“Our Colored Brother” Comes Up to Bat
with the 15th Amendment
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This full-page engraving, “The Great National Game,” satirizes the recently-passed constitutional amendment granting African-American men the right to vote. The baseball motif, popularized in presidential politics, depicts a black man with stereotyped features holding a bat labeled “15th amendment” about to hit a ball stylized with the stars and stripes. The image caption heralds the arrival of African Americans to full political rights “Our colored brother: ‘Hi Yah! Stan back dar; its dis chiles innins now.’ ” [FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT].
Print. “The Great National Game”
from the graphic newspaper “Punchinello.”
New York, N.Y., April 23, 1870. 16 pp. 9 x 13 in.
The black man in this image has “41st Congress” labeled on his belt. The 41st Congress was dominated by Republicans, both Radical and moderate, who were committed to passing civil rights measures in the wake of the Civil War. The members of Congress, sitting when the 15th Amendment was ratified, look from the background at the results of their handiwork. Unsurprisingly, their work was controversial to both southerners and northern abolitionists: A woman holding a bat labeled “16th amendment” stands on deck. In actuality, the 16th amendment gave Congress the right to tax income and was ratified in 1913. However, in this instance, it references the heated debate over granting women the right to vote now that African Americans had gained it. The debate created a schism between leading civil rights advocates such as Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as the former retreating from woman suffrage after blacks gained the franchise. Women finally received their voting rights in 1920 with ratification of the 19th Amendment.
The Reconstruction amendments to the Constitution ended slavery (13th), provided equal protection and citizenship to all Americans (14th), and granted voting rights with the 15th Amendment, ratified on February 3, 1870. Intended to expand the franchise to the freedmen, the wording of the amendment prohibited restricting the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” In so doing, it opened the door to other restrictions such as literacy tests and poll taxes.
Other contentious issues in post-Civil War American politics are symbolized here: Secretary of State William Seward had pushed the U.S. to purchase Alaska three years earlier, and the Alaska native represents what most Americans considered to be “Seward’s folly.” Similarly, the stereotyped Chinese immigrant suggests the rising tide of anti-Chinese sentiment after the Gold Rush and completion of the transcontinental railroad.
The 41st Congress also passed the Force Act of 1870 to address the increasing violence of the Ku Klux Klan. With the passage of the 15th Amendment, African Americans were not only eligible to vote, but also to hold office, and Hiram Rhodes Revels was elected to the U.S. Senate from Mississippi, joining the 41st Congress as the first African American in Congress.