Who Gets to Vote? History of Voting Rights in Connecticut and the United States

by Rebecca Furer for Teach It

TEACHER'S SNAPSHOT

Historical Background

Throughout American history, the right to vote has been available to some people and denied to others. Voting rights have been restricted on the basis of age, race, sex, property value, church membership, ability to pay taxes, and literacy, among other factors. In the 19th century, Connecticut women (notably the Smith sisters in Glastonbury), Native Americans (such as Isaac Glasko of Griswold), and African Americans (such as Bias Stanley and William Lanson of New Haven) all petitioned against injustice on the basis of “no taxation without representation,” but none was ever successful. Twice prior to the passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Connecticut General Assembly approved striking the word “white” from the qualifications of electors in the state Constitution, only to have it voted down by the public (in 1847 and 1865). While two neighboring states—New York and Rhode Island—granted women full or partial voting rights prior to the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, Connecticut women were only granted the right to vote in 1920. The story of disenfranchisement—and the eventual expansion of voting rights—is the story of the changing conceptions of freedom and equality in America.

D1: Potential Compelling Question

How have the American conceptions of freedom and equality changed over time?

D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS

  • Who had the right to vote at different times in American history?
  • What were the arguments in favor of and against expanding the right to vote at different times in American history?
  • Why is it important to vote?

D2: TOOL KIT

Things you will need to teach this lesson:

For the Introduction



For Part 1: African American Suffrage







For Part 2: Women’s Suffrage





D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY

This is a three-part activity, with an introductory activity, section on African-American voting rights, and a section on women’s voting rights. You may choose to do some or all of the parts.

Introduction
1) Complete the “History of Voting Rights” lesson, from the Connecticut’s Kid Governor® program.
2) Introduce the compelling and initial supporting questions that will guide the inquiry.
3) As a class, examine “Article VI: Of the Qualifications of Electors” from the Connecticut Constitution, 1818.
4) Make a list of the criteria for voting and a list of who/what groups were excluded from voting under Connecticut’s first “official” constitution.
5) Ask students to contribute additional questions that will help guide the inquiry.

Part 1: African American Suffrage
1) Students examine the five newspaper articles, using the analysis technique of your choice. You may wish to use the Library of Congress’s Primary Source Analysis Tool, which prompts students to OBSERVE, REFLECT, and QUESTION.
2) Students share their findings and questions in small groups or with the class.
3) Students examine the “All Men Free and Equal” proclamation and discuss the author, subject, intended audience, and purpose of the document.
4) As a class, revisit the supporting and compelling questions and make a list of any remaining questions that could guide further inquiry.

Part 2: Woman Suffrage
1) Working in small groups or individually, half of the students examine sources #1-3 (pro-suffrage); half of the students examine sources #4-5 (anti-suffrage), using the analysis technique of your choice.
2) Students discuss the author (if identifiable), subject, intended audience, historical context, and purpose of each source.
3) Compile a list of arguments made at the time in favor of and against women’s suffrage. Were these arguments the same or different from those that had been made about restricting or expanding the right to vote to different people/groups in the past?
4) As a class, revisit the supporting and compelling questions and make a list of any remaining questions that could guide further inquiry.

D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS

  • Imagining they are living in Connecticut immediately after the passage of the 15th (1870) or 19th (1920) Amendment to the United States Constitution, students will create a broadside (poster) or newspaper advertisement designed to convince either African Americans or women to vote in the next election. Students should consider and reference the historical context and events that led to the expansion of voting rights to this group.
  • Students will create a contemporary “Get out the Vote” campaign (advertisement, PSA, etc.) to inform potential voters about the importance of civic participation.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Place to GO
Things To DO

Check out these mostly satirical poems in response to anti-suffrage arguments: Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times by Alice Duer Miller. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1915.

Contact your town’s Registrar of Voters to find out more about voting in your community.

Dig into recent election results, including voter turnout, at the Secretary of the State’s website.

Websites to VISIT

Milestones in Voting History Timeline from City University of New York

Centuries of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline from the National Constitution Center

It’s Your Right – Why Voting Matters from the office of the Connecticut Secretary of the State, Denise W. Merrill.

Connecticut Constitutional History from the Connecticut State Library.

Articles to READ

Voting in Early America” by Ed Crews. The Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Spring 2007.

ConnecticutHistory.org:

CTExplored.org: