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Government Theory
How much change do you want to take place?
How much change took place? Reform or a revolution?
States’ rights vs. Federal Government Rights: Who has more power?
Mayflower Compact
-Not a constitution, an agreement to submit to the will of the majority
MBC Charter, 1630
-Granted by the King
Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, Thomas Hooker
-1st written constitution in the colonies
Structure of Colonies at 1775
1. Royal Colonies: 8 colonies had royal governors appointed by the crown.
2. Proprietary Colonies: 3 colonies led by proprietors who chose governors
-- Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
3. Charter Colonies: Connecticut. & R.I. elected own governors
under self-government charters.
Bicameral legislature most common
1. Upper house, or Council, normally appointed by the crown or proprietor
2. Lower house, or Assembly, elected by property owners
Voted for taxes to pay expenses in the Colonial government (power of the purse)
New England -- town hall meetings
Voting restrictions
a. Property and/or religious qualifications were imposed
Dominion of New England (1686)
 Purpose: Enforce Navigation laws created to protect mercantilist system
 Catholic James II appointed Sir Edmund Andros to lead the DNE, takes away most all colonists
 Triggered "First American Revolution“
 England's "Glorious Revolution" ended this issue as Catholic James II was dethroned in England
and replaced by Protestants William & Mary
17th Century major events and issues
o Democratic trends
_ House of Burgesses: first parliamentary gov’t in America (Virginia)
_ Pilgrims in Plymouth: Mayflower Compact (majority rule)
_ Puritans: townhall meetings, all male church members vote, 1631
_ Rhode Island: Roger Williams – “liberty of conscience”
_ Fundamental Orders, 1639: 1st written constitution in America (Connecticut)
_ Connecticut and Rhode Island are Charter Colonies (large degree of autonomy)
_ Maryland Act of Toleration, 1649
_ “Holy Experiment” in Pennsylvania (after 1681) – William Penn
_ Bacon’s Rebellion, 1675 (Virginia)
_ Overthrow of Dominion of New England (led by Andros), 1689 (“first American
revolution) – inspired by Glorious Revolution in England and Bill of Rights in
_ Leisler’s Rebellion, 1691 (New York)
o Trends toward colonial unity
_ New England Confederation, 1643: defense against Indians (King Philip’s War)
_ Cambridge Platform: New England colonies met to create guidelines for
Congregational Church
_ Defeat of the Dominion of New England, 1689: Andros removed
Democratic trends
_ “Salutary Neglect”: 1713-1763 (Whig ideology in British Parliament)
_ Colonial assemblies (representative government); governors paid by assemblies
_ Zenger case, 1736
_ Regulator Movement, 1771 (N. Carolina); Paxton Boys (in PA), 1764
_ Enlightenment philosophy: natural rights – life, liberty, property (John Locke)
o Trends toward colonial unity
_ Ben Franklin’s Albany Plan for Union, 1754 (during French and Indian War)
_ Stamp Act Congress, 1765: The Association
_ Massachusetts Circular Letter, 1767 (in response to Townshend Acts)
_ Boston Massacre, 1770
_ Committees of Correspondence, 1772-73
_ First Continental Congress, 1774
_ Lexington and Concord, 1775
_ Second Continental Congress, 1775
_ Bunker Hill, 1775
_ Common Sense, Thomas Paine
_ Declaration of Independence, 1776
Trends toward colonial unity
_ New England Confederation, 1643: defense against Indians (King Philip’s War)
_ Cambridge Platform: New England colonies met to create guidelines for
Congregational Church
_ Defeat of the Dominion of New England, 1689: Andros removed
Trends toward colonial unity
_ Ben Franklin’s Albany Plan for Union, 1754 (during French and Indian War)
_ Stamp Act Congress, 1765: The Association
_ Massachusetts Circular Letter, 1767 (in response to Townshend Acts)
_ Boston Massacre, 1770
_ Committees of Correspondence, 1772-73
_ First Continental Congress, 1774
_ Lexington and Concord, 1775
_ Second Continental Congress, 1775
_ Bunker Hill, 1775
_ Common Sense, Thomas Paine
_ Declaration of Independence, 1776
Trends toward colonial unity
Impact of “salutary neglect”
Increased power of colonial assemblies
Success of illegal triangular trade
American’s unwilling to later accept increased control by Britain
American religion free to pursue its own course.
