Studies in American History and Culture, 1820-1920
One of the fruits of the Civil War was the legislation abolishing slavery and guaranteeing all citizens of the United States the right to vote. African Americans, yesterday’s slaves, could for the first time be legally elected to significant positions at the local, state, and federal level. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, abolishing slavery, passed during the Civil War and ratified in December, 1865, became at that time, as some stated, the most important legal act in American history. More than 140 years ago in 1868, all Americans including the newly freed slaves, could vote in the presidential election, and later several black activists were elected to important state-level and federal offices. Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi became the first African American to sit in the United States Senate in 1870 and 1871.
After the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, Wendell Phillips, abolitionist and human rights activist, exclaimed, “We have washed color out of the constitution” (qtd. in Quarles, The Negro 138). African Americans, realizing its significance, celebrated the event in all parts of the country. During one of such celebrations, Frederick Douglass, former slave and well-known activist, exulted: “We have a future, everything is possible to us” (138). Neither “black codes,” limiting the rights of African Americans, nor the activity of the Ku Klux Klan, often aimed at creating obstacles that would prevent freedmen from participating in elections, killed this belief in a better future.
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