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What Is the 24th Amendment?

By Andy Josiah
Updated May 17, 2024
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The 24th Amendment is a reference to an amendment made to the United States Constitution, which functions as the supreme law of the U.S. It forbids the prevention of citizens from voting due to the non-payment of poll tax. The 24th Amendment is particularly tied to the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, collectively known as the Reconstruction Amendments, since its origin can be attributed to the violation of these Constitutional modifications.

The 14th Amendment was ratified on 9 July 1868 as the second of the three amendments that almost immediately followed the end of the American Civil War. These amendments were designed to reconstruct a defeated South, including protecting the human rights and civil liberties of the country’s freed slaves. It contains the Equal Protection Clause, which stipulates that the states are responsible for enforcing equal protection under the law to their inhabitants within their jurisdictions. The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, had preceded it in 1865, and the 15th Amendment extended voting rights to black males after it was ratified in 1870. Many states in the former Confederacy, however, responded to these gains by limiting them. This included curbing black voting.

Poll tax arose as a way of requiring each adult male to vote with the payment of a certain fixed amount of money. These charges were usually regulated by a grandfather clause, which demanded that each adult male must prove that his grandfather or father had voted in a year within the period before the abolition of slavery to gain voting eligibility. This particularly affected black Americans, who all had forebears who were legally unable to vote; many also lacked the ability to afford the poll tax. The situation was made worse by literacy test requirements for measuring citizens’ literacy level, White Citizens Councils that sought to economically oppress blacks who dared vote, and the Ku Klux Klan, a home-grown terrorist organization that arose to discourage black suffrage through violence and intimidation.

President John F. Kennedy facilitated the Congressional proposal of the 24th Amendment to the states on 27 August 1962. Less than two years later, on 23 January 1964, the states ratified it. Under the 24th Amendment, no citizen should be denied the right to vote for the U.S. president, vice president or congressmen because of the failure to pay a poll tax, or any other tax, for that matter. The 24th Amendment banned the poll tax on the federal elections level. With the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966), the poll tax was officially declared unconstitutional due to its violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

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