CHAPTER I. RECONSTRUCTION AND ITS AFTERMATH
The first steps were taken by Mississippi in 1890. The new state constitution of that year required as prerequisite to the voting privilege, the payment of all taxes which were legally demanded of the citizen during the two preceding years - a provision to which no constitutional exception could be taken, and which effectively debarred large numbers of colored voters. Further, it provided that after January 1, 1892, every voter must be able to read any section of the state constitution or be able to give an interpretation of it when read to him. As the election officials who would judge the ability of the applicant properly to interpret the constitution would certainly be whites, it was clear that the ignorant black would have scant chance of passing the educational test. Several other states followed in the wake of Mississippi, until in 1898 Louisiana discovered a new barrier through which only whites might make their way to the voting lists. This was the famous "grandfather clause." In brief, it allowed citizens to vote who had that right before January 1, 1867, together with the descendants of such citizens, regardless of their educational and property qualifications. As no negroes had voted in the state before that date, they were effectively debarred. Under the influence of such pressure, the negro vote promptly dwindled away to negligible proportions. In Louisiana, to cite one case, there were 127,263 registered colored voters in 1896, and 5,354 in 1900. Between these two years the new state constitution had been passed. In 1915 the Supreme Court finally declared a grandfather clause unconstitutional on the ground that its only possible intention was to evade that provision of the Fifteenth Amendment which forbids the states to abridge, on account of color, the rights of citizens of the United States to vote.
The history of the effects of the war and of reconstruction on the political status of the negro has been concisely summarized as falling into three periods. At the close of the war: (1) the negroes were more powerful in politics than their numbers, intelligence and property seemed to justify; (2) the Republican party was a power in the South; and (3) the negroes enjoyed political rights on a legal and constitutional equality with the whites. By 1877 the first of these generalizations was no longer a fact; by 1890 the Republican party had ceased to be of importance in the South; and by the opening of the twentieth century, the negro as a possible voter was not on a legal and constitutional equality with the white.
In the sphere of government the war and reconstruction were of lasting importance. Preeminently it was definitely established that the federal government is supreme over the states. Although the Constitution had seemed to many to establish that supremacy in no uncertain terms, it can not be doubted that only as a result of the war and reconstruction did the theory receive a degree of popular assent that approached unanimity. Temporarily, at least, reconstruction added greatly to the prestige and self-confidence of Congress. During the war the powers of the President had necessarily expanded. The reaction, although hastened by the character and disposition of President Johnson, was inevitable. The depression of the executive elevated the legislature and not until the beginning of the twentieth century did the scales swing back again toward their former position.