We Can Track Freedom in America by Voting Rights

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Clark

Every Independence Day, I like to remember the great American ideals.

The Declaration of Independence lists the ideals as "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

But it took generations for America to put many of the ideals into practice.

Voting is a good example. The most precious right in a democracy, only about 15 percent of the nation's adults could vote at the time of the founding.

Women couldn't vote. Neither could slaves. Neither could white men who did not own property.

Here are a few steps forward and back:

- 1810: The last religious prerequisite for voting is eliminated.

- 1850: Property ownership and tax requirements are eliminated. Almost all white male adults can vote.

- 1855: Connecticut adopts the nation's first literacy test. It was meant to discriminate against Irish-Catholic immigrants.

- 1870: The 15th Amendment prohibits the denial of the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." It was the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments.

- 1889: Florida adopts a poll tax. Ten other Southern states follow.

- 1890: Mississippi adopts a literacy test to keep African-Americans from voting. While tests also kept whites from voting, grandfather clauses were added to exempt whites from the tests.

- 1920: The 19th Amendment guarantees women's suffrage.

- 1924: The Indian Citizenship Act grants all Native Americans the rights of citizenship, including the right to vote in federal elections.

- 1957: The first law to implement the 15th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act, is passed. It set up the Civil Rights Commission to investigate voter discrimination. …