Articles of Confederation
Strength of the
A loose confederation of states.
(The united states is a compilation
of individual states)
A firm union of the people (We the
people of the United States)
1 vote in Congress for each state
Bicameral legislature, 2 votes in the
Senate (upper), House (lower) based
on population (Article 1, Sections II
& III)
Passing laws
2/3 vote (9 states of 13) in
Simple majority in Congress (50%),
subject to a Presidential veto (Article
1, Sections VII)
Force of the laws
Laws executed by committees of
Laws executed by a powerful
president & executive branch
(Article 2, Sections II & III)
Power to control
No congressional power over
commerce (trade), states taxed
each other’s goods
Congress to regulate both foreign
and interstate commerce (Article 1,
Sections VII) Congress taxed imports
but not exports.
No congressional power to levy
taxes (could request them, but no
force of law behind them)
Extensive power in Congress to levy
taxes (Article 1, Sections VIII)
Judicial Branch
No federal courts
Federal courts, capped by a Supreme
Court (Article 3)
Changing the
13/13 unanimity of states for
Amendment process less difficult:.
2/3 of the of the states or 2/3 of
Congress can introduce an
Amendment, while it takes ¾ of the
states to ratify the Amendment
(Article 5)
Authority to
enforce the laws
No authority to act directly upon
individuals and no power to coerce
states. Has trouble dealing with
domestic insurrection, like Shays’
Ample power to enforce laws by
coercion of individuals and some
extent of states. The federal
government has the strength to deal
with domestic uprisings, like the
Whiskey Rebellion.
No Bill of Rights, left up to the state
Bill of Rights to protect individual
The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States
Constitution. They were introduced by James Madison to the First United States Congress in 1789 as a
series of legislative articles and came into effect as Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791,
through the process of ratification by three-fourths of the States. The Bill of Rights is a series of
limitations on the power of the United States federal government, protecting the natural rights of liberty
and property including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, a free press, free assembly, and free
association, as well as the right to keep and bear arms.
Amendments 1 - 10: The Bill of Rights (Ratified on 12/15/1791)
Amendment 1:
 Rights of freedom of religion (prohibits establishment of one religion over another by law,
practicing religion freely), freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and
freedom of press.
Amendment 2:
 Right to bear arms.
Amendment 3:
 Quartering of soldiers prohibited during peacetime. Soldiers should be quartered at a civilian home
only with the owner’s permission.
Amendment 4:
 Freedom from seizure of property, arrests and searches without a specific warrant.
Amendment 5:
 Prohibits trial for a crime except on indictment of a Grand Jury and double jeopardy, prohibits
punishment without legal procedures and taking away of private property without adequate
Amendment 6:
 Right to a public and speedy trial by an impartial jury, to confront the witnesses against the
accused and to have a legal attorney in defense of the accused.
Amendment 7:
 Right to trial by a jury in civil cases.
Amendment 8:
 Prohibits imposing cruel, unusual punishments and fines, prohibits granting excessive bails.
Amendment 9:
 Assures the recognition of those rights that people may have but are not listed here.
Amendment 10:
 Provides that the powers that are not given to the United States nor prohibited by the constitution
are reserved to the states respectively or to the people.
Amendments 11 – 27, Added Amendments to the Constitution
Amendment 11:
 Clearly states the judicial powers of the US states and the federal government on foreign nationals
and the limitations of the citizens to sue states under federal law, 1795.
