History of the Federal Judiciary

History of the Federal Judiciary

  The Trial of Susan B. Anthony
Historical Documents related to the trial of Susan B. Anthony

The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments (excerpts)

No advocates of woman suffrage in the 1870s argued that Congress intentionally enfranchised women with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Indeed, they knew that Congress added the word “male” to the Fourteenth Amendment to protect the congressional representation of all the states that counted women in their population but would not allow them to vote. Instead, woman suffragists relied on the words themselves and raised the question, had Congress done so despite itself? At issue were sections one and two of the Fourteenth Amendment and section one of the Fifteenth Amendment. In United States v. Susan B. Anthony, Henry R. Selden joined an ongoing debate about the amendments’ meaning and reminded the court that “very able men have expressed contrary opinions on that question, and, . . . there has been no authoritative adjudication upon it; or, at all events, none upon which the public mind has been content to rest as conclusive.” Citizens of the United States were entitled to vote, he argued, and women were now indisputably citizens.

In his opinion in the case, Justice Ward held that voting rights were not included in the “privileges and immunities” protected by the establishment of U.S. citizenship in the Fourteenth Amendment. The only restrictions on the states’ authority to define the suffrage were those specified in the Fifteenth Amendment.

Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Sections 1 and 2

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

[Proposed June 16, 1866; declared July 28, 1868.]

Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

[Proposed February 27, 1869; declared ratified March 30, 1870.]


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