Political Trust & Distrust 7

Free course. One paragraph (usually) per day.

The framers were not perfect.[1] They did not guarantee citizenship to all people within the new United States of America. Indigenous people and enslaved people, almost all from the African continent, were not considered citizens and therefore had no rights. Enslaved people were counted as only three-fifths of a white person in the census. The framers did not use the Constitution to guarantee voting rights to all citizens. Instead, those rights were decided by each state. Initially, only wealthy, white men could vote. Finally, they relied on state lawmakers, rather than the Constitution, to make it illegal (or not) for individual people to infringe on others’ rights.

Some of the framers’ omissions have been addressed. The 14th Amendment clarified that citizenship should be accorded to everyone born in the United States, and anyone naturalized to the United States. The same Amendment guarantees all citizens equal rights, equal protection of the laws, and requires that all people are counted equally. The right of citizens to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, nor on account of sex, failure to pay any poll tax or other tax, so long as they are 18 years or older.  (U.S. Constitution, 15th Amendment, 19th Amendment, 24th Amendment, and 26th Amendment.) The right of indigenous people to vote was handled outside the Constitution, through the 1924 Snyder Act. New Mexico was the last state to comply with that right in 1962.  Progress in stopping personal abuses of other people’s political and civil rights has, however, been uneven.

Tomorrow we begin exploring how the Constitution’s design can contribute to political trust. In another week or so, we will also remind you that vigilance is also a good thing. If you are impatient, you can get the full course here.

Image: From the American Anti-Slavery Almanac, 1840

[1] We consider our Constitution’s framers to include many great people who not only helped create our republic but who also helped to improve it over time – even in our own time.  Many of these people were imperfect, as we all are, but their personal failings should not take away from the important contributions they made.

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