Amendment 12:
 Specifies the procedure for electing the president and the vice-president of the US separately by
ballot votes. This was passed in reaction to the Jefferson, Burr tie in the 1800 election, 1804.
Civil War & Reconstruction Amendments
Amendment 13: Abolished slavery, 1865.
Amendment 14: Broadly defines the parameters of the US citizenship, prohibits the states from reducing
or diminishing the privileges of citizens and emphasizes their right to due process and the equal protection
of the law, This was a reaction to the black codes passed in the South after the Civil War,1868.
Amendment 15: The citizens' right to vote shall not be denied by the states or the federal government on
the basis of race, color or previous status of servitude. Many felt Republicans did this to ensure they
could be elected to office. It also helped refocus the Women’s suffrage movement because it expressly
granted a right to men. 1870.
Progressive Amendments
Amendment 16: Authorizes the federal government to collect taxes on income, 1913.
Amendment 17: Establishes the direct election of the senators to the United States Senate, 1913.
Amendment 18: Prohibition, Prohibits the manufacture, sale, transportation, import or export of
intoxicating beverages within the US and all the territories falling under its jurisdiction, 1919.
Amendment 19: Women’s suffrage, 1920.
Other Amendments
Amendment 20: States in detail the terms of office that the President, the Vice-President, the Senators and
the Representatives shall hold, 1933.
Amendment 21: Repeals Prohibition, the 18th Amendment. This was seen as a means to boost the
economy during the Great Depression, 1933.
Amendment 22: Sometimes called the Anti-FDR amendment, it was designed to establish that no US
President can be elected to more than two terms. It also limits the maximum time a President may serve to
10 years, if one should succeed to the office, 1951.
Amendment 23: Allows the representation of the District of Columbia in the Presidential elections, 1961.
Amendment 24: Prohibits the non-payment of poll tax or other tax as a basis of denial of the right to vote.
This was part of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and was ratified in 1964.
Amendment 25: The Vice President shall become President in case the President is removed from office
or in case of his death, 1967.
Amendment 26: Prohibits the federal government or the state from denying any citizen who is 18 years or
above, the right to vote. This was a reaction to Vietnam and the draft, 1971.
Amendment 27: Establishes that any law that increases or decreases the Congressional pay shall not be
put to effect until the next term of office of the representatives begins, 1992.
Remember the proposed 27th Amendment, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which came very close
to passing, receiving 35 of the needed 38 states in the late 70’s.
Conflict Between State and Federal Sovereignty, 1810-1860
_ Federal gains in power
Supremacy Clause in the Constitution: The Constitution is “the Supreme law of the land.”
John Marshall’s Supreme Court decisions:
_ Marbury v. Madison, 1803 – Judicial Review (note: Not in time period but significant as
a precedent)
_ Fletcher v. Peck, 1810 – The Court invalidated a state law (Georgia’s Yazoo Land sale)
_ Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 1816: Supreme Court rejected “compact theory” and state
claims that they were equally sovereign with the federal gov’t.
_ Dartmouth v. Woodward, 1819: Court ruled states could not invalidate charters issued
during the colonial period. Helped safeguard businesses from state control.
_ McCulloch v. Maryland, 1819: Ruled BUS was constitutional; states could not tax the
_ Cohens v. Virginia, 1821 – Supreme Court had right to review decisions by state supreme
_ Gibbons v. Ogden, 1824 – Only Congress has the right to regulate interstate commerce
_ Daniel Webster: argued many cases before the Court favoring federal power and ghost
wrote several of Marshall’s decisions.
Henry Clay’s “American System”: protective tariff of 1816 and 2nd BUS
Nullification issue
_ Calhoun: South Carolina Exposition and Protest
_ Webster-Hayne debate, 1830
_ Nullification Crisis of 1832: Jackson threatened South Carolina if it nullified the tariff.
States’ Rights Gains
10th Amendment: All powers not mentioned in the Constitution belong to the states.
