The Long Struggle for Voting Rights


By Al Hart
UE News Managing Editor via Beaver County Blue

August 20, 2012, Pittsburgh, PA – Since the founding of the United States, working people have had to fight to win, and to keep, the right to vote. And through American history, rich and powerful people, often calling themselves "conservatives", have tried to maintain their privileges by depriving other Americans of the right to vote.

The story of the long struggle for voting rights in America is thoroughly and brilliantly told in ‘The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States,’ by Alexander Keyssar, who teaches history and social policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. This highly- readable account was first published in 2000, and the 2009 revised edition brings the story up to nearly the present, when voter suppression has again become a national issue.

Before and immediately after the American Revolution, the right to vote in most of the 13 original states was limited mainly to white men, and in most states, only those who owned a certain amount of property. Free blacks who owned property had voting rights in some Northern states and, for a while, North Carolina. The most common property qualification was a freehold of 50 acres (among others, this disqualified tenant farmers who leased land.) In some states the requirement was property of a certain monetary value, such as 50 pounds, or a taxpaying requirement. When Vermont gained statehood in 1791, it was immediately the most democratic state, with no property or tax requirements for voting.

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