American Suffrage: From Property to Democracy, 1760-1860

American Suffrage: From Property to Democracy, 1760-1860

American Suffrage: From Property to Democracy, 1760-1860

American Suffrage: From Property to Democracy, 1760-1860

Excerpt

All comprehensive surveys of American history before the Civil War devote attention, in some fashion, to such important themes as nationalism, expansion, industrialism, sectionalism, and, last but not least, the accelerated tempo of democratization. By the time Tocqueville visited the United States, the outstanding characteristic of our polity was its democratic bias and content. Negro slavery was the great exception which in a perverse sense proved the rule.

Among the democratic achievements of the period between the Revolution and the Civil War, universal white manhood suffrage stands out as a reform of considerable magnitude in the context of the history of the United States and also of the world. In Europe, for example, suffrage democracy was almost wholly an achievement of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Italy actually did not adopt it until 1912. Often suffrage democracy was achieved without the superstructure of liberal or democratic parliamentary institutions, as was the case of the North German Confederation of 1867 and the German Empire of 1871. In America, however, what Bismarck called his "drop of democratic oil" provided lubrication for a genuinely democratic machine.

The precise circumstances in which the suffrage qualifications of the colonial period, particularly the freehold, were swept away have never before been examined in the light of the considerable manuscript material on deposit in the archives and historical societies of the pertinent states. This material, together with printed sources, both primary and secondary, provides the historian with a fairly clear picture, state by state, of the extent of the denial of franchise under the old property tests and the circumstances, political and otherwise, under which suffrage reform was finally carried. Because suffrage reform was effected in all the states, albeit in . . .

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