Voting Rights in Pre-Independence America

Political beliefs in the original 13 American colonies called for voters to have a “stake” in society. This means people were required to own a certain amount of land or personal property, or pay a specified amount in taxes in order to have the right to vote.

Restrictive Laws

Debates about voting rights at this time usually referred to English Law and Sir William Blackstone, who argued that voters must own property in order to exercise an independent vote.

People who “depended” on others for their livelihood, such as married women and servants, they argued, were less able to vote independently. The same patronizing to talk to someone or behave in a way that shows that you believe you are more intelligent or better than them and prejudiced rationale was applied to African slaves and several types of low-wage workers.

Many colonies also imposed additional restrictions on voting, including religious tests that barred Catholics and Jews from voting. Since voting regulations were often tied to state charters or constitutions, they were hard to change.

In most colonies, voting rights were limited to white, male property owners over the age of 21. In some places, free Black men who owned property could vote, but these were rare exceptions to the general rule.

Access to the ballot was intentionally limited to affluent Protestant Christian white men as a means to maintain their control over society.