On this dayFeb 02, 1866

Frederick Douglass Calls for Voting Rights

Image | Library of Congress

Andrew Johnson became the seventeenth President of the United States on April 15, 1865, following Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Through a series of executive actions, Johnson mounted an immediate effort to restore Confederate loyalists to power in the Southern states. One of Johnson's first moves was to grant amnesty to thousands of former Confederate soldiers, reinstating their rights to vote and hold office.

Although Johnson had voiced moderate support for African American voting rights, none of his early decrees granted them. In fact, before white audiences and on public platforms, Johnson spouted views of white supremacy as president. In a letter to Missouri Governor Thomas Fletcher, Johnson described the United States as "a country for white men, and as long as I am president, it shall be a government for white men."

Radical Republicans and African American leaders fiercely fought President Johnson, Democrats, and conservative Republicans on key Reconstruction issues, such as Black voting rights, education for freedmen, and land allocation. Joined by his son and several other activists, Frederick Douglass met with President Johnson on February 2, 1866, to advocate for Black voting rights. Johnson remained committed to ensuring white control of Southern governments and undermining efforts to secure African Americans' voting rights. By the tense meeting's end, Johnson had further damaged his standing with Northern states and Radical Republicans.

Four years later, on February 3, 1870, Johnson and his supporters lost their fight when the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting rights.

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