Celebrating a Milestone: A Lithograph Honoring the Fifteenth Amendment

“The Fifteenth Amendment, Celebrated May 19th, 1870.” James C. Beard (designer), Thomas Kelly (publisher), 1870. Winterthur Library 1973.0568

A lithograph in the Winterthur collection depicts a grand parade on May 19, 1870, in Baltimore, Maryland, celebrating the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African American men the right to vote. Published by Thomas Kelly and based on a painting by James C. Beard, the print shows a central parade scene framed by portraits of individuals important to the cause as well as scenes that display hope for the possibilities of a brighter future—although the fight for equality and full citizenship would be a long road.

Center detail

While we do not know if Beard attended the parade or if he read an account in the newspaper, it is clear that his work draws on the scenes and speeches reported in newspaper articles from the day. The center vignette depicts the celebration in Baltimore. Described as an “Imposing Procession of Civil, Military, Trade and Beneficial Associations” by the Baltimore Sun, black and white spectators thronged to the streets to watch the grand procession. Leading the crowd was a large chariot drawn by four horses and mounted with a large bell and a banner proclaiming, “Ring out the old, ring in the new, ring out the false, ring in the true.” The chariot was followed by a procession of distinguished guests and speakers including famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Other members of the parade comprised various social organizations, clubs, schools, work associations, political societies, and more from the Baltimore area, all on display in their finery and with eye-catching contraptions. A rigged ship sits in the background of the center scene of the print, which the Baltimore Sun’s article mentioned accompanied the Good Intent Club, Caulkers’, and Live Oak.

Bottom left

Bottom right

The parade ended in Monument Square, where spectators gathered to hear the speeches given by Isaac Meyers, the president of the organizing committee; H. J. Brown, who read a letter from abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison; Howard University Dean John M. Langston; John A. J. Creswell, Postmaster General; Frederick Douglass; Judge Hugh L. Bond; F. A. Sawyer, senator from South Carolina; and many others. Speakers quoted the Declaration of Independence, which appears on the print, believing that the country now fulfilled the statement that “All men are created equal.” Other themes that the orators professed made their way into Beard’s rendition. They gave credit to the brave African American soldiers who fought for the Union. They celebrated the autonomy in their work and their ability to marry at will and form a family unit without the danger of being sold and separated. Most frequently, they celebrated and promoted education with Frederick Douglass entreating parents to send their children to school in order to “show that besides the cartridge box, the ballot box, and the jury box you have also the knowledge box.”

Top center

The individuals featured on the lithograph were celebrated that May day because they were important to the abolitionist cause. At the top of the lithograph, three men are pictured: Martin Robison Delany, the first African American field officer in the U.S. Army, who served as a Major in the 52nd U.S. Colored Troops Regiment; Frederick Douglass, famed abolitionist, orator, and publisher of The North Star; and Hiram Rhoades Revels, who served as the first African American senator in 1870, filling the seat left vacant by Jefferson Davis in 1861. In addition, Ulysses S. Grant and Schuyler Colfax appear opposite of each other in the top corners. Grant, who had served as the General of the Union Army, was President of the United States at the time of ratification and pushed for the passage of the amendment. Vice President Colfax opposed slavery and helped found the Republican Party—which was celebrated that day as the party that brought freedom and rights to African Americans. Abraham Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator,” and John Brown, who led the Harper’s Ferry slave rebellion, also appear on the print as martyrs for the rights of African Americans.

While the print may be a sign of optimism for the future, its publication was very much rooted in entrepreneurial acumen. Publisher Thomas Kelly had worked with his father John Kelly in Philadelphia before establishing his own firm in New York in 1863. The earliest Kelly prints focus on Civil War themes, publishing images marketed toward the North and the South. In fact, Thomas Kelly published two lithographs in 1865: President Lincoln and His Cabinet and Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet. Such choices indicate Kelly’s opportunistic business practices more so than any political beliefs. James Carter Beard had moved to New York City as a staff artist for D. Appleton & Co. and for Charles Scribner’s Sons, but he also worked as a freelance illustrator.

In understanding Beard’s rendition, it is important to acknowledge the complicated and often negative feelings toward African Americans. The Fifteenth Amendment was not widely popular, and in order for former Confederate states Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, and Georgia to be readmitted to the Union, they had to ratify the amendment. Not all white citizens felt the same enthusiasm represented in the lithograph. The Baltimore and American Advertiser reported:

“It was a noticeable fact yesterday that while the procession was wending its way through the streets many dwellings were shut up, presenting the appearance ‘that nobody was in,’ and a curious inquiry revealed the fact that out of fifteen of those houses closed twelve of them were occupied by persons who refused to witness the procession, they declaring they could not gazed upon such a humiliating scene.”

While much progress had been made to free African Americans and amend the Constitution to acknowledge their rights as citizens, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would see restrictions and attempts to circumvent those rights including poll taxes and literacy tests. It would not be until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which aimed to prevent racially discriminatory legal barriers to voting, that African Americans would truly obtain the right to vote. This lithograph represents America’s complicated history, allowing us to reflect on a moment that celebrated a brighter possible future.

Winterthur is very grateful for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts that has given us the ability to photograph and digitize works on paper in the collection, including this lithography.

Post by Amanda Hinckle, Robert and Elizabeth Owens Curatorial Fellow, Museum Collections Department, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

 

1. Edmund T.K. Delaney, The Kellys: Printmakers of New York and Philadelphia (Chester, Conn.: Connecticut River Publications, 1984), 5.

2. Jeffrey Weidman, Artists in Ohio, 1787–1900: A Biographical Dictionary (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2000), 60.

3. “Lithograph Celebrating the Fifteenth Amendment, 1870,” Shaping the Constitution: Resources from the Library of Virginia and the Library of Congress, Education @ Library of Virginia, accessed March 6, 2018, http://edu.lva.virginia.gov/online_classroom/shaping_the_constitution/doc/celebrating_fifteenth

4. “The Fifteenth Amendment,” Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser.

 

 

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