The Fifteenth Amendment, Celebrated May 19th 1870
Lithography developed in the early nineteenth century. Unlike engraving (where the image is carved into a flat surface), or block printing (where the image is raised), lithography is a flat-surfaced printing technique. In creating this lithograph, a reverse image was drawn in grease on a flat stone. Water was spread over the stone, wetting only those areas without the grease. The surface was then rolled with ink, which adhered only to the grease. A sheet of paper was laid over the stone, and stone and paper were pressed together. The paper was then removed and allowed to dry.
The first lithographs were black and white. By the middle of the nineteenth century color lithography had been introduced. Colors were added one at a time, usually with the lighter colors applied first. This lithograph was hand colored. Although there are additional copies of The Fifteenth Amendment lithograph, their individual coloring makes each one unique.
The central image of this lithograph is entitled "Celebration of Fifteenth Amendment May 19th 1870," and depicts a parade held in Baltimore, Maryland. A series of sixteen smaller images, or vignettes, surround the central image. The captions of those images, beginning top center and proceeding clockwise, read as follows:
1. D[e]lany, D[o]uglass, Revels 2. We till our own fields 3. Colfax 4. We will protect our country as it defends our rights 5. John Brown 6. Freedom unites the family circle 7. The holy ordinances of religion are free
8. Our representative sits in the national legislature 9. Ballot box is open to us 10. Liberty protects the marriage alt[a]r 11. Education will prove the equality of the races 12. A. Lincoln 13. Our charter of rights[:] the holy scripture 14. We unite in the bonds of fellowship with the whole human race 15. Grant 16. Proclamation / Lincoln
Several of the images depict heroes and leaders. Frederick Douglass was a former slave who became an outspoken abolitionist and leader. Martin Delany was an abolitionist who was often referred to as the "father of black nationalism." Hiram Revels was the first African American to serve in the United States Congress, entering the Senate on 23 February 1870. He is also the subject of vignette number eight. John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Vice President Schuyler Colfax are also depicted.
Several other vignettes articulate notions of liberty and freedom in the context of slavery. The images celebrating marriage and the family allude to the ease with which enslaved families could be separated. References to the Bible and religion reflect African American identification with the plight of the Hebrews in Egypt and the theme of deliverance, as well as antebellum legal proscriptions against African American preachers. In the wake of Nat Turner's insurrection, the Virginia General Assembly forbade preaching by African Americans, demanded that slaves secure their owners' permission before attending religious services, and mandated that religious instruction only be given by licensed white ministers.
The image of the school and the caption "Education will prove the equality of the races" challenge slaveholder rationalizations of inherent black inferiority. This image also alludes to laws prohibiting black educational instruction, such as the 1848 Virginia law that prohibited the assembly of African Americans "for the purpose of instruction in reading and writing." Finally, the vignette with the caption "We till our own fields," refers to control of one's own labor and black aspirations for land.
1. Have your students examine the lithograph closely. What event do they think the central image commemorates?
2. Have your students examine the sixteen vignettes closely. How many people can they identify? Why do they think the artist chose to depict these individuals?
3. Have your students examine the vignettes and identify as many of the references as they can. As a class, make a list. Make sure your list includes the following items:
• Freedom to worship as one chooses
• Freedom to marry whom one chooses
• Freedom to seek an education
• Freedom to serve in political office
• Freedom to serve in the armed forces
• Freedom of association, to join organizations
• Freedom to own land and to profit from one's labor.
Ask why these freedoms would be important to former slaves. Have them research slavery and determine how each of these freedoms was denied enslaved people prior to 1865.
4. Have your students read the texts of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. Then ask them to read the First Amendment. Ask them how the founders viewed Congress. Then, ask them how the authors of the Reconstruction amendments viewed Congress. Discuss why one group saw Congress as a threat to freedom while the second saw Congress as its guarantor.
• David Hackett Fischer. Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideals.
• Eric Foner. A Short History of Reconstruction.
• Eric Foner. The Story of American Freedom.
• Eugene Genovese. Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World The Slaves Made.
• Philip J. Schwarz. Slave Laws in Virginia.
• Philip J. Schwarz. Twice Condemned: Slaves and the Criminal Laws of Virginia, 1705–1865.
• VS.8a, VS.8b, USI.9f, USI. 10a, USI.10b, VUS.6c, VUS.7a, VUS.7b, VUS.7c