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Making America: A History of the United States, Brief Second Edition
Carol Berkin, Christopher L. Miller, Robert W. Cherny, James L. Gormly, W. Thomas Mainwaring
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Introduction | Questions to Consider | Source | Related Links

Voting Literacy Test

Although African Americans secured the right to vote after the Civil War through the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, southern states moved quickly after Reconstruction to restrict the voting rights of blacks. Along with poll taxes, white primaries, and property requirements, some states like Alabama instituted literacy tests.

Questions to Consider
  1. After you have taken the test, indicate which questions were the most difficult and which are the easiest. Overall, how difficult is the test? If "passing" the test were a perfect score, would you have been able to vote in Alabama?

  2. Who would be the least likely to "pass" the test? Who would be most likely to be asked to take the test? What was the purpose of the test?

  3. Is it reasonable or equitable to use excerpts from the Constitution as a test of literacy?

  4. Should the ability to read or, in the case of the Alabama example, a knowledge of the Constitution be prerequisites for voting? What do you think are the necessary requirements for responsible voting in national or local elections?



Part 1. In case of the removal of the president from office, or of his death, resignation or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice-President, and the Congress may by law provide for the case of removal, death. resignation or inability, both of the President and Vice-President, declaring what officer shall then act as President, and such officer shall act accordingly, until the disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

Part 2. In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be a party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction

Part 3. In all the other cases before mentioned, the supreme court shall have appellate jurisdiction both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.

Part 4. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction


(After applicant has read, not aloud, the foregoing excerpts from the Constitution, he will answer the following questions in writing and without assistance:)

  1. In case the president is unable to perform the duties of his office, who assumes them?______________________

  2. "Involuntary servitude" is permitted in the United States upon conviction of a crime. (True or False)___________

  3. If a state is a party to a case, the Constitution provides that original jurisdiction shall be in_________________

  4. Congress passes laws regulating cases which are included in those over which the United States Supreme Court has____________________________ jurisdiction.

I hereby certify that I have received no assistance in the completion of this citizenship and literacy test, that I was allowed the time I desired to complete it, and that I waive any right existing to demand a copy of same. (If for any reason the applicant does not wish to sign this, he must discuss the matter with the board of registrars.)


Source: Proceedings of the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate, Eighty-Ninth Congress, First Session on S. 1564, March 23-April 5, 1965 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1965) p. 762


Related Links

  • Civil Rights: A Status Report
    A comprehensive site containing a history of civil rights and African Americans and the African American experience in the US generally.