Jeffersonian and Jacksonian views of states’ rights; Calhoun also
Madison, Monroe and Jackson veto federal funding of internal improvements
1830s: Southern states pass ban on abolitionist literature in Southern mails.
Gag Rule, 1836-1844
Jackson kills the BUS; Independent Treasury System under Van Buren (“Divorce Bill”) &
Charles River Bridge case, 1837: States given right to prevent monopolies for internal
Defeat of Wilmot Proviso, 1848
Popular sovereignty in Mexican Cession and Kansas and Nebraska.
Calhoun’s “concurrent majority” idea
Dred Scott decision, 1857: slave owners could take slaves into the territories.
Marshall Court (1801-1835)
Chief Justice John Marshall was a Federalist appointed by John Adams as one of his midnight
judges before Jefferson and the Republicans took office. Marshall served more than three decades after
the Federalist Party lost control of the executive and legislative branches of government and continued to
promote Federalist ideas. The Marshall court generally supported the national supremacy of the federal
government over states rights and issued pro-business decisions. He dominated the court like no other
Chief Justice before or after; though he sat on the court for 1127 decisions, he was in the minority only
seven times.
Marbury v. Madison (1803)
 The court established its role as the arbiter of the constitutionality of federal laws and affirmed the
principle known as judicial review. The case stemmed from President John Adams appointing
midnight judges as his Federalist term came to an end, and the incoming Republican President
Jefferson telling his Secretary of State James Madison to not deliver the commission to Marbury
that Adams forgot to deliver. In the ruling, cleverly Marshall gave Jefferson the ruling he wanted,
but claimed a power that Jefferson did not like of judicial review (He would prefer his Virginia
and Kentucky Resolutions of nullification).
McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
 The Court ruled that states cannot tax the federal government, as Maryland tried to tax the Bank of
the United States. Marshall wrote the famous phrase “the power to tax is the power to destroy”
and confirmed the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States. This decision seemed to end
the Jefferson, Hamilton debate about the constitutionality of the bank, although later Andrew
Jackson would seem to in part ignore this decision as he killed the Second National Bank by
removing bank deposits and claimed the bank was unconstitutional again.
Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)
 This case is called the “steamboat case” because it dealt with two rival steamboat operators and
who had power to regulate them, the state of New Jersey or the federal government. The case
clarified the interstate commerce clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3) and affirmed
Congressional and federal power of regulation over interstate commerce as compared to state’s
rights to do so.
Worcester v. Georgia (1832)
 This case involved Andrew Jackson’s policy of Indian removal and the Cherokee legal fight led by
John Ross to block the process. The court ruled in the Cherokee’s favor. It established tribal
autonomy within their boundaries, i.e. the tribes were “distinct political communities, having
territorial boundaries within which their authority is exclusive.” After the decision was issued
Jackson was said to remark "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!" and
ignored the ruling.
Taney Court (1836-1864)
Taney was a spoilsman appointment by Andrew Jackson as a reward for his work as Secretary of
the Treasury and removal of bank deposits to kill the Second National Bank. Taney was a slave holder
and an advocate for state’s rights. His decisions as a whole were pro-Southern, pro-slavery, pro-state’s
rights and in some ways helped the common man, meaning the common white man.
Scott v. Sanford (1857)
 Speaking for a widely divided court, Chief Justice Taney ruled that Dred Scott was not a citizen
and had no standing in court; Scott's residence in a free state and territory had not made him free
since he returned to Missouri; Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in a territory (based on
the 5th Amendment right of a person to be secure from seizure of property), thus voiding the
Missouri Compromise of 1820. This ruling greatly divided the nation because it said then that the
federal government had no power to limit the spread of slavery.
