Voting Rights: America’s First Expansion of Voting Rights

by Derrick Dyess

The United States was founded on the ideas of justice, fairness, and to be a government of the people, and for the people. That of course sounds to make solid sense as the United States was formed and continue to operate with a sense of democratic purpose. However voting rights were not equal, and a large majority of Americans were not able to vote. This of course, in a nation founded on democratic principles, and this did not sit well with its citizens.

            In 1776 the only people that could vote must own land. Most of these men were of the age of 21. In 1787 there was no such thing as federal voting standard, it was left up to the states to issue ballots, collect ballots, count ballots, certify ballots and declare the results. Since the states held the responsibility of managing local elections and regulate their voting laws. However, none chose to allow African Americans the right to vote or run for office. 

In 1789 the U.S. Constitution granted states the power to set voting requirements. In turn, states limited others the right to vote unless they were of the minimum age of 21, owned property, or paid taxes, and of course, be a white male. The percentage of the population that met these requirements was approximately 6%. In 1790, the US population was approximately 3,929,214. That means that the 6% of the population that could vote was 235,752.84. So, a population of 3,929,214 were unable to vote and their voices were fully silenced.

            In 1791 the State of Vermont, newly added to the Union, gave the right to vote to men regardless of color or property ownership. Then in 1792 Kentucky is given statehood. Kentucky gave the vote to free men regardless of color or property ownership. However, most Blacks in Kentucky may not vote because they are enslaved and a brief amount of time later, the newly allowed right to vote would yet again be taken away from even the free Blacks.

            It is abundantly clear to anyone who has studied this era, or even just read my brief blog that the issue of slave labor, elitism, racism, and fear are prominent factors of concern regarding expanding voting rights. As for fear, I do not mean fear from violence, vengeance, or repercussions of lifetimes of brutality by slave owners, but fear of political change if Black Americans would be able to vote. That fear would cause harsh outcomes, with numerous atrocities. However, the struggle continued even though so many will be harmed and parish in the pursuit of the right to vote. They march on throughout the era, not for themselves, but for the future of others. They fight so that others might live in an era where suffrage is achieved and guaranteed for all regardless of race. Their efforts are certainly heroic. They took the perilous first steps to gain suffrage and moved the country forward.

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