The Spread of Enfranchisement

Politics in an Oyster House. By: Richard Caton Woodville.

Following the War of 1812, enfranchisement broadened in American society considerably.

States began eliminating property requirements for voting, with Massachusetts doing so in 1820 and New York following suit in 1821. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 489. These requirements had initially been imposed with the logic that it would ensure “voters possessed enough economic independence to exercise independent political judgment.” Id.

No state admitted after 1815 would impose property requirements for voting, illustrating the shift in thinking during that time. See id. Proponents of these changes “saw it as enfranchising tenant farmers and squatters on the public domain, small shopkeepers, and craftsmen.” Id. at 490. Nonetheless, most states excluded black men from voting. Id.

The proponents for these rules “did not realize that their new rules would enfranchise an industrial proletariat and the large influx of immigrants who would begin to arrive in the 1840s, for they did not foresee the appearance of either.” Id.

Some states, like Rhode Island and Virginia, were slow to embrace these changes. However, South Carolina retained its property qualifications until the Civil War. Id. citing Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote (New York, 2000), 26-52, 67-76.

Voting was rapidly changing from a concept that empowered only the elite to a right that would be possessed by “all male citizens,” which “reflected in part the success of the American Revolution and general acceptance of its natural-rights ideology.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 490 citing Jon Butler, Becoming America (Cambridge, Mass., 2000).

Enfranchisement was spreading from the elite, to all white males, setting the stage for the spread of voting rights throughout America. With the transportation and communications revolutions happening, America was a rapidly changing country. The spread of voting rights throughout the country was just one example of that in the early 1800s.

Leave a Reply