January 7 marked the sesquicentennial of the Missouri General Assembly ratifying the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that extended voting rights to male African Americans and former slaves. It declared that voting rights “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any state, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Missouri’s ratification effort began inauspiciously when, on January 6, 1870, the House of Representatives voted 81-34 to pass a resolution stating that “this House refuses to become a party to the ratification of said Fifteenth Amendment to the United States, and will take no action to that effect.” The resolution said it was inappropriate for state lawmakers to support “negro suffrage,” since during the 1868 general election Missouri voters had rejected a ballot measure to establish universal male suffrage under state law.
Undeterred by resistance in the House, the Senate voted 20-3 the next day – on January 7, 1870 – to approve Senate Resolution 18 ratifying the 15th Amendment. Later the same day, the House reversed its prior opposition and voted 86-34 to pass the Senate’s ratification resolution.
On February 3, 1870, Iowa became the 28th state to ratify the amendment, providing the required approval of three-fourths of the then-37 states. The federal government certified the 15th Amendment as part of the U.S. Constitution on March 30, 1870, by which time two more states had ratified it. Tennessee was the last state to ratify the amendment, doing so in 1997.
“The ratification of the 15th Amendment shows what our nation can accomplish when it commits itself to equality and justice,” said Assistant House Minority Leader Tommie Pierson Jr., D-St. Louis.
“The subsequent failure to enforce its protections for nearly a century exposes how badly our nation can fail when it refuses to stand against racism and oppression. The right to vote is the right to a voice in our government, and there always will be those who seek to silence the voices of others. We must diligently defend the right to vote at all times, or it will be lost.”