Page images

tion. The latter amendment forbids states to deprive citizens of the vote on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The former stipulates that whenever a state, for general purposes, denies the suffrage1 to adult male citizens, its representation in the House of Representatives shall be reduced proportionately; but as this provision remains unenforced, its practical effect has not been to secure the results contemplated.2 In the original states, the property and religious qualifications have been removed by many separate measures. The process may be illustrated by some passages in the constitutional history of New York. The first constitution of that state, as we have seen, provided a property qualification for all voters (excepting the freemen of New York City and Albany), and for the governor and members of the legislature. The constitution of 1821 still required the senators and governor to be freeholders, but widened the suffrage by the following provision: "Every male citizen of the age of twenty-one years, who shall have been an inhabitant of this state one year preceding any election, and for the last six months a resident of the town or county where he may offer to vote; and shall have, within the year next preceding the election, paid a tax to the state or county, assessed upon his real or personal property; or shall by law be exempted from taxation; or being armed and equipped according to law, shall have performed within that year military duty in the militia of this state; or who shall be exempted from performing militia duty in consequence of being a fireman in any city, town, or village in this state; and also, every male citizen of the age of twenty-one. years, who shall have been, for three years next preceding such election, an inhabitant of this state; and for the last year a resident in the town or county where he may offer his vote; and shall have been, within the last year, assessed to labor upon the public highways, and shall have performed the labor, or paid an equivalent therefor, according to law, shall be entitled to vote in the town or ward where he actually resides, and not elsewhere, for all officers that now are, or hereafter may be, elective by the people; but no man of color, unless he shall have been for three years a citizen of this state, and for one year

1 Except for participation in rebellion or other crime.
'See below, chap. xxii.

next preceding any election, shall be seized and possessed of a freehold estate of the value of two hundred and fifty dollars, over and above all debts and incumbrances charged thereon, and shall have been actually rated, and paid a tax thereon, shall be entitled to vote at any such election. And no person of color shall be subject to direct taxation unless he shall be seized and possessed of such real estate as aforesaid."

Finally in an amendment adopted in 1826 popular suffrage was established by the provision that "every male citizen of the age of twenty-one years, who shall have been an inhabitant of this state one year, next preceding any election, and for the last six months a resident of the county where he may offer his vote, shall be entitled to vote . . . for all officers that now are or hereafter may be elective by the people." The special property qualifications imposed on "persons of color" by the constitution of 1821 were continued and were retained until after the Civil War. By an amendment in 1845 it was added that "no property qualification shall be required to render a person eligible to, or capable of holding any public office or public trust in this state."

Even many of the western states began their history with a restricted suffrage. Ohio came into the Union in 1802, with a constitution limiting the suffrage to "all white males above the age of twenty-one years, having resided in the state one year next preceding the election, and who have paid or are charged with, a state or county tax." Senators and representatives likewise had to be state or county taxpayers. It was expressly declared, however, that "no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office of trust or profit." These property qualifications were abolished by the new constitution of 1851; but negro suffrage was not granted until after the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. Illinois, admitted in 1818, imposed no religious tests, and admitted free white males to the ballot, but required her representatives and senators to be taxpayers, a restriction which was swept away in 1870.2 Michigan came into the Union in 1835, without any religious or property qualifications for electors or officers. This example was soon followed by

1 Removed by an amendment ratified in 1874.

* Indiana, admitted in 1816, had similar qualifications.

the other states; and, by the end of the first half of the nineteenth century, the United States was practically committed to the great experiment of white male suffrage.

The Civil War and emancipation brought forward new aspects to an old problem of American politics - the question of the negro. At the beginning of the Republic the number of free negroes was so small that the problem did not attract serious attention, and some of the northern states did not exclude them from the suffrage. Soon, however, there appeared a decided feeling against granting them the ballot. Some of the states withdrew the privilege they had bestowed; and the newer western commonwealths quite uniformly decided in favor of restricting the franchise to white men. Even Iowa, in her constitution, adopted on the eve of the Civil War which ended in enfranchising all negroes-at least temporarily took the conservative attitude on the question, after a heated controversy.

