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The Two Reconstructions:
The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement

Chapter 1: The Strange Career of African American Voting and Office-Holding

African Americans' rights--to vote and to hold office--have had a strange career. A sudden, large increase in rates of black voting and office-holding has taken place twice over the course of American political evolution. The meaning of that fact, as we will see, is disturbing. From a social science standpoint it is also deeply interesting.

The first large expansion in African American voting rights took place after the Civil War. It was so sweeping that in 1874, when Congress revised the United States Code, the revisors were able to take forty-seven separate regulatory provisions from the federal elections statutes enacted between 1870 and 1872 and place them in code. But inclusion eventually gave way to thorough disenfranchisement of African Americans at the state level. In the late 1890s, southern governments set up poll taxes and literacy tests to push blacks out of the voting booth. This process affected federal law as well. Congress threw out the Reconstruction-era elections statutes. A House report from the Fifty-third Congress (1893-1895) demanded that "every trace of reconstruction measures be wiped from the books." By 1911, this goal was effectively met. About 94 percent of a once-elaborate federal electoral-regulatory code was repealed.2