Revolution and the political integration of the enslaved and disenfranchised (1974) | ARCHIVES
Articles Blog

Revolution and the political integration of the enslaved and disenfranchised (1974) | ARCHIVES

October 25, 2019

Announcer: The American Enterprise Institute
presents the Distinguished Lecture Series on the Bicentennial of the United State. Our host for this thought-provoking series
is Vermont Royster, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with “The Wall Street Journal”
and professor of journalism and public affairs at the University of North Carolina. Vermont C. Royster: I’m Vermont Royster with another
in the American Enterprise Institute’s Distinguished Lecture Series on the American Bicentennial. 1976, the 200th birthday of the United States. Perhaps no government in history has grasped
so quickly the potential for bringing ordinary people not just elite, into the political
and economic process. The American experiment has worked, and the
American Enterprise Institute has gathered some of our greatest scholars and educators
to help us understand why. This lecture will be delivered by Dr. Gordon
S. Wood, professor of history at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Tonight’s lecture is a special honor for Dr.
Wood, and for AEI since it is being delivered before a specially called joint session of
the Kentucky State Legislature in Frankfort. Members of both houses are gathered tonight
to hear Dr. Wood discuss the role of politics in the development of our democratic system. The American Bicentennial coincides generally
with the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the first settlers in Kentucky. It is a time for joy and for pride. Kentuckians take a deep pride in their state,
its less countryside, its products, and its people. One speaker of tonight’s joint session referred
to Kentucky as the most wonderful land in the confines of all the earth and quite possibly
in the confines of all God’s creation. Even allowing for a touch of Holmes-born hyperbole,
there’s much to be said for the clear streams and farm dotted hillsides that make up much
of the state. Kentucky’s famous Bluegrass Country, it is
the home of some of the world’s finest racehorses. And the state is also the home of some of
the world’s mildest tobacco and smoothest Bourbon. But times are not always as peaceful here
as they are today. In the late 1600s, when Kentucky was first
being explored, it was given the name “The Dark and Bloody Ground” because of the fierce
battles among the Indian tribes that lived there. Kentucky’s violent history however, gave rise
to some strong and determined men. Although he was not a native, Daniel Boone
made his home in Kentucky, and he is still honored here. This is the actual rifle Boone used while
exploring the Kentucky wilderness. On one side of this stack [SP], he curved
the likeness of Indians he encountered. On the other side, he expressed his feelings
about the rifle, Boone’s best friend. Another historic weapon is also on display
in Frankfort. This is the dueling pistol used by Aaron Burr
which motley wounded Alexander Hamilton. Statesman Henry Clay is honored here in the
Capitol building as one of Kentucky’s greatest heroes. Clay served as United States senator, speaker
of the House, and secretary of state. Known as the great compromiser, Clay was a
champion of people’s rights. But the highest tribute in Kentucky’s Hall
of Heroes is paid to two native son, who once faced each other in mortal combat, and now
stand together in the place of honor beneath the Capitol’s great rotunda. Abraham Lincoln was born in what is now Kentucky’s
LaRue County. This magnificent statue of him is a major
attraction of the Capitol building. Just a few feet away stands this statue of
Jefferson Davis, who’s born in what is now Todd County. There is a tradition surrounding the Lincoln
statue, which says that if you rub Lincoln’s foot, it will bring good luck. And almost no one who visits the Capitol in
Frankfort leaves without completing the ritual, even the little one. Just outside the Capitol building stands the
stately Kentucky governor’s mansion, it is currently occupied by the Honorable Wendell
H. Ford. But this evening, Governor Ford is not at
home. He is inside the Capitol of the legislature’s
joint session where he is introducing tonight’s American Enterprise Institute’s speaker. Gov. Ford: The purpose of this evening is
to introduce the first official event in Kentucky’s celebration of its bicentennial era. It is fitting that we gather tonight in these
chambers where in 1970, the General Assembly conceived and created the Kentucky Historical
Events Celebration Commission, charging its members with the responsibility of planning
and implementing a celebration to recognize and pay tribute to events in Kentucky’s history. During our bicentennial celebration, over
three million Kentuckians will have an opportunity to learn more about their history and their
heritage. Equally important will be an opportunity for
Kentuckians to play a role in projects that will enhance the future of this great state,
and bring lasting benefit to all within its borders. With this in mind, the Kentucky Historical
Events Celebration Commission has diligently worked to develop a celebration to spend the
