until i saw those posts from @publius-esquire​ i had literally no idea that women and free black americans (with property) had the vote in some states when the constitution was ratified and they lost those rights. and this wasn’t something theoretical, women and black people did vote. and it wasn’t like the states had just forgotten to specify they meant white men, laws in new jersey passed in 1790 and 1797 referred to voters as “he or she.” 

history≠consistent progress, and thinking that it does helps excuse past intolerance/oppression as an inevitable stepping stone towards enlightenment and tolerance. if schools taught american history differently, maybe more students would realize that oppression is a product of hate, not ignorance. i wish i could be more articulate. i’m so fucking angry no one ever taught me this.

I was never taught it, either. I’ve never seen a greater argument against states’ rights. From what I’ve been able to find, the states that had once allowed free African American male suffrage (and in the case of New Jersey, also single female suffrage) with property qualifications, and the years they were taken away in almost all cases under Jeffersonian Republican or Jacksonian Democrat administrations.

  • Delaware (1792)
  • Kentucky (1799)
  • Maryland (1801)
  • New Jersey (1807)
  • Connecticut (1814)
  • New York (1821 property qualifications taken away for white men and raised for black men, effectively killing the black vote)
  • Rhode Island (1822) (reinstated in 1842 with property qualifications only for black men)
  • Tennessee (1834)
  • North Carolina (1835)
  • Pennsylvania (1838)

And the states, to my knowledge (correct me if I’m wrong), that granted free African American male suffrage and never took it away all through the Fifteenth Amendment:

  • Massachusetts
  • Vermont
  • New Hampshire
  • Maine

So the states that had a combined black population of about 4%.

Its prbly obvious but for the op’s comment *white women

Technically speaking, no. In New Jersey, where women could vote until 1807, free black women were not excluded by the State Constitution (again, the laws still didn’t let slaves vote). The requirements for voting in New Jersey were as follows:

  1. The voter must have reached the age of majority 
  2. The voter must be “worth fifty pounds proclamation money, clear estate in the same.”
  3. The voter must have lived within the county for at least a year

Gender and race were not considered limiting factors, which meant that free black people who had attained a certain threshold of wealth were eligible. Married women could not technically own property, so they weren’t eligible, but single women and widows were. If there happened to be a free black woman in the state of New Jersey between 1776 (when their Constitution was drafted) and 1807 (when gender and race restrictions were put in place), and she was not married, and she had attained the necessary threshold of wealth, she was eligible. 

It would be very difficult to find out if anyone like this ever existed, and if they did, whether they voted in any elections, but it’s entirely possible. Black women faced more stringent voting restrictions because unlike white women they needed to be free in addition to being unmarried, and in a racist society it was likely much harder for them to acquire the necessary wealth and property. Still, they were eligible.

While looking into this I made a cursory attempt to find a record of any unmarried, property-owning free black women in New Jersey. I didn’t see much, but I did run across something that’s probably of interest to people:

Elizabeth Freeman was born a slave around 1744 in New York, and essentially brought about the end of slavery in Massachusetts single-handedly. Just as an example of the kind of woman Freeman was, at one point she shielded a young girl from the attack of their mistress, Hannah Ashley, and received a bad wound on her arm. Here’s what Freeman had to say about that: “I had a bad arm all winter, but Madam had the worst of it. I never covered the wound, and when people said to me, before Madam, ‘Betty, what ails your arm?’ I only answered – ‘ask missis!’ Which was the slave and which was the real misses?“

In 1780, Freeman heard a public reading of the Massachusetts Constitution and was struck by the first article, which begins, “all men are born free and equal.” She sought out a lawyer and sued the state for her freedom, pointing out that the wording of the State Constitution conflicted with slavery. Slavery in Massachusetts was declared unconstitutional as a result of this case (though it still took some time for slavery to fully end, by 1790 there were no recorded slaves in the state), and Freeman was given her freedom (and was compensated for her labor…nice). 

Freeman’s old masters asked her to come back to their house and work for a wage, but she basically told them to go fuck themselves and went to work for the attorney who represented her, Theodore Sedgwick, as a paid servant and governess. Eventually she became a popular and in-demand midwife and nurse, and she and her daughter bought a house in Stockbridge. She died around 85, and was buried in the Sedgwick family plot.

Anyway, Elizabeth Freeman seems like an absolutely amazing and fascinating person, and she’s a good example of a politically active, property-owning black woman in early America, though I’m sure there’s no shortage of others.

Nope, black women could vote in New Jersey, too:

– Hanes Walton, et al, The African American Electorate: A Statistical History

history is not a trajectory of linear *progress.*


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