There was one place in late-eighteenth-century America. . . (which was also the only place in the world), where women voted. On July 2, 1776, two days before the Declaration of Independence, the first revolutionary constitution of the State of New Jersey gave the vote not only to "freemen," the language used in other states, but to "inhabitants." There was a property qualification: New Jersey's voting "inhabitants" had to be worth fifty pounds (perhaps twenty-five hundred dollars today). Since family property was in the husband's name, married women were automatically excluded. But widows and single women might make the cut. At the time no one commented on the change of language, and its implications. Most likely it was an inadvertence: the New Jersey Constitution had been cobbled together in a few days, since the state was on the verge of invasion and civil war. But women noticed the loophole, and so did politicians. After the war New Jersey laws regulating elections began to include language specifying what the voter should do with his or her ballot.
This was an astonishing development.. . . [I]n America, in a state that was middling in every way--size, location, political luster--people were effecting a revolutionary change.
The end came in 1807, in the name of reform. That year, Essex County held a special election to decide whether the county courthouse should remain in Newark or move to Elizabeth. All politics is local, as Tip O'Neill said, and the location of the courthouse was a hot topic. The vote was crooked even by New Jersey standards (one township with three hundred legal voters cast eighteen hundred votes). In a spasm of morality, the state legislature decided to purge the voting rolls, and restricted the franchise to white male adults (New Jersey politics did not noticeably improve even so). Women would not vote again in America, or anywhere else, until 1869, when the territory of Wyoming let them back to the polls.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Richard Brookhiser, What Would the Founders Do? (2006), at 153-54: