secret ballots functioned as because you had to read and mark a ballot
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without any assistance. gerrymandering to affect white perception of black criminal intensity. most southern states used literacy tests which would disproportionally disqualify the literate blacks even if they not fairly applied. local registrars and tremendous discretion in how they apply tests which meant they would administer them to exclude blacks even if they were literate. poll taxes were adopted, most states adopted white primaries which excluded blacks from the only elections that really mattered after 1890. as a result, formal and informal disenfranchisement, black voter turnout was reduced to almost nothing by the early 20th century. and louisiana, black voter registration fell from over 95% before and 1896 -- before an 1896 registration law was enacted and just under 10% immediately thereafter and 1.1%
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in 1904. registration and alabama fell from 18,000 to 3000 in 1903. legislation figures undoubtedly -- registration figures undoubtedly exaggerate turnout. in mississippi, the estimate for black voter turnout was 29%, 2% in 1892, 0% in 1895. disfranchisement had calamitous consequences for southern blacks. when african-americans could not vote, neither could they hold office. no blacks sat in the mississippi legislature after 1895. there had been a peak of 64 blacks in the mississippi in in south carolina's lower house, which had a black majority during reconstruction, a single black representation remained in 1896. the last black southern congressman until the 1970's relinquished his seat in 1901. even more importantly, disenfranchisement meant that almost no blacks held local offices.
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sheriffs, justices of the peace, county commissioners and school board officials, those were the most important local actors in the early 19th century. -- late 19th century. the preferred method of southern whites to deny constitutional rights to blacks were the broad discretion of local officials who would then administer that discrimination in a discretionary way. this disfranchisement was essential to that strategy. it had to be the case of blacks were no longer voting for the officials of they were to be trusted to administer their discretion in a way that would enforce white supremacy. once blacks were not voting, and -- it was made possible to exclude blacks from juries to -- and to divert the share of african-american funding to white schools. the dramatic number of unpunished black lynchings while blacks were voting for sheriffs, blacks had adequate incentive to do something about lynching. with black political power completely nullified in the south, radical racists were in powder.
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the governor bragged he would resign as governor of south carolina and lead the mob rather than use his office to protect a quote unquote nigger brood from lynching. the supreme court did nothing to challenge black disenfranchisement. southern whites avoided wrestle restrictions --racial restrictions on suffrage, instead they used slightly subtler methods. many white thought the 15th amendment was -- most thought the 15th amendment was a illegitimate thing so they were going to use whatever method they could in order to avoid it. that is 30 minutes. i had more to say but i thought maybe i should quit. we were supposed to end at 10:30, so thank you very much. [applause]
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