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Following colonial precedents, they impose property qualifications, and in many cases religious tests as well, upon voters and office-holders. They, furthermore, provide that the state executive officers, and especially the judges, shall be appointed, not elected in the modern fashion. Finally, the eighteenth-century constitutions are brief and simple in contrast to the bulky and complex documents of our time. The fundamental law of New Jersey adopted in 1776 fills only about five printed pages. The constitution of New York, drafted in 1777, including a reprint of the Declaration of Independence, covers less than sixteen printed pages, while the last constitution of New York, drafted in 1894, spreads over forty-three pages. The Virginia constitution of 1776, leaving out of account some passages from the Declaration of Independence, fills only about five and a half printed pages; the last Virginia constitution (1902) is ten times as large. The constitution-makers of Louisiana in 1898 required forty-five thousand words to write the fundamental law of that commonwealth; and the constitution of Oklahoma, admitted to the Union in 1907, would fill about one hundred and fifty printed pages of the style of this volume.
The Rise of Political Democracy
At the outset of an inquiry into the first state constitutions, one is struck by the fact that the Fathers, notwithstanding the theoretical assertion of equality in the Declaration of Independence, did not believe that the right to vote and hold office should be freely given to all men regardless of the amount of property they held or the religious opinions they entertained.1 In nearly every state, the suffrage was limited, by the constitution or laws, to property-owners, generally freeholders or taxpayers, and in some of them religious tests were imposed in addition. In New York the constitution of 1777, adopted "in the name and by the authority of the good people" of the state, provided that "every male inhabitant of full age, who shall have personally resided within one of the counties of this state for six months immediately preceding the day of election, shall at such election be entitled to vote for representatives of the said county in assembly; if, during the time aforesaid, he shall
1 Readings, p. 72.
have been a freeholder, possessing a freehold of the value of twenty pounds within the said county or have rented a tenement therein of the yearly value of forty shillings, and been rated and actually paid taxes to this state." No one could vote for state senator or governor in New York who did not possess a freehold of the value of £100, over and above all debts charged thereon. "The qualifications of electors," runs the South Carolina constitution of 1778, "shall be that every free white man, and no other person, who acknowledges the being of God and believes in a future state of rewards and punishments, and who has attained to the age of one and twenty years and has been a resident and inhabitant in this state for the space of one whole year . . . and hath a freehold of at least fifty acres of land or a town lot, . . . or hath paid a tax the preceding year or was taxable the present year . . . in a sum equal to the tax on fifty acres of land to the support of this government shall be deemed a person qualified to vote for, and shall be capable of electing, a representative or representatives to serve as a member or members in the senate and house of representatives." "
Fearing that the interests of wealthier classes could not be sufficiently safeguarded by the restrictions placed on voters, the original constitution-makers imposed still higher qualifications on representatives and senators. According to the terms of the New Hampshire constitution of 1784, every representative had to be a Protestant possessed of a freehold worth at least £100; the same religious test was placed on a senator, and the value of his freehold was fixed at £200. Only Protestants
'All "freemen" of New York City and Albany could vote. See above,
2 Property qualifications on voters for members of the lower house of the state legislature under the early state constitutions: New Hampshire (1784), taxpayer; Massachusetts (1780), freehold yielding £3 per annum or personalty worth £60; New York as in text above; New Jersey (1776), estate worth £50; Pennsylvania (1776), taxpayer; Maryland (1776), freehold of 50 acres or property worth £30; Virginia (1776), continued the colonial suffrage; North Carolina (1776), fifty acres freehold to vote for senators, and taxpayer to vote for members of the lower house; South Carolina (1778), fifty acres freehold, town lot, or payment of taxes; Georgia (1798), taxpayer. Dr. Thorpe estimates that there were about one hundred and fifty thousand voters in a population of five millions, whereas under the suffrage prevailing to-day there would have been not less than seven hundred thousand or more than one million voters. Constitutional History of the American People, Vol. I, p. 97.
worth £500 in real and personal property could be assemblymen in New Jersey under the fundamental law of 1776, and whoever aspired to the place of senator had to have £500 more. Delaware (1776), representatives had to be freeholders believing in the Trinity and the inspiration of the Scriptures. All except Protestants possessing two hundred and fifty acres of land or £250 in personal property were excluded from the Georgia legislature under the constitution of 1777; and in Pennsylvania only taxpayers acknowledging the being of God and believing in a future state of rewards and punishments could enter the legislature.
As the dignity and responsibility of office in the early state. governments increased, the property qualifications generally mounted upwards. The office of governor in Massachusetts and North Carolina was reserved to the possessors of freeholds worth £1000. "No person," says the Maryland Constitution of 1776, "unless above twenty-five years of age, a resident of this state above five years next preceding the election, and having in the state real and personal property above the value of £5000, current money (£1000 whereof, at least, to be freehold estate), shall be eligible as governor." The law-makers of South Carolina, in 1778, swept away the comparatively slight qualifications imposed on the governor two years before, and declared that the governor, lieutenant-governor, and members of the privy council must have "a settled plantation or freehold in their and each of their own right of the value of at least ten thousand pounds currency, clear of debt." In Massachusetts and Maryland, the highest executive office was closed to all except Christians, and in New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, and South Carolina to all except Protestants.1
Property qualifications of governors under the early state constitutions: New Hampshire (1784), £500, one-half freehold; Massachusetts (1780), £1000 freehold; New York (1777), freehold; Maryland (1776), £5000, at least £1000 of which is freehold; North Carolina (1776), £1000 freehold; South Carolina (1778), £10,000 freehold; Georgia (1789), 500 acres freehold, or £1000 other property. Property qualifications of members of state senates under the early constitutions: New Hampshire (1784), £200 freehold; Massachusetts, £300 freehold or £600 personalty; New York (1777), freeholder; New Jersey (1776), £1000; Delaware (1792), 200 acres freehold or £1000 real and personal property; Maryland, £1000 real and personal property; Virginia (1776), freeholder; North Carolina (1776), 300 acres in fee;
From the opening of the nineteenth century to the Civil War, there was throughout almost all the states a tendency toward the abolition of these property qualifications and religious tests for voters and office-holders, although free negroes were not generally regarded as coming within the new democratic dispensation. This movement toward a direct male suffrage was the result of three main factors: (1) the growth of the mercantile classes, who were excluded in large numbers wherever the freehold qualification was imposed; (2) the migration into the West, where, owing to the fact that every one was fairly well off so far as the rough necessities of life were concerned, radical notions about the equality of all white men, at least, were ardently championed; and (3) the rise of the large urban populations where the agitation of democratic enthusiasts met a quick response.
If we take up the state constitutions at present in force, we find that, with a very few exceptions, all the property qualifications and religious tests have disappeared, and that the only persons now generally excluded are women, lunatics, paupers, offenders against election laws, and persons convicted of serious crimes. Pennsylvania requires her voters to be contributors in some amount to state or county taxes; Louisiana and South Carolina permit persons owning $300 worth of property to vote, but provide alternatives to this qualification. Voters at elections South Carolina (1778), £2000 freehold; Georgia (1789), 250 acres freehold or property worth £250. The following were the qualifications of members of the lower branch of the state legislature as prescribed by the early constitutions: New Hampshire (1784), two years' residence, estate of £100, one-half freehold in town of residence, and adherence to Protestant religion; Vermont (1786), two years' residence, belief in one God and the inspiration of the Scriptures, Protestant religion; Massachusetts (1780), one year's residence, freehold of £100 or other estate of £200, Christian religion; New Jersey, one year's residence, £500 real and personal estate, Protestant religion; Pennsylvania (1776), two years' residence, taxpayer, Protestant; Delaware (1776), freeholder and believer in the Trinity and inspiration of the Scriptures; Maryland (1776), one year's residence, £500 real and personal property, Christian religion; Virginia (1776), freeholders; North Carolina (1776), one year's residence, 100 acres for life or in fee, Protestant; South Carolina (1790), three years' residence, free white, owning freehold of 500 acres and ten negroes or real estate of £150 value clear of debt; Georgia (1777), one year's residence, owner of 250 acres of land or £250 in property, Protestant. (Based on Thorpe's valuable tables. Constitutional History of the American People, Vol. I, pp. 68 ff.)
1 Readings, p. 78.
2 See below, chap. xxii.
for city councillors in Rhode Island are required to be taxpayers on property worth $134; and in a few states the suffrage, in local matters, especially involving expenses for improvements, is restricted to property-owners.
Property qualifications for office-holders have also practically disappeared; but some remnants of religious restrictions are to be found in the constitutions of at least eight states - Arkansas, Mississippi, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee - all of which require belief in God as a qualification for office. The two states named last, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, require belief not only in God, but also in a future state of rewards and punishments. Nevertheless, broadly speaking, we may say that a century's political development has opened the electorate and public offices to all adult white males (and in four states to women), regardless of their wealth or religious views. Its widening effect is revealed in the fact that, whereas about four per cent of the population possessed the right to vote just after the revolutionary period, about twenty per cent are now given the ballot.
The story of the process by which this more democratic political system has been secured is a long and complicated one, and it cannot be told here.1 It has not been the result of any spontaneous and general action, but rather of many halting measures, tentative experiments, and minor modifications. Contrary to popular impressions, Americans were not all convinced by the early arguments in favor of universal manhood suffrage; even Lincoln, in 1836, would go no further than to admit "all whites to the right of suffrage who pay taxes or bear burdens (by no means excluding females)." The only measures relating to suffrage which are applicable to the whole country are the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the federal Constitu
1 "Eleven of the thirteen original states have abolished the tax and property tests, as follows: New Hampshire, the tax test in 1792; Georgia, the property test in 1789; Maryland, the property test in 1801 and 1809; Massachusetts, the property test in 1821; New York, the property test in 1821 and the tax test in 1826; Delaware, the property test in 1831; New Jersey, the property test in 1844; Connecticut, the property test in 1845; South Carolina, the property test in 1865; North Carolina, the property test in 1854 and 1868; Virginia, the property test in 1850 and the tax test established in 1864, in 1882." Lalor, Cyclopædia of Political Science, Vol. III. pp. 825-826. Details cannot be given here. Consult Thorpe, op. cit.