Then came the great conflict, at the close of which the triumphant Republicans by military force compelled the acceptance of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, designed to sweep away all property qualifications and race distinctions.1 For a while, at the close of the war, the South was in the grip of the Republican administration, and negro suffrage was tried with results which, to a large degree, would have been ludicrous if they had not been pitiable. As soon as the hold of the northern military authorities was loosened, the southern whites determined to deprive the negroes of the rights which had been newly forced upon them; and by a number of ingenious devices, hardly escaping the letter, and certainly not the spirit, of the federal Constitution, they have succeeded in disfranchising perhaps nine-tenths or more of the colored voters. Among these devices are provisions requiring electors to read and write, imposing property qualifications, and admitting those who voted, or whose fathers or grandfathers were entitled to vote, in 1867.2

Decline in Representative Assemblies

With the growth of confidence in the capacity of the broad mass of the people to govern themselves through the exercise

1 See below, chap. xxii; and Readings, pp. 393, 394.

2 Readings, p. 401.

of the franchise, there came a remarkable decline of confidence in representative assemblies. This decline is written large in every state constitution framed since the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The reckless and corrupt manner in which legislatures bartered away charters, franchises, and special privileges to private corporations led our constitution-makers to provide long and detailed lists of matters on which the legislatures are absolutely forbidden to act. To secure publicity and prevent sinister influences from working by secret methods, the newer constitutions contain provisions controlling legislative procedure. Extravagance and recklessness in laying taxes and making appropriations have brought about a series of provisions placing limits upon the borrowing power of our state legislatures." Constant interference with the local affairs of cities has been met by numerous devices designed to safeguard municipal autonomy. In every state, except one, each legislative act must now be approved by the governor, and if it is vetoed it must be repassed, generally by an extraordinary majority, before it can become a law. Finally, the crowning act of distrust in the integrity and responsibility of the legislature has been manifested by the establishment, in many states, of the initiative and referendum, which gives to the voters the right to make laws without even the intervention of the legislature."

With this growing distrust in representative assemblies has come a remarkable increase in the confidence displayed in executive authority. As a result of the bitter conflicts between colonial legislatures and royal governors, the early constitutionmakers had come to distrust the executive and to fear its transformation into a monarchy through usurpations. So great was their apprehension at the outset, that they empowered the legislature even to choose the governor in all of the colonies except New York and Massachusetts, where he was elected by popular vote. His term of office was usually fixed at one year; in most cases he was even deprived of the veto power; and in the exercise of such authority as was given him. he was often controlled by a council. In Pennsylvania, for example, the governor bore the more democratic title of president; he was elected by a joint ballot of the general assembly and the 2 Readings, p. 457.

1 See below, chap. xxv, and Readings, pp. 84, 458.


2 Ibid., pp. 459 ff.


Ibid., p. 512.

Ibid, pp. 413 ff.

council for a term of one year; he enjoyed no authority in summoning or dissolving the legislature; he was not granted the veto power; and he was controlled to a considerable extent by an elective council. In New York, where the governor was elected by the freeholders for a term of three years, his veto power was shared by a council of revision composed of the chancellor and judges of the supreme court; and his appointing power was held in check by a special council of senators chosen by the assembly.

This executive system was not long in operation before the distrust in the integrity and capacity of the legislature, noted above, led to a call for the increase of the governor's power. Pennsylvania, revising in 1790 the constitution framed in the year of Independence, vested the election of the governor in the citizens of the commonwealth, lengthened his term from one to three years, and gave him the veto power. New York, in 1821, abolished the councils of revision and appointment, that shared the governor's veto and appointing power. Virginia, in the revision of 1830, retained the method of electing the governor by the legislature, but at that time increased his term to three years. The new western states, Kentucky in 1792, Ohio in 1802, Indiana in 1816, Michigan in 1835, provided for popular election - examples which were followed by the neighboring commonwealths as they were gradually admitted to the Union. In 1788 only two states, New York and Massachusetts, gave the governor the veto power, and the former with limitations on its exercise; but in 1910 only one state, North Carolina, withholds it. More than twenty states have extended the term of office to four years, and only two retain the early plan of annual elections, namely, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Moreover, the governor has now won a recognized place as political leader and assumes a large share of responsibility for the legislative as well as the executive policy of the state government.

The State Judiciary

Many radical changes have been made in the judicial system of our commonwealths.' The first state constitutions contained very few provisions with regard to the judiciary; they left the

1 See below, chap. xxvi.

« PreviousContinue »