been made a part of the constitution of each State in order to restrict the power of the legislature to tamper with them. Hence, State constitutional changes indicate the historic turning points and trend of thought on the matter of voting qualifications.

Between the end of the Revolution and 1800, eight States revised their constitutions and three new States came into the Union. In the 1780's, Georgia and New Hampshire abandoned their property qualifications in favor of simple taxpaying requirements. New constitutions were adopted soon after in Pennsylvania and South Carolina, but without change in property or taxpaying qualifications. Vermont was admitted to the Union in 1791 with a constitution that has been described as "the most liberal of all the country.

.19 Kentucky joined the Union in 1792 with a constitution almost as liberal: all free males who had lived in the State two years and in the county one year were allowed to vote.20

Delaware moved from a property requirement to a mere payment of a State or county tax, and New Hampshire abandoned even its taxpaying requirement. Tennessee was the last State to enter the Union with a real-property requirement, in 1796.

The rise of vote-hungry political parties, the growth of popular interest in political battles, economic clashes between seaboard businessmen and inland farmers, reform movements, demand for “internal improvements” in the opening West—all of these helped make more and more Americans want and get the right to vote. State by State the struggle for broader suffrage went on, and the next quarter century saw the admission of nine more States, none of which set up a property qualification. Three-Ohio, Louisiana, and Mississippi, did adopt taxpaying qualifications. But after 1817 no new State admitted to the Union demanded either form of "material interest” of its voters.

As property and taxpaying tests were being lowered and eliminated, various groups of “undesirables,” hitherto denied the ballot by these tests, became otherwise eligible to vote. Most States, however, continued to forestall them by specific exclusions. In Ohio in 1803, persons with mental impairment and those convicted of certain crimes were denied the suffrage; and soldiers, sailors, and marines were disfranchised by residence requirements.21 Louisiana in 1812 limited

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1 This classification was based principally upon two provisions in the Constitution. The first gave the right to vote to all freemen having a sufficient common Interest with and attachment to the community. The second provided that all males twenty-one years of age or older, meeting the one-year residence requirement, being of a quiet and peaceable behavior, and willing to take an oath (or affirmation) stating that he would use his vote conscientiously, was entitled to all the privileges of a freeman, Thorpe, op. cit. supra Dote 8, Vol. VI, pp. 3752, 3757–3758.

» Constitution of Kentucky-1792, Art. III, Sec. 1 ; Thorpe, op. cit. supra note 8, Vol. III, P. 1269.

a Porter, op. cit. supra note 6, at 37-38.


CHART I. Duration of Property and Taxpaying Qualifications




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suffrage to United States citizens.22 Maine in 1819 excluded paupers and persons under guardianship,23 and in 1818 Connecticut adopted a new constitution including the old requirement that voters must be of good moral character.24 Thirty-six years later, in 1855, an amendment to this constitution, obviously aimed at the mounting flood of immigrants, required prospective voters to be able to read the constitution or statutes.25

In 1857, the Massachusetts constitution was amended to provide that all voters must be able to read the constitution in the English language and write their names. Exception was made for men over 60 and anyone who had already voted.26 Two years later Massachusetts raised the bars still higher against Irish Catholic immigrants with an amendment requiring former aliens to remain in the State for two years after naturalization before they could vote.27 During this same period of time, several Midwestern States encouraged immigration by giving the vote to aliens, who had declared their intention of becoming United States citizens.28

Post-colonial America, however, was virtually free of specific religious qualifications. An exception was a provision of the South Carolina constitution of 1778 which required that the voter "acknowledge the being of a God and believe in a future state of rewards and punishments.” 29 There is no evidence that this provision was enforced, and it was left out of the 1790 constitution.


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It is the development of racial exclusions that is of primary importance to this phase of the Commission's study. The principal racial group affected is, of course, the Negro.

