Disenfranchisement is the denial of voting rights for a person or group of people. At the adoption of the United States Constitution in the eighteenth century, only white men over the age of 21 had the right to vote in federal and most state elections. Women and most racial minorities, especially African Americans, were disenfranchised. This changed with the Civil War, as the Union Army began enlisting Black soldiers. Military service was seen by many in the United States as tied to citizenship, and an increasing number of people—especially in the north—argued that Black soldiers had earned the right to vote. When the war ended, Radical Republicans sought to end slavery and break down racial restrictions against voting. White southerners, often led by former Confederates entering postwar political office, sought to disenfranchise Black voters in order to preserve as much of the Old South culture and white supremacy as possible. They passed laws in Mississippi and other parts of the South in late 1865, known as the “Black Codes,” which restricted African American civil rights. Republicans responded with greater federal oversight and passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited states from denying any person the right to vote according to race, color, or previous condition of servitude. These protections did not cover women or people under 21 years of age.

The Republican efforts led to widespread Black voting in the late 1860s and early 1870s, leading to elections of African Americans to many local, state, and some federal offices. Then, in late 1874, conservative white Mississippians enacted the “Mississippi Plan,” which was an organized effort to disenfranchise Black voters through intimidation. The result was a major Democratic victory in the 1875 election, which pushed many Republicans out of office and resulted in the return of racist white policies in Mississippi. Reconstruction ended two years later, in 1877, and Black disenfranchisement increased. Southern governments began implementing laws intended to deny African American voting rights, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and the famous “grandfather clause” which prohibited voting rights for anyone whose grandfather had not enjoyed the right to vote. The first two policies could not disenfranchise all Black voters, as some could read and some were wealthy enough to pay the poll taxes; the two rules also disenfranchised some poor and uneducated white people. The third policy, though, affected nearly the entire Black population, since their grandparents had almost all been slaves and prohibited from voting.

Black citizens continued to see their voting rights denied or hindered by policies in the United States until well into the twentieth century. (Wikipedia)

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