The United States of America is going to celebrate its 246th birthday this year. It's hard to believe that this country has made so much progress in that short amount of time. Well, compared to countries that have existed for centuries before the US. One of these great progressions is the right to vote.
We have problems, we know and it’s a constant battle. However, on this 4th of July, we thought of accentuating the positive and celebrating our voting rights in the United States. Since the Founding Days, America’s right to vote has gone through massive change.
Establishing Voting Rights
The United State was put into a unique position in 1787. After separating from Britain, the United State formed an entirely new system. The Enlightenment movement ideals were ingrained into the United States’ identity during this time. The conception of setting up a democratic republic (representative democracy) was new. According to David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University and the University of Minnesota School of Law:
In 1787, the United States was in a unique position. When you looked across the rest of the world you saw monarchies and principalities. You didn’t have this concept of voting rights. You didn’t vote kings in or out of office.
However, it was not perfect at the start. States were put in charge of voting rights, allowing them to make their own rules on who was allowed to vote. Furthermore, only white males with property were allowed to vote until property qualifications were eliminated in the 1820s. As you can see, the first version of voting rights was not ideal or fair. However, change started to occur in the 1870s.
Blacks' Right to Vote
The Civil War made a drastic change in the United States, especially in regard to voting. The fabric of the United States’ society was changing as slavery was coming to an end. After the end of the Civil War, slaves were left free to become full citizens of the United States. Black made up the most significant portion of these enslaved people.
Between 1867 and 1870, tension was getting higher as Southern states were passing restrictive “Black Codes” to control African Americans’ labor and behavior. However, this caused national outrages in the North as it was permitted by President Andrew Johnson. President Johnson actively tried to prevent progress by vetoing the Civil Rights Act and Restoration Act of 1867. However, Congress used its power to pass the law.
The Civil Rights Act stated that all Americans born in the United States were national citizens that should enjoy equality under the law. The Restoration Act of 1867 allowed the government to outline how national (male) suffrage would work. Furthermore, it forced the Southern states to ratify the 14th Amendment. In 1870, Congress adopted the 15th Amendment that would guarantee a person’s right to vote cannot be denied on “account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
This was a massive change in voting rights. However, there was still a major population that was unable to vote.
Apparently, when they passed the Civil Rights Act that guaranteed national citizens the same equality under the law, it did not include women. Regardless of race, women were denied the right to vote. Women started protesting for their right to vote in 1848. It was launched into the national scene with the Seneca Falls Convention. Women’s suffrage became at the forefront of the Women’s rights movement.
During that time, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other delegates created the Declaration of Sentiments, which stated:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Figures like Susan B. Anthony and other activists lobbied the government and raised awareness about women deserving equal rights to men, especially when it comes to voting. While President Woodrow Wilson tried to support Women’s suffrage after a change of heart, it ended up falling by 2 votes in the Senate in 1918. However, one year later, Republican US Representative James R. Mann, chairman of the Suffrage Committee, went to House to propose passing the Susan Anthony Amendment, giving women the right to vote.
This time, Women’s Suffrage won as the House votes were 304 to 89. The 19th Amendment was codified into the Constitution in the same year.
Celebrate Our Right To Vote
Although there were hiccups like Jim Crow Laws, the evolution of voting itself is amazing. This is all possible because of the Constitution and founding principles of our country. If the United States were not a democratic republic, voting rights would never change. After all, direct democracy would never let a minority gain power.
However, the United States grew and expanded voting rights to include racial minorities and women because it was natural and what was right. Even though people complain about Voter IDs and radical forces continue to attack our system, we have a lot to appreciate. For a vast majority in the United States this 4th of July we can celebrate the right to vote and the freedoms this great nation has afforded us.