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The 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was intended to address the lingering post-Civil War problem regarding the rights of former slaves. Concerns regarding how blacks would be treated and whether they would be denied the right to vote in elections spurred efforts on the part of the government to reinforce the principle first established in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” Because many feminists, including Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe, had also supported the abolitionist movement and equal rights for blacks, the notion of opposing the 15th Amendment, which states in Section 1, that “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,” they believed that common decency and the precedent the amendment’s passage would set would ultimately benefit women in their own struggle for the right to vote.
On the other side of the divide was Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who opposed the 15th Amendment precisely because it did not provide for the right to vote for women. In fact, the amendment’s obvious omission of any mention of gender as a basis of discrimination, combined with the earlier passage of the 14th Amendment, which, in Section 2, specifically refers to “male citizens” in the context of proportional representation, was viewed by some feminists as prejudicial to their cause. Therefore, to sanction passage of the 15th Amendment would be to support the continued denial to women of their fundamental right to vote. Anthony, Stanton and their followers did not want to appear supportive of any legislative or constitutional movements that failed to address the issue of women’s suffrage.
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