three-year period from 1974 through 1976 when Kentucky joins its sister state in commemorating
the 200th anniversary of the founding of the greatest nation on the earth. In preparation for the national bicentennial,
16 outstanding men of letters have been commissioned by the American Enterprise Institute to present
a distinguished lecture series designed to review past national accomplishments and chart
courses for future achievements. This lecture series is dedicated to the belief
that the competition of ideas is fundamental to a free society. Lectures are scheduled for such historic sites
as Liberty Hall in Philadelphia, the House of Burgesses, and Williams Byrd, and the old
Senate chamber in the United States Capitol. Kentucky is honored to be selected for one
of the lecture programs, and it is with humble pride that we accept our place in the stellar
roster of historic sites, and welcome today’s lecturer, Dr. Gordon Stuart Wood. Dr. Wood is the author of “The Creation of
the American Republic, 1776-1787” and “The Rising Glory of America, 1760-1820.” An Educator and a Historian, Dr. Wood is a
member of the American Historical Association. Presently a professor of history at Brown
University, Providence, Rhode Island. Dr. Wood has also served on the faculty of
Harvard, and the University of Michigan. Tonight, Dr. Wood will question whether or
not the American experience provides a model for the evolution of political rights today
and in the future. On behalf of the Commonwealth of Kentucky
and its people, I want to offer a cordial welcome to all of our distinguished guests
tonight, and present to you Dr. Gordon Stewart Wood. Dr. Wood. Gordon S. Wood: Governor Ford, Lieutenant Governor
Carl, Mr. Speaker, Members of the General Assembly, ladies and gentlemen. It is indeed a great honor and a delight for
me to be here tonight talking to you. I am especially delighted to be talking to
politicians tonight, and I assume most of you are politicians. In fact, after being with some of you today,
I know most of you are politicians. The reason I’m delighted is because what I
want to say about the revolution has a great deal to do with politicians, and with politics. I’m interested in the growth of democracy
which is what the rather elaborate title about political integration boils down to, democracy
and the revolution. We take democracy for granted, we assume that
people have sets of clearly understood interests that will be readily expressed in politics
if only they’re allowed to do so. The role of politicians in this process, when
it is considered at all, is often thought of as that of passive agents riding the waves
of the popular will. The politicians have a lot more to do with
democracy than simply executing the passions and desires of the people. They not only help to shape and channel those
desires and passions, they help to arouse and generate them. In fact, politicians were crucial in the beginning
of our history in creating the collectivity we call the people as an active ingredient
in politics. Democracy and politicians grew up together
in our history, and are inextricably bound together. Democracy is as much a product of electioneering
politics as it is a prerequisite for such politics. Without politicians, there could be no democracy. Now, I don’t want you to think that I decided
on this topic and approach after I learned I would be talking to the general assembly
of Kentucky. I have thought about this subject a good many
years and worked out some of these ideas long before I knew precisely who my audience would
be. In fact, you may not be the best audience
for my remarks, you already know how important you are, it’s the world out there that needs
to be reminded of the fact. The profoundest revolution of the past 200
years has been the introduction of ordinary people into the political process. For America, and the rest of the Western world,
this revolution began or was most dramatically expressed at the end of the 18th century,
the age of the democratic revolution as it has been appropriately called. The steady mobilization of the people with
the politics extended through a half century in the United States following revolution. The process took much longer in Western Europe,
requiring a greater part of the American century or more, and of course, for the rest of the
world, the process is still going. In fact, since 1945, with the emergence of
new nations and the third world, we are witnessing what has been called a participation explosion. The rapid incorporation into the political
arena of people who are hitherto but outside of politics, in a hurried, even desperate
effort by underdeveloped nations to catch up with modern democratic states. What made the American revolutionary was this
very incorporation of people into politics. The revolution created Republics, Commonwealths,
which meant that the people were no longer to be considered subjects, or something to
be moved, as they were in the monarchies. They were thereafter to be considered citizens,
participants themselves in the ruling process. This is what democracy has come to mean for
us, an involvement of the people in politics, a meaning that we take so much for granted,
that we easily forget what our radical innovation in politics it was. More than anything else, this integration