Exclusion from the polls on specifically racial grounds did not become general until there began to be appreciable numbers of Negroes who had gained their freedom. The Revolutionary constitutions of only two of the original States—Georgia and South Carolinacontained explicit provisions limiting suffrage to “white males.” During the last few years of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth, however, the situation changed rapidly. Between the years 1792 and 1838 Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania altered their constitutions to exclude Negroes. Furthermore, Negroes were denied the ballot by the constitution of every State except Maine that came into the Union from 1800 to the eve of the Civil War. Only in New England and New York, where they were few, was there no exclusion of Negroes on racial grounds; and in New York the Negro's right to vote was limited by a property-owning and taxpaying qualification not applicable to whites. 30

* Constitution of Louisiana-1812, Article II, Sec. 8, Thorpe, op. cit. supra note 8; Vol. III, p. 1382.

* Constitution of Maine-1819, Article II, Section 1; Thorpe, op. cit. supra note 8, Vol. III, p. 1649.

» Constitution of Connecticut-1818, Article VI, Section 2; Thorpe, op. cit. supra note 8, Vol. I, p. 544.

4 Amendments to the Constitution of Connecticut, Article XI; Thorpe, op. cit. supra note 8, Vol. I, p. 550.

* Articles of Amendment to the Constitution of Form of Government for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Article XX; Thorpe, op. cit. supra note 8, Vol. III, p. 1919.

* Ibid., Article XXIII; Thorpe, op. cit. supra note 8, Vol. III, p. 1920.

* Constitution of Wisconsin—1848, Article III, Sec. 1; Thorpe, op. cit. supra note 8, Vol. VII, p. 4080 ; Constitution of Indiana—1851, Article II, Section 2 ; Thorpe, op. cit. supra note 8, Vol. II, p. 1076 ; Constitution of Kansas—1859, Article V, Sec. 1 ; Thorpe, op. cit. supra note 8, Vol. II, p. 1251.

* Constitution of South Carolina-1778, Article XIII; Thorpe, op. cit. supra note 4, Vol. VI, p. 3251.

The development of suffrage in the United States to the time of the Civil War makes clear that the principle of universal suffrage was never practiced during that period.31 As the Commission on Civil Rights is specifically charged with the duty of investigating alleged denials of the right to vote, the Commission has recognized the importance of considering the nature, development, and extent of these rights before evaluating any possible interference.

30 Porter, op. cit. supra note 6, at 90. 31 Subsequent developments are considered in the next Chapter.


The familiar Reconstruction story needs only brief review. With the war ended and Lincoln dead, President Andrew Johnson sought to reorganize the former Confederate States in the conciliatory manner that his predecessor had planned. Provisional governors were appointed to supervise governmental reorganization in each State, and an Amnesty Proclamation was issued enabling all but former high officials of the Confederacy to vote in the reorganization elections. Under Johnson's plan, the freed Negroes would not vote because the existing antebellum laws of the affected States excluded Negroes from the polls. This was most offensive to the Radical Republican leaders, particularly Senator Charles Sumner, Representative Thaddeus Stevens, and Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, who were committed to Negro enfranchisement.

During 1865, the Johnson administration plan was followed. Conventions or legislative sessions were held in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Texas followed in 1866. Not one of the ten States extended suffrage to Negroes. Instead, several of the Southern States enacted “Black Codes” again subjecting Negroes to humiliating discrimination. The codes provided among other things that:

"Persons of color" ... might not carry arms unless licensed to do so; they might not testify in court except in cases involving their own race; they must make annual written contracts for their labor, and if they ran away from their "masters" they must forfeit a year's wages; they must be apprenticed, if minors, to some white person, who might discipline them by means of such corporal punishment as a father might inflict upon a child; they might, if convicted of vagrancy, be assessed heavy fines, which, if unpaid, could be collected by selling the services of the vagrant for a period long enough to satisfy the claim.”

To the Radical Republicans, the denial of Negro suffrage and the enactment of the "Black Codes" was proof enough that the South could not be treated with Johnson's brand of benevolence. It was their view, not Johnson's, that finally prevailed. Then Congress passed the first Civil Rights Act, which anticipated the Fourteenth Amendment in declaring all persons born in the United States, excluding Indians not taxed, to be citizens of the United States.


1 May 29, 1865, 13 Stat. 758. * John D. Hicks, The American Nation, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1949,

P. 21.

314 Stat. 27 (1866).

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