I hope today you exercised:
To participate in the process of choosing the people that govern us, make and enforce our laws. These things were hard fought and long in the making of what they are today.
“The history of voting in the United States has not been characterized by a smooth and inexorable progress toward universal political participation. It has instead been much messier, littered with periods of both expansion and retraction of the franchise with respect to many groups of potential voters.” Grant M. Hayden, Hofstra University law professor in the Oxford Companion to American Law.
There were fewer opportunities to exercise the right to vote in colonial America. The English king appointed most governors, though there were exceptions.
Typically, white, male property owners twenty-one or older could vote. Some colonists not only accepted these restrictions but also opposed broadening the franchise. Duke University professor Alexander Keyssar wrote in The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States: Some colonies required a voter to own a certain amount of land or land of a specified value. Others required personal property of a certain value, or payment of a certain amount of taxes.
John Adams wrote in 1776 that no good could come from enfranchising more Americans:
“Depend upon it, Sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters; there will be no end to it. New claims will arise; women will demand the vote; lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to; and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level.”
Benjamin Franklin lampooned them when he wrote: “Today a man owns a jackass worth 50 dollars and he is entitled to vote; but before the next election the jackass dies. The man in the mean time has become more experienced, his knowledge of the principles of government, and his acquaintance with mankind, are more extensive, and he is therefore better qualified to make a proper selection of rulers—but the jackass is dead and the man cannot vote. Now gentlemen, pray inform me, in whom is the right of suffrage? In the man or in the jackass? “
Property restrictions gradually disappeared and the 15th Amendment in 1870 enfranchised black men, followed in 1920 by the 19th Amendment which enfranchised women.
These amendments were hard fought and won and we should appreciate the freedom they give us to make choices for ourselves and our country.