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The Fight to Vote

The long struggle to get all Americans the vote

By Michael Waldman
15-minute read
Audio available
The Fight to Vote by Michael Waldman

The Fight to Vote (2016) is about the struggle for democracy in the United States, from the American Revolutionary War right up to the present day. These blinks detail the battle that has been waged over generations to guarantee the right to vote, and explain how this right continues to be undermined.

  • Americans curious about the development of their country’s democracy
  • Politics junkies
  • Students of history and political science

Michael Waldman is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. He has written a number of books, including The 2nd Amendment: A Biography, and served as a speechwriter for former president Bill Clinton.

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The Fight to Vote

By Michael Waldman
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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The Fight to Vote by Michael Waldman
Synopsis

The Fight to Vote (2016) is about the struggle for democracy in the United States, from the American Revolutionary War right up to the present day. These blinks detail the battle that has been waged over generations to guarantee the right to vote, and explain how this right continues to be undermined.

Key idea 1 of 9

Although American democracy was born with the signing of the Constitution, voting rights were initially reserved for a select few.

The American Revolutionary War was fought to wrest power from the British, who then governed the Thirteen Colonies along the east coast of North America. Before this historic conflict in the 1770s, the 3 million colonists living in what would become the United States had limited democratic rights, and only men who owned a certain amount of property could vote.

But the debate over voting rights was not entirely clear-cut. In fact, leading up to the drafting of the United States Constitution in 1787, there were two opposing sides in the debate over suffrage, one represented by Benjamin Franklin and the other by John Adams. Both men were influential figures in the struggle for independence and were Founding Fathers of the United States.

Franklin’s position was to extend the right to vote to all free men, regardless of race. He had previously fought for and won this change while drafting the Pennsylvania Constitution in 1776. Meanwhile, John Adams, Franklin’s archrival, was heavily opposed to widening voting rights.

Adams even famously said on the subject of enfranchisement that, if the property requirement was removed for men, there would be “no end to it,” and that, eventually, women and the working poor would demand the right to vote as well.

As you can imagine, these two perspectives were in stark opposition and supporters of each debated each other at great length while the constitution was being written. Eventually, they reached a compromise: the issue of suffrage wouldn’t be referred to at all in the constitution.

Instead, this controversial point would be left open for individual states to handle. As a result, the right to vote was mostly reserved for property-owning or tax-paying white males for almost a century. The constitution nevertheless did allow the federal government to intervene if states abused the powers afforded to them.

However, while only white men of some means could vote, even they were only allowed to elect members to the House of Representatives. They couldn’t cast their vote for presidents, who were appointed by the Electoral College, nor for senators, who were elected by state governments.

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