of common ordinary people into politics, which began on a large scale in America at the end
of the 18th century, is what sets apart the modern world from what went on before. Americans were in the vanguard of this development. Our assumptions of the leadership of the free
world… of the democratic nations is not simply based on our preponderance of power
acutely visible since 1945. Ever since the revolution, we have claimed
the leadership of the free world, even during the 19th century when we were ourselves an
underdeveloped nation. And our claims were being treated with amused
contempt by Europe. Our assertions of leadership were based on
our priority in time. We were the first modern nation to have a
democratic revolution, and to establish a republic in which citizenship and political
participation belonged to the whole community. The American evolution was about democracy
then, both consequence and then the cause of democracy. It came to mark a decisive change in the way
politics were conducted in America. The revolution gave legitimacy to the involvement
of common ordinary people in politics. It was not, however, a matter simply of new
people being legally given the right to vote in 1776. Although the franchise in colonial America
was confined by property qualifications as in 18th century England, property-owning was
so widespread in the colonies that the colonists enjoyed the broadest suffrage of any people
in the world. Perhaps 80% of White adult males could vote. Yet, the fact remains that most people in
the colonial period did not exercise that right. The social structure and social values were
such that colonial politics at least compared to post-revolutionary America, were remarkably
stable. And the numbers of people actually voting
and participating in politics remained small, much more smaller than even the percentages
voting today. The legal exclusion of the populace from the
franchise, was based in the 18th century not on the fear that the poor might confiscate
the wealth of the aristocratic few, but on the opposite fear. That the aristocratic few might manipulate
and corrupt the poor for their own ends. Established social leaders expected deference
from those below them and generally got it, and were habitually reelected to political
office. In the 18th century, there were no organized
political parties, and no professional politician, no professional politicians in today’s sense
of the terms. Established merchants, wealthy lawyers, large
planters, held the major offices and ran political affairs as part of the responsibility flowing
from their elevated social positions. It was rare for a tavern keeper or a small
farmer to gain a political office of any consequence. Men were granted political authority in accord
not with their seniority or experience in politics, but with their previously established
economic and social superiority. While some members of the elite sought the
leverage of the English crown in politics, in gaining and wielding political power, others
turned to the only alternative source of political authority recognized in 18th-century Anglo-American
political theory, the people. In the half century before the revolution,
these competing elites found themselves repeatedly invoking the people as tactical devices for
off-setting the power of the crown and gaining political office. And in the process, steadily mobilized the
elements of the population who had not really ever been involved in politics. This popularization of politics during the
decades before the revolution can be traced in various ways. Through the rise in voter participation, the
increase in contested elections, the resort to caucuses, tickets, and other forms of political
organization. And the growth of campaign propaganda and
professional profiteering [SP]. This is how democracy began developing. Democracy was not the result of the people
becoming spontaneously aroused and clamoring from below for sheer political authority,
rather, democracy was created from above. The people had to be cajoled, persuaded, even
frightened, to be getting involved. Each competing faction tried to outdo its
opponents in posing as a friend of the people, defending their rights, and advancing their
interests. Yet over time, what began as oppose eventually
assumed the reality that had not been anticipated. The people continually invoked could not easily
be laid to rest. By the middle decades of the 18th century,
American politics was on the verge of a radical transformation that the revolution both expressed
and amplified. The revolution made the people sovereign. Practices invoking and mobilizing the people
into politics that had begun before the revolution were now, with the revolution dramatically
increased, as political leaders competed with each other for power and the endorsement that
being a friend of the people carried. First, the authority of the English Government
was challenged for its inability to represent not only the American people, but its own
people as well. Then all authority was challenged by what
eventually seemed to be ceaseless appeals to the people for no institution in America
appeared capable of embodying their will. Vermont C. Royster: We’re listening to Dr. Gordon S.
