African American Men Gain The Right To Vote In Washington, D.C.
On January 8, 1867, African American men gained the right to vote in the District of Columbia. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the measure that granted that right. However, the Republican-controlled senate overrode Johnson by a vote of 29-10. This happened three years before a constitutional amendment granted the right to vote to all men regardless of race.
At the time, citizens of D.C. voted for a local council, but they had no representation in Congress. They also had no say in presidential elections. Congress was the final authority on many matters for the District, including voting rights. To this day, the capital city’s budget is the only municipal budget in the country that is subject to congressional approval. At the end of the Civil War, Lincoln’s Republican Party dominated the legislature, which had been reduced in size and drained of Democrats due to the secession of Southern states. Johnson, however, was not a Republican. He was a Unionist Democrat whom Lincoln had chosen as his running mate during the Civil War in the hopes of appealing to Southern Unionists.
As evidenced by his veto, Johnson valued reconciliation with the former Confederacy over racial equality. He also opposed the Fourteenth Amendment, which made freed slaves citizens. Johnson’s opposition to the Republicans’ views on Reconstruction would define his presidency and lead to his becoming the first president ever to be impeached. He spent much of his presidency vetoing the bills of the so-called Radical Reconstructionists. Fortunately Johnson was unable to stop Congress from granting voting rights to the African Americans who lived in Washington, D.C.