Introduction

Welcome to the e-course, Suffrage in America produced by the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier.

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The history of the right to vote in the United States is a long and complex tale, stretching from the absence of an affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution to current debates about election procedures and voter suppression—with many important episodes in between. This course explores some of the key moments in this story, much of which unfolded in state governments, from the late 18th century through the 1960s and beyond. This course examines the reasons for dropping property requirements in the early 19th century, the passage of the 15th and 19th Amendments, and the multiple legal changes of the long 1960s, among many other important changes to the franchise. Significant attention is paid to understanding why suffrage rights expanded in some areas and contracted in others.