The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States

By Alexander Keyssar | Go to book overview

PART II
Narrowing the Portals

The right of suffrage, being the creature of the organic law, may be modified or withdrawn by the sovereign authority which conferred it, without inflicting any punishment on those who are disqualified.

-- Anderson v. Baker ( OCTOBER 1865)

AFTER 1850, CONFLICT OVER THE RIGHT TO VOTE heightened dramatically. For the next seventy years, the issue was often on center stage, and always backstage, in American political life. Heated public debates surrounded the post--Civil War enfranchisement of African Americans, as well as their disfranchisement a generation later. Advocates of women's suffrage fought battle after battle in the states and in Washington. Workers, immigrants, transients, Native Americans, paupers, and the illiterate often found themselves contending with rules that would, or did, bar them from the polls.1

The diverse forces and dynamics that had promoted an expansion of the franchise before the 1850s remained active. The demands of war and the pressure to enfranchise soldiers and ex-soldiers prompted various efforts to broaden the right to vote; political parties jockeyed even more incessantly to shape the electorate to their advantage; thinly populated states sought to

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The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Part I - The Road to Partial Democracy 1
  • One - In the Beginning 3
  • Two - Democracy Ascendant 26
  • Three - Backsliding and Sideslipping 53
  • Part II - Narrowing the Portals 77
  • Four - Know-Nothings, Radicals, and Redeemers 81
  • Five - The Redemption of the North 117
  • Six - Women's Suffrage 172
  • Part III - Toward Universal Suffrage -- and Beyond 223
  • Seven - The Quiet Years 225
  • Eight - Breaking Barriers 256
  • Conclusion - The Project of Democracy 316
  • Appendix - State Suffrage Laws, 1775-1920 325
  • Appendix - Sources 391
  • Notes 403
  • Index 453
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