Wood speaking before a joint session of the Kentucky State Legislature. Dr. Wood has been discussing the political
integration of the common man into the American system of government. In just one moment, he continues. The State of Kentucky was in the unique position
during the Civil War of being represented by a star in both the Confederate flag, and
the Union flag. Officially, Kentucky remained loyal to the
north throughout the war. But a secessionist group in the southwest
part of the state set up its own government and joined the Confederacy. The breakaway government was short-lived,
but the Kentucky star remained on the Confederate flag. In the State Capitol at Frankfort, Dr. Gordon
S. Wood is continuing his discussion of popular representation in American politics. Gordon S. Wood: The revolution so intensified the
people’s dominance in politics that they could never thereafter be any escaping from them. In America’s new Republican consciousness,
they could be nothing else in politics, no orders, no estates, no lords, no court, no
monarch, not even rulers in the traditional sense, only the people. How they expressed themselves, how they participated
in government, how they gave their consent, how they were represented, were thus crucial
questions that preoccupied Americans in the revolution and ever after. During the revolution, Americans put together
a conception of popular representation in government that we’ve never lost. The controversy and debate with England in
the 1760s exposed the basic Anglo-American difference of experience and viewpoint concerning
representation that only widened in the revolution. The English clung to a belief in what they
called virtual representation. England’s 18th-century electorate comprised
only a small proportion of its population, and it bore little relation to changing concentrations
of that population. The electoral districts formed the hodgepodge
left over from centuries of English history. Thus, ancient rotten barrels like Old Sarum
which were completely depopulated by the 18th century sent members to the House of Commons
while newer large cities like Manchester and Birmingham sent none. Such seeming anomalies to us were justified
on the not unreasonable grounds that each Member of Parliament should represent not
any particular locality, but the whole community. Parliament, as Edmund Burke said, was not
a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, but a deliberative assembly
of one nation with one interest, that of the whole. To the English, what made a Member of Parliament
representative was not voting or the electoral process which were incidental to representation
in English mind, but the mutuality of interests that presumably existed between the representative
and the people even though many of the people could not actually vote for the representative. Hence, the English style of the members of
parliament that’s virtually representing all those who did not actually vote for them including
the colonies. Hence, out of this difference came the conflict
over taxation without representation. To the Americans whose experience in politics
have developed differently from that of the mother country, representation possessed a
peculiarly actual and local character. Their electoral districts were not the consequence
of history going back to time immemorial but were recent in regular creations that bore
a distinct relation to changes in their population. When the colonies created new counties or
new towns, they usually granted these new counties and towns immediate representation
in their legislatures. Thus, Americans came to think of their legislatures,
whether at the colony, or state, and later at the federal level, as precisely what Burke
denied they should be. As congress of ambassadors from different
and contending localities and interests, all of whose consent had to be real and explicit. Hence, they could not accept the British contention
that they were virtually represented like the people of Manchester in the English parliament
and therefore capable of being taxed by it. The American colonists in the course of a
century and a half developed such a keen awareness of the individuality of their interests that
they simply could not understand how anyone could speak to them in whose election they
had had no choice. Such a sense of the peculiarity put a premium
on voting as the sole measure of representation, and on ensuring that all participated equally
in the processes of consent. The ramifications of these ideas about representation
were myths, and we’re still today in our public life feeling the effects of them. And at first, during the revolution and the
years after to heighten demands for expansion of the suffrage. And secondly, they led to the growing notion
of one man, one vote, which has resulted in our continual attempt to bring representation
of localities into proportion with shifts in population. Finally, the belief that voting itself was
the sole criterion of representation, has in time, transformed all elected officials
including governors and members of Upper Houses, Senates, into other kinds of representatives
of the people. Standing in a sometimes awkward relationship
to the original Houses of Representatives. This extreme localism and actuality of representation
had more than constitutional importance, however. It had social implications that had even more
significance for the character of our politics. Even before the revolutionary turmoil had
settled, some were arguing that mere voting by ordinary men was not a sufficient protection
of ordinary men’s interests if it were only members of the elite who were being elected. It was common to be thought that in a society
of diverse and particular interests, men from one class, or group, however educated and
respectable, could not be acquainted with the situation and needs of another class or
group. Wealthy college-educated lawyers or merchants
simply couldn’t know the concerns of poor farmers or small tradesmen. The logic of the actuality of representation
brought out in the revolution demanded that ordinary people be represented by ordinary
people. Hence it was not enough for elected officials
to be simply for the people, they now had to be of the people as well. In South Carolina, in the early 1780s, we
had a particularly illuminating example of the new attitudes being felt and expressed,
involving the case of a William Thomson, an unknown Charleston tavern keeper. It seems that John Rutledge, a distinguished
social and political leader in South Carolina, had sent a female servant to Thomson’s tavern
to watch a fireworks display from the roof of the tavern. Thomson refused the servant’s admittance to
his tavern and sent her back to Rutledge, who was furious. Rutledge then requested that Thomson come
to his house and apologize for this insult. Thomson refused, and believing his honor was
affronted by Rutledge’s arrogant request, he challenged Rutledge to a duel. Now the social likes of Rutledge didn’t duel
with tavern keepers, so Rutledge went to the South Carolina House of Representatives, of
which he was a member, and got the House to pass a bill banishing Thomson from the state
for insulting a member of its government. Now that’s one way to deal with those you
don’t like, but I don’t recommend it. Thomson naturally did what…well, I hope
you don’t have anybody tickle in mind for this banishment. Man: Well. Gordon S. Wood: Well, Thomson did the only thing
he could do under the circumstances, he became a newspaper columnist. Well, he went to the press for his defense
and he began writing articles. And in 1784, he wrote what can only be described
as a classic expression of American egalitarian resentment against social superiority. A resentment voiced as Thomson said, “Not
on behalf of himself but on behalf of the people,” or in Thomson’s words, “Those more
especially who go at this day under the opprobrious operation of the lower orders of men.” Thomson was not simply attacking the few aristocratic
nabobs as he called them who had humiliated him, but was actually insulting the entire
conception of a social hierarchy ruled by generally elite. In fact, he turned the prevailing 18th-century
opinion upside down, and argued that the social aristocracy was peculiarly unqualified to
rule politically. “Rather than preparing man for political leadership
in a free government,” said Thomson, and I’m quoting him here, “Signal opulence and influence
especially when united by intermarriage or otherwise, were really calculated to subvert
republicanism.” “The persons in conduct of the South Carolina
nabobs like Rutledge in private life may be unexceptionable, and even amiable. But their pride, influence, and ambition,
connections, wealth, and political principles,” argued Thomson, “Are in public life ever to
exclude them from public confidence. All that was no need in Republican leadership,”
said Thomson, “Was being good, able, useful, and friends to social equality. For in a Republican government, consequences
from the public opinion and not from private fancy.” In sardonic tones, Thomson in his newspaper
article recounted how he, a tavern keeper, a wretch of no higher rank in the Commonwealth
and that of common citizen, had been debased by what he called those self-exalted characters
who effect to compose the grand hierarchy of the state for having dared to dispute to
the John Rutledge or any of that nabob tribe. The experience had been degrading enough to
Thomson as a man, but as a former militia officer, it had been as he said insupportable,
indicating how revolutionary military service affected social mobility, and social expectations. “Undoubtedly,” said Thomson, “Rutledge had
conceived me his inferior.” But Thomson, like many others in these years,
tavern keepers, farmers, petty merchants, small-time lawyers, former militia officers,
could no longer, in Thomson’s words, comprehend the inferiority. Likewise, not being able to comprehend their
inferiority, many new politicians in the decades following the revolution used the popular
and egalitarian ideals of the revolution to smash the older social hierarchy and bring
ordinary people like themselves into politics. Vermont C. Royster: Historian Gordon S. Wood has been
commenting on the struggle between the aristocracy and the common man for representation in the
early American political system. Dr. Wood is speaking from the Kentucky State
Capitol in Frankfort, in just one moment, he continues. The Kentucky governor’s mansion is among the
most elegant in the nation. The mansion was built of native limestone
and is styled after Marie Antoinette’s villa near the Palace of Versailles. For over 50 years, the mansion has been home
to Kentucky’s chief executives and their families. The building stands next to the State Capitol
where Dr. Gordon S. Wood is continuing his lecture on the development of a broader electorate
in American politics. Gordon S. Wood: This democratization of politics
involved not only the legal widening of the electorate but the furthering and the extending
to new limits of practices begun before the revolution, and activating those who legally
could, but often didn’t vote. More and more offices including judgeships
were made directly elective, and everyone, it seemed, was now running, not as really
as simply standing for election to them. New acts of persuasion using cheap newspapers
and mass meetings were developed. And politics assumed carnival-like characteristics,
and in time during the 19th century, came to involve in participation higher percentages
of the electorate than were ever again achieved in American politics. In such an atmosphere of stump speaking and
running for office, the members of the old gentry were a considerable disadvantage. In fact, by the early 19th century, in some
parts of the country, being a gentleman or professing the characteristics of a gentlemen,
became a liability in winning elections. And a member of the gentry campaigning for
votes was forced to take off his white gloves if he wanted to beat the tavern keeper who
was charging him with being an aristocratic dandy. Now, one of the most graphic examples of these
sorts of changes in American politics was revealed in the 1868 election campaign for
the fifth congressional district of Massachusetts. Essex County, the former heart of Boston Brahmanism,
but by the mid-19th century, increasingly filled by Irish immigrants. The campaign was essentially between Richard
Henry Dana Jr., a well to do and Harvard educated decedent of a distinguished Massachusetts
family, and author of the book “Two Years Before the Mast.” And Benjamin Butler, son of a boarding housekeeper
who had never been to college, and was one of the most flamboyant demagogues American
politics has ever produced. It was Butler who first used the term the
bloody shirt and it was he who lead the… in the House of Representatives, who lead
the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. He was later elected governor of Massachusetts
in 1870. You can get some idea of Butler’s standing
among the Massachusetts elite by realizing that Butler was the first governor of Massachusetts
in over two centuries not invited to a Harvard College commencement. In the campaign, Butler showed Dana what 19th-century
electoral politics was all about. While Dana was talking to little tea groups
about bond payments, Butler was haranguing the Irish shoe workers of winning Massachusetts,
organizing parades, turning out the fire in police departments, hiring grass vans, distributing
hundreds of pamphlets, and torches, and charging his opponent with being a Beau Brummell in
white gloves. Dana was simply no match for Butler. When Dana was finally forced to confront audiences
of working man, he gave up talking about bonds and even stopped wearing his white gloves,
trying desperately to assure his audiences that he too worked hard. All along, Butler was making fun of these
efforts of Dana, these frantic efforts, to get down to the level of the people. At one point, Dana told the Irish shoe workers
that when he spent two years before the master as a young sailor, he didn’t wear any white
gloves either. At that time, he said, “I was just like you,
I was just as dirty as any of you.” Well, with such speeches, it’s not surprising
that Dana got less than 10% of the vote. The rise of this kind of egalitarian politics
expressed by the campaign of Butler was a result not only of an expanded electorate
represented by new immigrant working men, but also the final collapse of the oldest
social hierarchy, and the traditional belief in elite rule which Dana represented. It was these sorts of changes in the first
half of the 19th century that made the rise of political parties both necessary and possible. And the United States was the first nation
to develop modern political parties. Yet, and it’s a mighty big yet, as we all
know really too well, America’s record of integrating people into politics has not been
a success story. The great anomaly amidst all the revolutionaries
talk of equality, voting, and representation was slavery. Indeed, it was the revolution itself, not
only with its appeal to liberty but with its conception of citizenship of equal individuals
that made slavery in 1776 suddenly seem anomalous for large numbers of Americans. What had often earlier in the 18th century
and taken for granted as part of the brutality of life and regarded as merely the most base
and degraded status in a society of infinite degrees and multiple ranks of freedom and
unfreedom was now through the revolution made conspicuous and peculiar. In a republic, unlike a monarchy, there could
be no place for degrees of freedom or degrees of dependency. In the north, where slavery was considerable,
but not deeply rooted, the exposure of the anomaly worked to abolish it. By 1930 in the northern states, there were
less than 3,000 Black slaves out of a northern black population of over 125,000. In the south, the suddenly exposed anomaly
of slavery through Southern Whites who had in the vanguard of the revolutionary movement,
and there was sort of a spokesman for its libertarianism on to the defensive. And gradually, separated them from the mainstream
of Americans’ egalitarian development. Yet, the very egalitarianism of America’s
Republican ideology that undercut the rationale of slavery, worked at the same time to inhibit
the integration of the free Black man into the political nation. Since Republican citizenship implied equality
for all citizens, a person was admitted into the political process, was put on a level
with all other citizens, and was regarded as being as good as the next one. With the spread of these Republican assumptions,
northern Whites began to view Black voters with increasing apprehension, unwilling to
accept the equality of the suffrage and citizenship now dictated. By 1800 in many states of the north, free
Negroes possessed the right to vote, often as a result of the general extension of the
franchise which took place during the revolution, and they exercised it in some areas with particular
effectiveness. But in subsequent years after 1800, as the
electorate continued to expand both through changes in the law, and the mobilization of
new voters, Blacks found themselves being squeezed out. There is perhaps no greater irony in the democratization
of American politics in the first half of the 19th century than the fact that as the
White man gained the vote, the Black men lost it. And state after state in the north during
the heyday of Jacksonian democracy, White populist majorities moved to eliminate the
