Votting Rights Timeline Leo.Lam


1776: Abigail Adams asks the Continental Congress to support women's rights.

April 14, 1776

John Adams replies to his wife on April 14, 1776: "We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bands of Government every where. That children and apprentices were disobedient — that schools and colleges were grown turbulent — that indians slighted their guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters. But your letter was the first intimation that another tribe more numerous and powerfull than all the rest were grown discontented. — This is rather too coarse a compliment but you are so saucy, I won't blot it out. Depend upon it, We know better than to repeal our masculine systems. ... We have only the Name of masters, and rather than give up this [woman suffrage], which would compleatly subject Us to the despotism of the peticoat, I hope General Washington, and all our brave heroes would fight."

1776: The Vote is Limited to White Males of Property

May 26, 1776

Johan Adams was writing a letter to James Sullivan explaining why changing the requirements to vote would be so controversial. He wrote this shortly after the American Revolution and before the signing of the US constitution. He stated that women ,and poor man would soon want the right to vote. They believed that the qualification to vote should not be changed. This is important to voting because it established who could vote and who could not.

1787: U.S. Constitution Adopted.


1788-1856: Struggle to remove property restrictions.

1788 - 1856

For 68 years there are struggles and movements in the various states to remove the property restrictions on the right to vote. These battles are often bitter and occasionally violent.
In the state elections of 1821, for example, three out of four New York City males do not meet the property requirement and can not vote (women, of course, can not vote at all no matter how rich they are). Over the next few years an intense and eventually successful political struggle is waged to remove all property requirements for male voters. But only for white males. The voting requirements for free Black men is actually increased. The result is that out of 12,500 free Black men in New York City, only 60 are able to vote in the election of 1826.

1820-1865: Abolition movement to end slavery.

1820 - 1865

The first African slaves are brought to North American in 1619 (a year before the arrival of the Mayflower). Resistance begins immediately with intermittent slave uprisings and frequent escapes. Often the escaped slaves join Indian tribes who fight to defend tribal homelands against white encroachment and expansion of the slave system.
Political opposition to slavery among whites in the northern states begins to coalesce in the early 1820s. With the founding of the American Anti-Slave Society in 1833, a broad, interracial political movement committed to ending slavery commences — openly in the northern states, clandestinely in the south. This "Abolition Movement" grows in size and intensity and is met with increasingly violent opposition from slave holders and slave states. Abolitionists are arrested, beaten, and murdered, their homes are burned and their presses destroyed.

But within the Abolition Movement there are bitter disagreements regarding the future of freed slaves. Some favor full citizenship including the right to vote, others advocate some form of 2nd-class citizenship without voting rights. Many want to expel freed slaves and send them "back" to Africa (though, of course, the vast majority of slaves have been born in America). In opposition to the Anti-Slave Society, these "colonizers" form the American Colonization Society which sends 20,000 former slaves to Africa where they carve out the

1848-1920: Women's Suffrage Movement.

1848 - 1920

In 1848 the first Women's Rights Convention is held in Seneca Falls, NY. It demands that women be granted all rights as full citizens including the right to vote.
For the next 72 years women — and some male supporters — speak out, petition, lobby, sue, protest, march, and engage in civil-disobedience, for the right to vote. They brave beatings, mob attacks, rape, jail, seizure and destruction of property, forced divorce (and consequent loss of children), forced feeding of hunger strikers, and murder, to fight for their right to be full citizens.

1856: Property restrictions removed.


The last state to finally eliminate the property qualification is North Carolina in 1856.

1870: 15th Amendment extends vote to Blacks.


Adoption of the 15th Amendment in 1870 extends voting rights to Black males — in theory.
In reality, there is massive resistance to the intent of the 15th Amendment, particularly in the Southern states, but also in the North and Midwest. Violence and economic reprisal are used to intimidate and prevent Black men from voting.

The 15th Amendment does not apply to Native-Americans or Asians because they cannot be citizens. Similarly, it does not apply to Mexican-Americans in New Mexico and Arizona because they live in territories that are not yet states. While legally eligible to vote in Texas and California, Mexican-Americans are still denied the vote through violence and economic retaliation.

1890-1920: Some states grant women the right to vote.

1890 - 1920

First Wyoming, then Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, and California extend voting rights to women. Other states follow.

1920: 19th Amendment extends right to vote to women.


After an epic 72 year struggle, women finally win the right to vote. But prejudice and discrimination against women candidates and office holders continues for decades.