Thursday, October 30, 2008

You Get to Read It First

Wasn’t That a Time ~ Peter, Paul, & Mary

Back in May I told you that I now have the privilege and joy of writing a monthly article for my church’s newsletter. There are no restrictions on my content, so I write as the muse (or Spirit) inspires me.

Below is the article that will appear in the next newsletter. As I researched the information, I was surprised how much that I learned about a subject that I thought I knew well.

At the moment we are being inundated by TV, radio, print, and even telephone calls urging us to VOTE on November 4th. We are told that voting is our right and obligation as citizens of this democracy. However, for many of us, this has not been historically true.

Today we Americans consider voting to be our right. Yet, in our history, it has not always been an entitlement of all U.S. citizens. For example, in many of the British North American colonies, before and after the 1776 Declaration of Independence, Jews, Quakers and Roman Catholics were not permitted to vote or to run for public office.

Poor (non-property owners) white males were prohibited from voting by property qualifications; it is estimated that during the early years of the United States perhaps as many as 50% of white males were not enfranchised. Following the American Civil War (and as late as 1908) revisions to the constitutions of eleven former Confederate states imposed poll taxes, rigid residency requirements, and literacy tests to disenfranchise the poor of all races. It was not until 1964 that poll taxes were outlawed in Federal elections.

The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, one of three adopted in response to the American Civil War, thwarted states from denying the right to vote to any male citizen at least twenty-one years old because his race. Although this was primarily meant to guard voting rights of freedmen, it also protected the voting rights of other non-white minorities, such as Mexican Americans in Texas.

Women were not allowed to vote until the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment; the Presidential election of 1920 was the first in which women were enfranchised to vote. That was less than 90 years ago!

It was not until 1924 that Native Americans were granted U.S. citizenship and the right to vote.

Citizens between the ages of 18 and 20 gained the right to vote in Federal elections in 1971.

So the right to vote hasn’t always been a right. Perhaps, in the coming days, when we hear someone say that they are not going to vote (for whatever reason) we need to remind them of the how special, unique, and hard won our privilege to vote is.

Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.

~ George Jean Nathan (1882 - 1958)


  1. That's a good article, Nick and very topical. New Zealand was the first country in the world where women were allowed to vote (can't remember the date). The Maori people had the vote very early, too. Here in Australia, the Aboriginal people didn't get the vote until 1961!! Isn't that disgraceful?

  2. Puss-in-Boots: I think that a lot of disgraceful actions have taken place throughout history where democracy and enfranchisement have been concerned. That the Aboriginal people of Australia weren’t allowed to vote until 1961 is but one of them.

    One of the unjust attitudes that I have found to be common in regard to allowing people to vote is that those who are not enfranchised are considered by those who are enfranchised to be less than human—whether it be due to race, gender, national origin, religion etc.

  3. If I lived in the U.S.A. I certainly would vote!

  4. Beautifully said Reverend,

    I pray that we are on the cusp of a brand new day...

    Perhaps we always are,

    With love, Maithri

  5. Thank you, Nick. I did not realize that the right to vote had not always been the right of every American.

  6. GREAT article Nick, and an important point!

  7. I have always considered voting a privilege. It's never, ever felt like an obligation to me. I'm pleased and proud to be able to vote.

    And I second what Uncle Sam says there. You didn't vote? then I don't wanna hear you whine.

  8. The right to vote carries with it the right not to vote. If both candidates are unworthy. The only way to say so is b7y not voting. To try to make people feel guilty for e4xercising their right to protest is unfair.

  9. Thank you for this wonderful reminder! I'm not sure how often people realize that things really have progressed. Now the main thing is to keep those who want to revert back to old ways (ideologically, if nothing else) from having the power to act on it.


  10. Fiochra: If you lived here and voted, too often that would put you among less than 50% of the eligible voters. I understand that the November 4th election is forecast to be an exception.

    Maithri: Thank you, my friend. I certainly hope we are on the verge of something new!

  11. China Girl: You’re welcome! The right to vote has truly been slowly achieved privilege for the majority of Americans.

    Dana: Thank you, my friend.

  12. Squirl: I agree. Uncle Sammy do have his point, don’t he!

    Dr. John:Thank you for your comment. I respectfully disagree with you, sir, for two reasons.

    (1) In presidential elections there are always more than two candidates from whom to choose. For example, here in Kentucky the following are running for the office of President of the United States this year:
    Jonathan Allen:
    Independent, Write-In, HeartQuake '08

    Charles O. Baldwin:
    Independent, Write-In, Alaskan Independence, Constitution, Constitution Party of Florida, Constitution Party of Illinois, Independent Green, Nebraska, Nominated by Petition, Reform Party of Kansas, U.S. Taxpayers, U.S. Taxpayers Party of Michigan

    Robert L. Barr:
    Independent, Libertarian, Write-In, Nominated by Petition

    Leonard C. Habermehl:

    Keith R. Judd:
    Write-In, Non-partisan

    Alan L. Keyes:
    Independent, Write-In, America's Independent Party, American Independent

    John S. McCain:
    Republican, Conservative Party of New York , Independence Party of New York

    Billy Mills:

    Brian P. Moore:
    Independent, Write-In, Liberty Union, Nominated by Petition, Socialist, Socialist Party USA

    Ralph Nader:
    No Party Affiliation, Independent, Write-In, Natural Law Party, Alaskan Independence, Ecology Party of Florida, New Mexico Independent Party, Nominated by Petition, Nomination by other than Primary, Peace, Populist

    Barack H. Obama:
    Democratic, Democratic/Farmer/Labor, Democratic-NPL, Working Families Party of New York

    (2) If one finds none of those acceptable, one can always right in another name—Mickey Mouse, Superman, or even one’s own name. That, to me, seems to be a much better method of protesting than simply not voting!

  13. Well said, Reverend Nick!

  14. Thailandchani : Thank you! I agree, we have progressed.

    And, yet, democracy, if we are to keep it, requires constant vigilance. From my study of history and political science, I recognize that both the extreme right wing and the extreme left wing fear democracy and would gladly replace our freedoms with authoritarianism.

    Joshua:Thank you, my friend!

  15. Thank you for the civics lesson. I really did learn quite a lot.

  16. I didn't realize that there were so many people who were not allowed to vote at one time. I can just imagine what it must feel like to be blocked from voting while others go to the polls.

    Thanks for the info, Nick. It's good to keep perspective.

  17. I always think of the suffragettes - and make sure I vote.