remaining property restrictions on White voters, while at the same time, concocting new restrictions
to take away the franchise from Negro voters who had in some cases exercised the vote for
decades. No state admitted to the union after 1819
allowed Blacks to vote. By 1840, 93% of Northern free Negroes lived
in states which completely or practically excluded them from the suffrage and hence
participation in politics. This exclusion of Blacks from politics was
largely a consequence of White fears of equality that Republican citizenship demanded. But it was also a product of competitive Democratic
politics. In some states like Pennsylvania, Negro exclusion
was the price paid for lower class whites gaining the right to vote. Universal N-word suffrage having been opposed
on the grounds they would add numerous Blacks to the electorate. In other states like New York, inclusion of
the Negroes in the franchise was an effective way for Democratic Party majority to eliminate
once and for all Blacks or Negro voters who take the vote for first Federalist and then
wade candidates. Since the Democratic Party as a spokesman
for the popular cause against elitism was in the forefront of the move to expand the
suffrage, it simply seemed to be good politics for the party not only to attract new voters
to its ranks but to take away voters who supported its opponents. It was these sorts of political pressures
then that led to the peculiar situation in some states of immigrant aliens being granted
the right to vote before they became citizens, while Negros born and bred in the United States
had their right to vote abolished, the development often based on a shrewd assessment by politicians
of what respective party the new immigrants and the Blacks supported. For Republican society, it was an impossible
situation, and Americans wrestled with it for over a half century. Federal officials in the first half of the
19th century could never decide the precise status of free Negroes. Sometimes arguing that Blacks were not citizens
and having the right to vote, but were citizens and having the right to secure passports. Others tried to discover for free Blacks some
sort of intermediate legal position as denizens standing between aliens and citizens. But the logic of Republican equality would
not allow for such distinctions. And sooner or later, many saw the escape from
the dilemma posed by Negro disfranchisement by denying citizenship outright to all Blacks,
whether slave or free, a position Chief Justice Tony tried to establish in the Gregg Scott
decision of 1857. The suffrage had become so equated with representation
in America that if a person was not granted the right to vote, then he was not…. thereby
was not represented in the community. And not being represented in a Republican
community was equivalent to not being a citizen. Enslaved Blacks without liberty and free Blacks
without citizenship was such contradictions of the revolutionary ideals that sooner or
later, those contradictions had to tear the country apart. Vermont C. Royster: Dr. Gordon Wood has been discussing
the political integration of the common man into American politics. In just one moment, he will continue his address
from the State Capitol at Frankfort Kentucky. In a state noted for famous sons, no one is
more highly honored in Kentucky than Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was born on a 300-acre farm known
as Sinking Spring, just about in the center of Kentucky. He was named for his grandfather who was killed
in an Indian ambush in 1786. A one-room cabin in which Lincoln was born
is now a national shrine housed within a large marble memorial building. In the State Capitol at Frankfort, our AEI
Lecturer, Dr. Gordon S. Wood has been discussing the period in American history in which Abraham
Lincoln played a vital role. We now rejoin Dr. Wood. Gordon S. Wood: When Northerners came to debate
methods of Southern reconstruction at the end of the Civil War, a move reluctantly,
but steadily toward Negro enfranchisement. Impelled both by the logic of the persisting
ideals of the revolution, and by the circumstances of politics. Although some historians have believed that
the Republican Party’s sponsor with Negro suffrage in the late 1860s was based on a
cynical desire to recruit new voters to the party, it obviously meant much more than that. For in terms of political expediency alone,
Republican sponsorship of Negro suffrage ran the risk in the north of what we’ve come to
call White backlash. Many advocates of Negro suffrage sincerely
believed as the abolitionist Wendell Phelps put it, “That America could never be truly
a united nation until every class God has made from the lakes to the gulf has its ballot
to protect itself.” Yet, there can be no doubt that Black enfranchisement
after the Civil War was fed like all reforms by political exegesis. And that many northerners and Republicans
favored it grudgingly only as a means of preventing a resurgence of an unreconstructed democratic
south that would threaten the dominance of the Republican Party. Hence, there resulted an awkward gap between
the 14th amendment from the one hand, which defined citizenship for the first time and
gave it a national emphasis which it had hitherto throughout, and the 15th amendment on the
other hand which enfranchised the Negro, but unfortunately, linked his enfranchisement
not to his citizenship, but to his race, a linkage which allowed states to impose any
voting qualifications they chose as long as they were not based on race, creating a tangle
situation that 20th century Americans are still trying to unravel. Although we have hesitated to make the connection
between citizenship and the right to vote explicit and unequivocal, everything in our
history is pointed toward that connection. During the past decade or so, largely under
the impetus of the Civil Rights Movement, going beyond that, we have witnessed a heightened
