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VOTING RIGHTS - March 8, 2007

We must remember that the right to vote wasn’t just handed to Americans.

When the polls open on Election Day, every citizen over the age of 18 will be able to cast a vote. It is a right we take for granted, one that defines our nation as a democracy. This started over 200 years ago. At that time you had to be white, male, and wealthy in order to vote. In other words, it was the privilege of a chosen few. The Declaration of Independence declared that “All men are created equal,” and demanded that government represent the people’s interests. In order to cast a vote in the new democracy, it could be only the select males. In some places, that left more than 85 percent of the adult population who did not have a voice.

 Here are the brief accounts of some fights for these rights:

On a June night in 1842, two brass cannons were aimed toward the city arsenal in Rhode Island. Behind the weapons was a huge crowd of people, ready to march against their own government. It was 60 years after the American Revolution established liberty across the United States, but these people felt that tyranny still reigned in America. Thomas Dorr led this uprising. His rusty cannons failed to fire, everyone began to drift off, and Dorr and 50 of his supporters had to drag the artillery back to their head-quarters. Faced in the morning by 1,500 armed supporters of the King’s government, Dorr had to admit defeat, but at his trial he proclaimed, “The servants of a righteous cause may fail or fall in the defense of it . . . but all the truth that it contains is indestructible.” Dorr went to prison, won a pardon after two years, and dropped out of the news. His cause carried on . . . but by the time of the Civil War, nearly every white man in the country--rich or poor, rural or urban--could go to the polls on Election Day.

*          *          *          *          *

The next battle took place in the fall of 1917. A Virginia workhouse held an unusual group of women, a 60-year-old nurse, a wealthy widow from Philadelphia’s high society, and a few wives of important Washington newspapermen. The leader was Miss Paul, a quiet, determined Quaker with a Ph.D. They were there to demand that American women be given the right to vote.

Women had campaigned actively for suffrage in America since 1848. Most male and female citizens believed that women could not handle politics. One speaker had the nerve to proclaim, “A woman’s brain involves emotion rather than intellect, (which) painfully disqualifies her for the sterner duties to be performed by the intellectual faculties.” One newspaper proclaimed, “You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout.”

On Jan. 10, 1917, the women picketed the White House. This did not make much difference, but when the U.S. entered World War I in April, the pickets were really embarrassing, so the women were arrested again and put in prison where conditions were terrible. The press soon found out about it. Food was terrible, and prison officials were cruel. Miss Paul was even committed to an insane asylum. The president finally pardoned the women and on Aug. 29, through the 19th amendment, women won the right to vote.

*          *          *          *          *

By law, blacks in Mississippi had been allowed to vote since the passage of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in 1868, but every Southern state had found a way to keep blacks away from polls. In 1964, fewer than 40 percent of black adults were registered to vote. Bob Moses was the citizen whose determined influence, even after cruel treatment, is still felt through this nation. People began to feel that they were not helpless anymore. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law stated that the federal government would enforce equal access to the ballot in the South.

*          *          *          *          *

The nation was in the middle of the war with Vietnam and protests were taking place everywhere. Draftees were any male over the age of 18. The people did not think it was fair that they were allowed, or even forced by the draft, to die for their country, but not allowed to vote. Young adults were the leaders in this movement. They led sit ins that sparked many hot feelings, but the amendment to the 26th amendment was passed on July 1, 1971.

*          *          *          *          *

These people fought the fight. Let’s register to vote, and then cast our ballots.

This Week's Editorial:

By Helen Morris:

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