As the American Civil War ended, the federal government was undecided as to how the seceded Confederate states were to return to the Union. President Abraham Lincoln favored a lenient policy and hoped to reunify the country quickly. When John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln in April 1865, the responsibility for reunifying the country passed to Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's former vice-president. Johnson initially favored a much harsher plan. He later changed his mind and favored a more lenient plan. Radical Republicans serving in the United States Congress did not agree with the President's plan. As a condition for re-admittance to the Union, the Congress proposed forcing the former Confederate states to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Fifteenth Amendment stated,
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.
This amendment guaranteed African American men the right to vote under the Constitution. Many Republicans believed that African American men deserved the right to vote. Other members of Congress had an additional motive. They believed that many white Southerners would never support a Republican candidate. Some of these legislators hoped that African American voters would support the political party that had ended slavery. African Americans could provide the Republican Party with a base of support in the former Confederate states.
The United States Congress submitted the Fifteenth Amendment to the states for approval in February 1869. Three-fourths of the states had to approve it.
The Fifteenth Amendment divided Ohioans. Since the Civil War's conclusion, Ohio citizens had debated whether to permit African American men to vote. Members of the Democratic Party, especially former Peace Democrats, generally opposed suffrage for African American men. Most Republicans supported extending the right to vote to African American men. When the United States Congress submitted the Fifteenth Amendment to the states for approval, Democrats controlled the Ohio legislature and refused to ratify the amendment. Governor Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican, supported the amendment. In the state elections of 1869, Hayes retained his seat by a slim margin of 7,500 votes. The Republicans did gain a slight majority in both houses of the General Assembly. The legislature ratified the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. The Ohio Senate approved it by a single vote, and the Ohio House ratified it with just a two vote majority.
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