Conservative (Lochner) Era (1895-1937)
The Supreme Court during the Lochner era has been described as playing a judicially activist, but
politically conservative role." The court interpreted laws in favor of big business and against government
regulation of the economy. The Court invalidated state and federal legislation that inhibited business or
otherwise limited the free market, including laws on minimum wage, federal (but not state) child labor
laws, regulations of banking, insurance and transportation industries. The14th Amendment was
interpreted during this time to protect companies, because they were seen as people that deserved
economic due process, yet did not use the equal protection clause to protect African American Civil
Rights. Originating in the late 19th century, the Lochner era carried into the mid-1930s, when the Court's
tendency to invalidate labor and market regulations came into direct conflict with Congress' regulatory
efforts to bring about economic recovery as part of the New Deal.
Wabash, St. Louis, and Pacific Railway Co. v. Illinois (1886)
 Declared state-passed Granger laws that regulated interstate commerce unconstitutional.
U. S. v. E. C. Knight Co. (1895)
 Due to a narrow interpretation of the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the Court undermined the
authority of the federal government to act against monopolies. It said a company with a 95%
share of the market did not restrain trade. Plus, said a manufacturing monopoly did imply a
restraint of trade. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act was used against labor unions because their strikes
restrained trade.
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
 Legalized segregation in publicly owned facilities on the basis of the “separate but equal”
doctrine. As a result of this case. Southern states began to enact Jim Crow Laws.
“Insular Cases” / Downes v. Bidwell (1901)
 Confirmed the right of the federal government to place tariffs on good entering the U. S. From
U.S. Territories on the grounds that “the Constitution does not follow the flag.”
Northern Securities Co. v. U. S. (1904)
 Re-established the authority of the federal government to fight monopolies under the Sherman
Anti-Trust Act. This case involved Teddy Roosevelt’s Administration fighting JP Morgan’s
railroad company.
Lochner v. New York (1905)
 A landmark United States Supreme Court case that held a "liberty of contract" was implicit in the
due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The case involved a New York law that limited
the number of hours that a baker could work each day to ten, and limited the number of hours that
a baker could work each week to 60. By a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that
the law was necessary to protect the health of bakers, deciding it was a labor law attempting to
regulate the terms of employment, and calling it an "unreasonable, unnecessary and arbitrary
interference with the right and liberty of the individual to contract."
Muller v. Oregon (1908)
 First case to use the “Brandeis brief”; recognized a 10-hour work day for women laundry workers
on the grounds of health and community concerns. This was a small victory for women’s right,
but the case law still acknowledged women as a special class of people that needed protection.
Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918)
 Declared the Keating-Owen Act (a child labor act) unconstitutional on the grounds that it was an
invasion of state authority.
Schenck v. U. S. (1919)
 Unanimously upheld the Espionage Act of 1917 which declared that people who interfered with
the war effort were subject to imprisonment; declared that the 1st Amendment right to freedom of
speech was not absolute; free speech could be limited if its exercise presented a “clear and present
danger,” like a person yelling fire in a crowded movie theatre.
Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923)
 Declared unconstitutional a minimum wage law for women on the grounds that it denied women
freedom of contract.
Schechter v. U. S. (1936)
 Sometimes called “the sick chicken case.” Unanimously declared the National Industrial Recovery
Act (NIRA) with its NRA board unconstitutional on three grounds: that the act delegated
legislative power to the executive; that there was a lack of constitutional authority for such
legislation; and that it sought to regulate businesses that were wholly intrastate in character.
Butler v. U. S. (1936)
 Supreme Court declared FDR’s AAA unconstitutional. This, along, with other cases led FDR
attempt to pack the Supreme Court.
Korematsu v. U. S. (1941)
 The court upheld the constitutionality of detention camps for Japanese-Americans during World
War II.
Warren Court (1953-1969)
The Warren Court was known for being activist and for the expansion of civil rights, civil
liberties, judicial power, and federal power in dramatic ways. In comparison to the Supreme Court the era
before, it was ahead of the nation in promoting social policy. The court helped set the agenda instead of
declaring federal laws unconstitutional.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954)
 Unanimous decision declaring “separate but equal” from Plessy v. Ferguson was unconstitutional
and that school segregation was illegal. It ordered schools to be desegregated with all due
deliberate speed.
Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)
 Extends to the defendant the right of counsel in all state and federal criminal trials regardless of
their ability to pay.
Miranda v. Arizona (1966)
 The court ruled that those subjected to in-custody interrogation be advised of their constitutional
right to an attorney and their right to remain silent.
Griswold v. Connecticut (1966)
 The case dealt with a doctor being arrested for distributing birth control. The court declared that
citizens have a right to privacy, which is not formally in the Constitution, and the Connecticut law
to be unconstitutional. The right to privacy doctrine framework built here is then used in the Roe
v. Wade to legalize abortion.
Burger Court
Roe v. Wade (1973)
 The court legalized abortion by ruling that state laws could not restrict it during the first three
months of pregnancy. Based on 4th Amendment rights of a person to be secure in their persons.
U.S. v. New York Times
 The Nixon administration tried to prevent the New York Times from publishing the Pentagon
Papers. The papers revealed how the Johnson administration lied about its reasons for entering
Vietnam. The court ruled that under freedom of the press rights, the NY Times could not be
censored and prior restrained from publishing the document.
U. S. v. Richard Nixon (1974)
 The court rejected Richard Nixon’s claim to an absolutely unqualified executive privilege against
any judicial process in his attempt to avoid consequences of Watergate. He was forced to turn
over his White House tapes that proved his involvement in Watergate.
Bakke v. Regents of the University of California (1978)
 The case dealt with affirmative action programs that used race as a basis of selecting participants
into schools. The court general upheld affirmative action, but in a limited manner.
Who can vote and when?
1776-1787: Declaration of Independence ("All men are created equal"), Articles of Confederation, U.S.
Constitution leave voting rights to state jurisdiction. Suffrage is limited to white male property owners.
1776-1807: New Jersey women, age 21 and over, can vote if they fulfill residency and property
requirements. In 1807 the New Jersey legislature rescinds women's suffrage.
1776: Free blacks can vote in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
1792-1838: The constitutions of Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, North
Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, exclude blacks from voting but expand white male suffrage.
1848: The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ends the Mexican-American War and guarantees U.S. citizenship
to Mexicans living in the newly acquired territories of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico,
Nevada and Texas. English language requirements limit their access to voting rights.
1860: Five states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts) allow free blacks
to vote.
1869: Wyoming Territorial legislature grants full voting rights to women.
1870: Utah Territorial legislature grants full voting rights to women.
1870: Passage of the 15th Amendment prohibits states from denying citizens the vote based on "race,
color, or previous condition of servitude," but many blacks remain disfranchised in the South by poll
taxes and literacy tests.
1882: The Chinese Exclusion Act bars people of Chinese ancestry from becoming American citizens.
1884: The U.S. Supreme Court rules, in Elk v. Wilkins, that Native Americans are not citizens as defined
by the 14th Amendment.
1887: Passage of the Dawes Act grants citizenship to Native Americans who give up their tribal
1889: Washington state referendum defeats women's suffrage.
1890: Wyoming enters the Union as the first state granting full women's suffrage. The Indian
Naturalization Act grants citizenship to American Indians whose applications are approved (similar to the
process of immigrant naturalization).
1901: Congress grants citizenship to Indians living in Indian Territory (Oklahoma).
1910: Washington state referendum approves full suffrage for women.
1911: California state referendum approves full voting rights for women.
1912: Oregon, Kansas and Arizona state referenda approve full voting rights for women.
1913: Alaska Territorial Legislature approves women's right to vote as its first official act.
1914: Montana and Nevada referenda approve full suffrage for women.
1917: Russia enfranchises women.
1918: UK grants women’s suffrage, American movement picked up speed and copied the militant tactics
of their suffragettes
1919: American Indians who served in the military during World War I are granted U.S. citizenship.
