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Definition of GRANDFATHER CLAUSE
: a clause creating an exemption based on circumstances previously existing; especially: a provision in several southern state constitutions designed to enfranchise poor whites and disenfranchise blacks by waiving high voting requirements for descendants of men voting before 1867
Constitutional provision enacted by seven Southern U.S. states (1895–1910) to deny suffrage to African American men. It exempted descendants of men who voted before 1867 from meeting new literacy and property requirements. Since African American men were not granted voting rights until passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870, this clause effectively prevented them, and many impoverished and illiterate whites, from voting. The U.S. Supreme Court declared such clauses unconstitutional in 1915.