#OnThisDay: The US Constitutional Amendment that Put an End to Poll Taxes

I majored in political science in college, but I’d be hard pressed off the top of my head to tell you  what the 24th Amendment to the United States Constitution is about. Its ratification was completed on January 23, 1964 when South Dakota became the 38th state to ratify it. The 59th anniversary of its ratification prompted me to blog about the amendment today.

What the 24th Amendment prohibits

It prohibits the United States Congress and any state in the union from basing a person’s right to vote for US President, US Vice President, US Senate, or US House of Representatives in a primary or other election based on the payment of any tax.

Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

Why the 24th Amendment came about

In the late 1890s and until just after the turn of the 20th century, former Confederate States adopted so-called poll taxes. The laws varied from state to state, but they were created as a way to prevent many black people and poor white people from voting. This was a way the states circumvented the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits a person being prevented from voting based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The 15th Amendment said nothing about taxes.

The constitutionality of poll taxes was upheld by the US Supreme Court in Breedlove v. Suttles in 1937. In that case, Nolan Breedlove, a 28-year-old white man refused to pay the $1.00 per year poll tax in Georgia. By not paying the poll tax, Mr. Breedlove was not allowed to register to vote in any election in the state.

Mr. Breedlove filed a lawsuit against Mr. T. Earl Suttles, the Fulton County, Georgia Tax Collector, arguing that the poll tax was in violation of the 14th and 19th Amendments to the US Constitution. Hence, the name of the US Supreme Court case. The Breedlove v. Suttles decision was eventually overturned, but the case serves as an example of the US Supreme Court making wrong decisions sometimes

The Breedlove v. Suttles decision was unanimous! The Court concluded that the “privilege of voting is not derived from the United States, but is conferred by the state, and, save as restrained by the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments and other provisions of the Federal Constitution, the state may condition suffrage as it deems appropriate.”

It was a case, like we’ve seen in other cases as recently as 2022, where the US Supreme Court took the easy way out and clung to the “states’ rights” doctrine.

How the 24th Amendment became the law of the land

After decades of some politicians ignoring the issue of poll taxes and a few politicians pushing for the abolishment of such taxes, Congress finally proposed the 24th Amendment at the prompting of President John F. Kennedy. The amendment was submitted to the states on September 24, 1962 after a vote of 295 to 86 in the US House of Representatives and a vote of 77 to 16 in the US Senate.

Illinois was the first state to ratify the amendment in November 1962 and South Dakota was the 38th state to ratify it on January 23, 1964. That 38th vote was all that was needed.

The aftermath of ratification of the 24th Amendment

Some states were slow to ratify the amendment even after its national ratification was final in 1964. Some states were slow to amend their constitutions to be in compliance with the federal amendment. Always looking for ways to get around the law, some states continued to require racial minority citizens to pass senseless tests in order to earn the right to vote.

People who want to keep other US citizens from voting have turned to more subtle (and some not-so-subtle) forms of voter intimidation. They’ve felt emboldened over the last seven years and the pendulum is swinging toward bolder attempts to scare certain people away from the voting booth. This is an attack on our democracy.

Our democracy depends on each of us defending the right of all citizens to vote.

Since my last blog post

As my new website has transitioned from the design phase to the development phase, I continued to write new content for the site.

It seemed like I had to learn some new technology every day. There is still more I will have to learn. I hope this is good for my brain cells. It isn’t good for my emotional stability or my disposition.

It’s been gratifying to see how well received my local history book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1 has been on Amazon and in the local bookstore, Second Look Books. Thank you to everyone who has purchased it! Don’t be shy about rating it or even leaving a short review of it on Amazon!

My sister and I took a much-needed break on Saturday afternoon and went to see the movie, “A Man Called Otto.” Tom Hanks was perfect in the role of Otto. The movie is based on the book, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I read the book back in 2017 and I’ve remembered it ever since. Here’s the link my June 2, 2017 blog post in which I wrote about the book: You Need to Read These Books!  I recommend the book and the movie.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. While you’re at it, please read one for me. I haven’t had much time to read lately.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

Remember the brave people of Ukraine.