1920: U.S. House of Representatives and Senate approve the 19th Amendment to grant suffrage to
women. Amendment wins the necessary 2/3 ratification from state legislatures.
1922: Supreme Court rules, in Takao Ozawa v. United States, that people of Japanese heritage are not
eligible to become naturalized citizens.
1924: The Indian Citizenship Act grants citizenship to American Indians, but many western states
prohibit their voting.
1925: Filipinos barred from citizenship unless they have served three years in the U.S. Navy.
1943: Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed, making people of Chinese ancestry eligible for U.S. citizenship.
1946: Filipinos and indigenous people from India become eligible for U.S. citizenship.
1952: Walter-McCarran Act grants all people of Asian ancestry the right to become citizens.
1965: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 suspends literacy tests in the Deep South and provides federal
enforcement of black registration and voting rights.
1971: The passage of the 26th Amendment expands full voting rights to 18 year-old citizens.
Immediately after the Revolution most states retained some
that prevented poor people
from voting. Following republican logic, citizens were believed to need an economic stake in society in order to
be trusted to vote wisely. If a voter lacked economic independence, then it seemed that those who controlled
his livelihood could easily manipulate his vote.
Ironically, just as industrial wage labor began to create dependent laborers on a large new scale, the older
republican commitment to propertied voters fell out of favor. As property requirements for voting were
abolished, economic status disappeared as a foundation for citizenship. By 1840 more than 90 percent of adult
white men possessed the right to vote.
Not only that, voters could now cast their opinion for more offices. Previously, governors and presidential
electors had usually been selected by state legislatures as part of a republican strategy that limited the threat
of direct democratic control over the highest political offices. The growing democratic temper of the first
decades of the 19th century changed this and increasingly all offices were chosen by direct vote. The United
States was the world leader in allowing popular participation in elections. This triumph of American politics built
upon, but also expanded, the egalitarian ideals of the American Revolution.
This democratic triumph, however, also had sharp limitations that today seem quite shocking. At the same time
that state legislatures opened
(that is, the right to vote) to all white men, they simultaneously closed
the door firmly on white women and free African Americans. This movement was especially disappointing since
it represented a retreat from a broader sense of political rights that had been included in some early state
For example, New Jersey revised its state constitution to abolish property requirements in 1807, but at the
same time prevented all women from voting (even wealthy ones who had been allowed to vote there since
1776) as well as all free blacks. New York acted similarly in 1821 when its legislature extended the franchise to
almost all white men, but simultaneously created high property requirements for free blacks. As a result, only
68 of the 13,000 free African Americans in New York City could vote in 1825. When Pennsylvania likewise
denied free blacks the right to vote in the late 1830s, a state legislator explained that "The people of this state
are for continuing this commonwealth, what it has always been, a political community of white persons." While
he was correct about the prevailing racist sentiment among white voters, free blacks with property had not
been excluded from the franchise by the earlier Revolutionary state constitution.
Some owned land, homes, businesses, and paid taxes. In some Northern cities, for brief periods of time, black
property owners voted. A very small number of free blacks owned slaves. The slaves that most free blacks
purchased were relatives whom they later manumitted. A few free blacks also owned slave holding plantations in
Louisiana, Virginia, and South Carolina.
Historians have long known that the voting rights of free blacks were limited, in the antebellum
period, to a handful of New England states. Less than 10 percent of adult black males living even in
the free states were eligible voters in 1860. Less well known is the contraction of those voting rights
from the era of the American Revolution to that of the Jacksonian period. When the federal
constitution was ratified in 1789, free blacks held the same legal right to vote as whites in every state
except Virginia and Georgia. As of 1792, free blacks could vote in twelve of fifteen states, and not
until 1803 did a northern state restrict the franchise to whites. By 1840, free blacks could vote on
equal terms with whites in only four of twenty-six states. Despite a movement in favor of black
suffrage in the 1840s and 1850s, blacks effectively held the franchise in only five of thirty-six states
by the time the Civil War had ended.