In the Year 1920 but 132 Years Late

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by Rick Bretz

Voting empowers oneself. It gives someone the feeling that they have a say in what happens around them.

History makes the argument that Americans didn’t have a representative government until recently.   The US Constitution was ratified on June 21st, 1788.  They made some mistakes, left out a few disenfranchised members of society,  and failed to address important issues.   The wonderful thing about the US Constitution is the document can be changed.

The Constitution was changed in 1791 with the Bill of Rights and subsequently, several more amendments were added– important ones. The United States of America and its citizens and representatives acted as the editorial board and added more wisdom to make our government by and for the people even better.

It’s President’s Day, a time to celebrate George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and all the other leaders that have taken us this far.  Some were better than others but, nevertheless, they served as best they could under their present-day environment.

These learned and successful men also kicked the can down the road on a few other issues in the name of getting the US Constitution ratified and creating a stable government.

The women’s suffrage movement celebrated their freedom to choose on August 18th, 1920 when the 19th Amendment became part of the United States Constitution.  132 years late but the error was corrected.

That is the day they could exercise their right to vote.  With all battles and wars, the suffrage movement fuel was moved closer to the revolution spark with the formation of the United States under the US Constitution.

In a letter to John Adams on March 31 1776, Abigail Adams wrote, “…in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.” 

She continues her request with a warning, “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.” 

The framers messed up and didn’t follow her advice.  That rebellion came soon enough with the leadership of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  These leaders of the suffrage movement were determined and focused on their ultimate goal and recruited an army of women to accomplish it.

On President’s Day, it’s significant to remember that women didn’t have the right to vote for a President until 1920, 100 years ago.  The fact baffles clear thinking people that it took a prolonged fight to give a fundamental right to a vital group of society, considering their role in America’s struggles and accomplishments.

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The United States is a republic, not a democracy.  The majority does not rule.   A republic gives power to elected representatives to act on their interests.

A pure democracy argued Thomas Jefferson, “ …is nothing more than mob rule, where 51 percent of the people may take away the rights of the other 49.”

The argument could also be made that we didn’t have a fully representative government until 1920.  How can you have full representation when significant segments of the population are left out?  The first part got their voting rights in 1870 with the Fifteenth Amendment when African American’s were given the right to vote.  It took another 50 years for the 19th Amendment to pass.    For good measure, Lyndon Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because there were still people who wanted to deny people the right to walk in a polling place and vote. This legislation covered a wide spectrum of voting right abuses.

Native Americans also had a struggle for voting rights.  Like black voters after the fifteenth Amendment, they also had to struggle against state-mandated literacy tests, poll taxes, fraud, and intimidation.

A Ken Burn documentary on the suffrage movement called “Not For Ourselves” features the struggle for voting rights and the two women who fought the difficult fight, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  They fought the battle but passed away before their goal was realized in 1920. The documentary points out they were doing for all women after them. It’s worth a look if only to see the ridiculous arguments from the people fighting against women’s voting rights all those years after the US Constitution was ratified in 1788.

One last thought—the United States is not the only country that fought the battle.  Women from England, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East fought and won their voting rights.  In some places, the fight goes on.

We have an electoral college for many reasons such as counteracting voting fraud, creating a firewall against other election day shenanigans as well as resolving elections relatively soon.  The electoral college number that is given to states is a representation of that population.  The only way to get a true representation is for each segment to be given the right and the ability to vote, regardless of race, religion, and gender.

https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/not-for-ourselves-alone

https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-the-bill-of-rights/

https://pacificlegal.org/the-united-states-is-not-a-democracy-and-it-wasnt-meant-to-be-one/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI0PqYsNPY5wIVxp6zCh3C5QkYEAAYAiAAEgIJfvD_BwE

https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/elections/right-to-vote.html

https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/voting-rights-act

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