Janet

19 thoughts on “#OnThisDay: The US Constitutional Amendment that Put an End to Poll Taxes

  1. I got the book Janet! Wonderful, I do promise to read it fully and not like I read most other books (lately because I used to be a voracious reader) which I start and then ignore. But I guess each book has its time and it kind of lets you know when is the best time to read it, especially if it is not a fiction novel. Anyways I think you and your sister did the right thing, sometimes you have to disconnect and do something fun and spontaneous because art is the oposite of spontaneity and it requires a lot of concentration, planning, investigating, research and sweat! I did too, on Saturday night I went with friends to see a blues band perform at our local little jazz club and had a smashing good time. So, wishing you the best, stay focused, I know you are very disciplined and I am so happy to hear that the book is doing so good in Amazon and at the local bookstore! Phenomenal! Take good care and all the best from a very, very cold Valencia!
    F.

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  2. I recommend it, Liz. You will laugh, and you’ll probably shed a few tears. Movies don’t usually get to me, but I think everyone in the theater was crying at the end. So much of it reminded me of my brother and even myself — just like the book did.

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  3. I agree, Rebecca. Too many people honestly see voter ID as no big deal. I see it as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist and just one more insidious way to prevent poor people from voting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fantastic, Francis! Thank you so much for persevering and purchasing my book! I hope there will be tidbits of information that will interest or entertain you. And I’m glad you had some relaxation time over the weekend, too. It was nice to take a break from dealing with the business side of writing. Amazon has gotten on my last nerve. I’ve been dealing with them for a month now about 14 defective/damaged books I received but we seem to be at a stand-off. I thought I was finally getting somewhere yesterday when I received an email from a supervisor, but she referred to the wrong case number and has only added to the confusion. Amazon/KDP has already processed (supposedly!) my refund for the 17 defective/damaged books I received last week, so it’s maddening that they can’t process my claim that dates back to December 21. It’s frustrating to order 50 copies of the book and only 33 of them are in sellable condition when they arrive. Plus, it takes them 3 to 4 weeks to ship copies to the author. If I were ordering my book as a customer, I could receive it in 24 hours. Go figure! It’s a guessing game for me now to try to anticipate when to place an order and how many to order just in case 34% of the books arrive damaged. Forgive my rant, but I feel like all I’ve done in January is exchange emails with customer support at Kindle Direct Publishing. So much for having time to read a book or write one!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Incredible! That is totally unacceptable Janet, especially from a company like Amazon! I can feel your frustration and I understand how irritating it has to be. I hope they finally resolve the situation that they themselves have created and set things on the right track. In any event, take good care, I will advise on the book, I am looking forward to starting it very soon. All the best and best of luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks, Francis. I’ve had no response from my email to the supervisor 24 hours ago. The day an author receives copies of her book is supposed to be a joyous occasion. Imagine my disappointment when the book on the top of the stack in the very first box I opened in December was awful looking! With defective books in every order so far, it’s difficult for me to be optimistic. It has put a damper on Book 2, which I hope to finish formatting next week. I didn’t mince words in my email last night. After a month of confusion and back-and-forth via “chat,” and emails to and from people with fake names, I’ve completely lost my patience. I’m sick of seeing copies of my book with dents, tears, rips, gouges, bent corners, etc. The boxes arrive with holes in them, insufficient tape holding them together, and zero packing — so the books just bounce around in the boxes for 600 miles and arrive here unsellable. I tried sending Amazon photos of the boxes so they’d see the books are being damaged in transit, but they didn’t want to hear it or see it. I’ve yet to deal with anyone there who cares. Sorry I’ve burdened you with another rant. It’s the times we live in and as long as the people transporting the books don’t have any pride in their work and as long as Amazon doesn’t care, things will not improve. Oh — and don’t feel like you need to push through my book. It’s rather long. Maybe just read one article at a time. I don’t want reading it to become something you feel obligated to do. All the best, Janet

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  7. My God! Incredible Janet! I am so sorry to hear of such things! I never would have imagined. I hope they resolve this situation for you promptly and effectively as they should, no problem, no rant, I totally understand. And no, I am looking forward to reading your book, of course! Take good care and all the best. God is in charge of this situation too and He knows your effort and knows you don’t deserve this.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for your encouraging words, Francis. I didn’t expect these problems either. 50 hours later, still no reply from that supervisor. You’re right, though, God is in charge. I must be patient and move on with more important things and keep things in perspective. In the big scheme of things, this is a small problem for me to have.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for your comment, David. It really pleases me when I know I’ve written about something that some of my readers knew nothing about. There’s always something more to learn, and I try to learn something every day.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sounds familiar to me in that every dinner time when I was a boy my father would pose a question to me and my brother and sisters, and that was “What did you learn today?” There was always something.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m sure that weighed heavily on your mind all day as you anticipated the question every evening. Our world would be in less of a mess today if more children were asked that question at least occasionally.

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