interest in political and voting rights. And have drawn out the logic of principles
concerning the suffrage and representation first articulated in the revolution 200 years
ago. The various Voting Rights Acts, the Anti-Poll
Tax amendment of the mid-1960s, were based on a deeply rooted believe that no nation
like ours could in conscience exclude any of its citizens from the political process. It was the same legacy from the revolution
that led the Supreme Court in a series of reapportionment decisions to apply the idea
of one man, one vote to congressional and state legislative electoral districting effects
of which I’m sure you’re well aware of. Large and unequal campaign contributions are
such a concern to us precisely because they seem to negate the effects of unequal suffrage
and to do violence to equality of participation in the political process. Despite an electorate that at the time seems
apathetic, our present obsession with the suffrage and the actuality and equality of
consent has never been greater. Such an obsession naturally puts a terrific
burden on our political system, that is a burden we should gladly bear, and many other
nations would love to have it for it speaks some underlying popular confidence in the
processes of our politics that surface events, and headlines, news headlines, make us all
too easily ignore. In fact, our obsession with the suffrage and
the full rights of consent have assumed such a transcendent significance for us that has
sometimes obscured the substance of democratic politics and has led us into exaggerating
the real power of the legal right to vote. The suffrage has become for us such a symbol
of citizenship that its possession seems necessarily to involve all sorts of other kinds of rights. Hence acquiring a vote is often seen as an
instrument of reform, a means of solving complicated social problems. The Women’s Rights Movement of the 19th century
premised on the belief as one woman put it in 1848 at the outset that there is no reality
in any power that cannot be coined into votes came to focus almost exclusively on the gaining
of the suffrage. And when the 19th amendment, giving women
the franchise was finally ratified in 1920, and did not lead to the promised revolution,
the sense of failure set the feminist movement back at least a half-century from which it
has, as you know, only recently been recovered. This sort of formal integration into the political
process through the suffrage continues even today to be regarded as a kind of connoisseur
for our social errors. Certainly, this assumption lay behind our
response to the youth rebellions of the late 1960s and the eventual adoption of the 26th
amendment granted 18-year-olds the vote. This special fascination with politics, and
this reliance on political integration through voting as a means of solving social problems
are legacies of our revolution but they’re as alive now as they were 200 years ago. The revolution only brought ordinary people
into politics, but it created such a confidence in the suffrage as the sole criterion of representation
that we have too often forgotten just what makes the right to vote workable in America. Hence, in our dealings with newly developed
nations, we are too apt to believe that the mere institution of the ballot in a new state
will automatically create a viable democratic society, and are confused and disillusioned
when this really happens. The point is that we’ve got the relationship
backwards, it is not the suffrage that gives life to our democracy, it is our democratic
society that gives life to the suffrage. We have a society permeated by the belief
in and to an extraordinary extent, by the reality of equality. And it is this egalitarian society that makes
our reliance on the ballot operable. As historians in the past two decades have
only begun to discover, it was not the breadth of the franchise in the 19th century that
created democratic politics, the franchise was already broad even in colonial times. Rather, it was the egalitarian processes of
politics that led to the mobilization of voters, and the political integration of the nation. It was the work of countless politicians recruited
from all levels of the society and representing many diverse elements vying with each other,
and attempting to win elections by exhorting, and pleasing their electors that has in the
final analysis shaped our democratic system. Any state can grant the suffrage to its people
overnight, but it cannot thereby guarantee to itself a Democratic Party. As our history shows, such a democracy requires
generations of experience with electoral politics, and more important, it requires the emergence
of political parties and egalitarian politicians, none of whom have too much power, and most
of whom run scared. Politician who’s maneuvering for electoral
advantage, who’s quoting of the electorate, and whose passion for victory result in the
end grander and more significant developments than they themselves can foresee or even imagine. Politicians are the heart of our political
system, and insofar as it is democratic, they have made it so. Vermont C. Royster: We have just heard a lecture of Dr.
Gordon S. Wood on the revolution and the political integration of the enslaved and disfranchised. Dr. Wood traced the development of voting
rights for the masses in America, and the effects this has had on our political system. Tonight’s lecture is one of a series presented
by the American Enterprise Institute, dealing with the many aspects of the American Revolution,
and the meaning of that revolution for modern America. If you would like a copy of Dr. Wood’s lecture
or copies of the entire series, write the American Enterprise Institute, that’s AEI,
Post Office Box, 19191 Washington D.C. 236. Until next time, this is Vermont Royster,
thank you for joining us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *