Early voting rights and lack thereof

Dear President Trump,

Yesterday I told you that I want to refocus my attention on the work we’ll need to do after you’ve finally high-tailed it out of office. We have such a tremendous amount of very, very hard work to do together to close all the loopholes you’ve managed to exploit and to do the much deeper, harder work of moving towards our collective ideals.

The place I’d like to start is with The Declaration of Independence. Although it didn’t set out law, it told the world, and in particular King George III, that a new, independent nation was being formed that would not be answering to the Crown. As even you might know, it opens as follows:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I draw your attention to the word “men”, which at the time referred to white male Protestant property owners, ages 21 and over. I’d like you to pause and let that sink in.

Although radical at the time in departing from the traditional monarchy mode of government, the truth that was held up as self-evident was that White male Protestant property owners of a certain age were all created equal and they had unalienable rights to life and liberty and to pursue their own happiness. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see who all was left out of this neat little circle of privilege, now does it? The voting section of the Colonial Williamsburg website (https://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Spring07/elections.cfm) notes that there was discussion about White women and White men younger than 21 being included too, but the Fore Fathers clearly decided that it was just best to keep enfranchisement limited.

Well, this isn’t entirely correct. In sorting out whether I was reading the Williamsburg site correctly, I learned that women and African Americans with at least 50 pounds could vote if they were fortunate enough to live in New Jersey in 1776. It turns out, though, that this was really only the case for single women because married women couldn’t own property. Thus, women who had 50 pounds when they were single forfeited control over their wealth and lost the right to vote in one fell swoop when they married. Sigh. (and then some)

As imperfect as it was, it was a lot more than women and African Americans had in any other of the new states, but alas, this ability to influence the workings of the New Jersey government was short lived. In 1807 the state restricted suffrage to tax-paying White males when it became clear that women were disproportionately voting for a third party (the Federalists) and the men wanted to quash this dissent. I am so curious what it was the women were voting for (or against) in what sounds like something of a block that so pissed off the men that they stripped them (and African American men) of their voting rights. It’s more blatant than what’s been happening with voter suppression and the disinformation campaigns favored by you and Vladimir, but it’s all of a piece, isn’t it?

I’ve gone on way too long with the unanticipated New Jersey history lesson to draw out any more tonight about my sense that we’ve not thoroughly reckoned with The Declaration of Independence’s legacy so I’ll pick it up again tomorrow or another day soon. In the meantime, in your spare time between freak outs over the fact that no one with a shred of common sense and/or decency is buying it that you did nothing wrong with Ukraine, it would be great if you would ponder the implications of White Protestant property owning men granting themselves and only themselves the right Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

May we all be safe as we consider a radical do over.
May we all be willing to think outside the box we still find ourselves in.
May we all keep our wits about us as you lose it.
May we all keep peace front and center.

Tracy Simpson

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