Our democracy has come a long way since the early days of the republic. As a history nerd, I’ve always been curious about the voting requirements in other eras. I’ve always suspected there have been times when voting has been considered more of a privilege than a right.
I’ve just found a historical note to reinforce my suspicions. On January 7, 1789, the first presidential election was held under our new (present) constitution. Actually the vote was (as technically it is now) for electors who would choose our president, and as the January 7 email from The Writer’s Almanac described it —
“The election on this day wasn’t exactly a decision as to who would become president, but voters decided on electors to officially cast their votes. The turnout was very small. Only white men with property could vote, and of the 3 million people in America, 600,000 were slaves, and many more were women or men who did not own property; in the end, fewer than 39,000 people voted, or 1.3 percent of the population. The winter made travel difficult, so it wasn’t until April that the roads cleared up enough that a quorum of legislators could get to the capitol. When they finally did, Washington was declared the unanimous winner, and he was inaugurated at the end of April.”
As I said, we’ve come a long way.
The Writer’s Almanac website is at http://writersalmanac.org/
By the way, there’s an interesting account of the election of 1788 at http://millercenter.org/president/biography/washington-campaigns-and-elections?elq=8a771a71eee54a59a0fe00acb955ed03&elqCampaignId=16997&elqaid=19735&elqat=1&elqTrackId=84465a7bba974470ac9453f2fd822abe