Youth's Battle for the Ballot: A History of Voting Age in America

By Wendell W. Cultice | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Suffering Suffrage: The Military Influence on the Ballot (1607-1941)

Citizenship in a free government implies an obligation to defend its freedom. For that reason, Americans from 18 to 50 years of age should be borne on the militia rolls.

-- George Washington

Ever since primitive tribes first began to sit cross-legged before smoking council fires and make group decisions concerning combative efforts, the ballot or suffrage right to participate in any form of representative government has been married to military effort of some description. The negative or positive votes of Teutonic warriors in northern Europe were cast before their chieftain by lowering or raising their shields and spears during assembly.

Our contemporary term "ballot" is derived through French from the Italian ballotta, the diminutive of balla, "ball," and literally means "little ball." "Bullet" comes from the same source. In many of their elections, the ancient Greeks voted by tossing pieces of shell, potsherds, or pebbles into an urn. The Italian ballotta was applied to round objects or little balls used in elections, and hence we have "ballot" in the sense of a ticket or vote.

"Suffrage," in the sense of the right to vote, has a similar origin. The root of Latin from which the term is derived, suffragium, signifies something broken off, such as a piece of shell or potsherd used in voting, and hence it came to mean a voting ticket and the right to vote. The right to vote, or the suffrage, was called the "franchise," from old French franc, or "free," because only free men enjoyed the right to vote.

A look into the history of suffrage quickly substantiates the theory that no clear-cut criteria for establishing legal suffrage qualifications existed. The

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