How much do you appreciate your right to vote? Is it something that you truly cherish, or is it something that you just take this for granted? Consider this fact; throughout our American history, many average citizens like you and me fought for this right, and in some cases, even died for the right to vote! This is a patriotic gift from the struggles of many patriotic citizens that we should truly never take for granted.
Did you know that there are no laws for “the right to vote” in our United States Constitution? These rights were added only in the Amendments to the Constitution. Each state’s standards have evolved separately, unless federal laws were passed that applied to every state. When our country was founded, only white men with property were routinely permitted to vote, (although freed African Americans could vote in four states). White working men, almost all women, and all other people of color were denied this right, that some take for granted today.
At the beginning of the Civil War, most white men were finally allowed to vote, whether or not they owned property, due to the efforts of those who championed this cause for frontiersmen and white immigrants, (who had to wait 14 years for citizenship and their right to vote, in some cases). Literacy tests, poll taxes, and even religious tests were used in various states, and most of the white women, people of color, and Native Americans still did not have the right to vote.
Black Suffrage; The patriotic gifts of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were passed following the Civil War, in the later 1860s. Besides outlawing slavery, these Amendments extended civil rights and suffrage (voting rights) to former slaves. Even thought the right to vote for African-Americans was established, there still were numerous restrictions that kept many black Americans from voting until the 1960s Voting Rights Act was passed. Thanks to the pressures of Dr. Martin Luther King and a powerful civil rights movement, the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned literacy tests and provided federal enforcement of voting registration and other rights in several Southern states and Alaska.
Five years later, the patriotic gift of the Voting Rights Act of 1970 provided language assistance to minority voters who did not speak English fluently. Asian Pacific Americans and Latinos were major beneficiaries of this legislation.
Women’s Suffrage initiatives to promote voting for women have been traced back as far as the 1770s, but the modern movement for a vote for women traces its beginning to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, when supporters of a Constitutional Amendment to allow women to vote finally came together. While this movement was slowed during the Civil War years, the two major suffragist organizations united after the war and pushed forward with a movement that culminated, and after many difficult years, the patriotic gift of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920.
Native Americans had to become American citizens, and give up their tribal affiliations for the right to vote in 1887, but many did not become U. S. citizens until 1924. Most of the Western states continued to deny the right to vote through property requirements, economic pressures, hiding the polls, and condoning of physical violence against those who voted.
Asian Pacific Americans were considered “aliens ineligible for citizenship” since 1790. Interim changes to naturalization and immigration laws in 1943, 1946, and 1952 give the right to vote to some but not all immigrant Asian Pacific Americans. Because citizenship is a (precondition) for the right to vote, immigrant Asian Pacific Americans did not vote in large numbers until 1966 when the immigration and naturalization laws were changed.
Asian Pacific Americans born on American soil were American citizens, and had the right to vote. When 77,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were put in American concentration camps during World War II, their right to vote was withheld during their captivity.
Mexican Americans in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas were supposed to get voting rights along with American citizenship in 1848, when the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ended the Mexican American war. Property requirements and literacy requirements were imposed in those states to keep them from voting. The Sons of America, founded in 1921 fought for equality and the right to vote, but all Mexican Americans did not receive the right to vote until 1975.
Americans under the age of twenty-one in the late 1960s protested over their lack of suffrage. Many truly felt that if they were old enough to be drafted into service and go to Vietnam, then they should be able to vote. A series of protests ensued, most notably at the Chicago Democratic Convention, where protestors screamed and chanted many slogans of President Johnson’s handling of the Vietnam War, and the right to vote. In 1971, President Johnson signed our patriotic gift of the 26th Amendment granting Americans the right to vote at age eighteen.
I hope you now realize that even in “The land of the Free”, the evolution for the right to vote in the America has cost a heavy price for many, and should always be considered a true patriotic gift from those that struggled, endured and gave their life for this privilege that we have today.
credit: Steven Coffman