Making Democracy More Inclusive
Voting in the United States was predicated on racial and gender domination. In 1787, only white male property owners over the age of twenty-one could vote. At the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott presented a Declaration of Sentiments to the delegates—a document modeled on the Declaration of Independence and which called for a range of women’s rights, including the right to equal education, equal treatment under the law, and the right to vote. Also a strong proponent of women’s suffrage, Frederick Douglass argued at the convention that suffrage is the power to choose rulers and make laws, and the right by which all others are secured. His resolution on the right to vote for women won enough approval by a bare majority at the Convention. Notwithstanding, the Civil War placed a major obstacle in the path toward women’s suffrage. The Reconstruction Amendments to the United States Constitution (the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth) were victories for the abolitionist movement, which Stanton, Mott and Susan B. Anthony supported, but not for women. The word “male” appears in the U.S. Constitution for the first time in Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Moreover, the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed the right to vote to black males. The Reconstruction Amendments resulted in a bitter conflict between those who demanded full equality for the former slaves against those who argued that women should “wait their turn.” Suffragists tried to make a specific association between citizenship and voting. Suffragists argued: If the right to vote was to be granted to men of all races, why not to both sexes? Women finally won the right to vote in 1920 with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Black women and Latinas still could not vote en masse in the South until forty-five years later—after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The cases discussed in this chapter demonstrate that race continues to be an impediment on the path toward political equality in the United States.