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19th Century African American Voting Rights

Directions
The following questions are designed to test your ability to work with historical documents. As you analyze the documents, take into account both the source of the document and the author’s point of view.
 
Historical Context
White New Yorkers were divided over slavery even after the close of the American Revolution. They remained divided over the issue of equal rights for blacks far longer. While gradual emancipation proceeded according to state laws passed in 1799 and 1817, other laws and the 1821 state constitution barred large numbers of free blacks from voting. New York's black abolitionists had many allies in the fight to end slavery nationwide, but found fewer supporters in their quest for equal voting rights in their own state. Following the Civil War, many white New Yorkers resisted the national movement for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal voting rights for all men. As late as 1869, a majority of the state's voters cast ballots in favor of retaining property qualifications that kept New York's polls closed to many blacks. African American men did not obtain equal voting rights in New York until ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870.
 
Task Description
Using the information from the following documents, and your own knowledge of history, answer the questions in Part A that follow each document. Your answers to these questions will help you complete the writing assignment given in Part B.
 
Part A: Instructions
For this assignment, you will be provided with a set of documents.  Answer the questions for each document based on the information in the document and your knowledge of social studies.  Keep in mind the time period, meaning, and purpose of each of the documents.
 
Part B: Essay
a. Using information and evidence from all of the documents to support your thinking, and
using your own knowledge of history, write an essay that describes the gradual changes in African American men’s suffrage in New York State. Your essay should be well organized and should include an introduction, at least three paragraphs, and a conclusion.

b. Using information and evidence from all of the documents to support your thinking, and using your own knowledge of history, write an essay comparing the African American men’s suffrage and women’s suffrage movements in New York State. Your essay should be well organized and should include an introduction, at least three paragraphs, and a conclusion.

 

About this Activity

 

Lesson Topic:

 

     An Act for the gradual abolition of slavery
New York State Archives, NYSA_13036-78_L1799_Ch062
 
Document Description
New York laws of 1799, an act for the gradual abolition of slavery, specifying that children born to a slave mother after July 4, 1799 were declared legally free--but not until male children had turned 28, and females 25. Slaves born before that date remained in servitude, although they were redefined as indentured servants.
 
Transcription
An Act for the gradual abolition of Slavery.
 
Be it enacted by the people of the state of New York repre
=sented in Senate and Afsembly, That any Child born of a slave
within this State after the fourth day of July next, shall be
deemed and adjudged to be born free: Provided neverthelefs that
such Child shall be the servant of the legal proprietor of
his or her mother until such servant if a male shall arrive
at the age of twenty eight years, and if a female at the age of
twenty-five years.
 
And be it further enacted That such proprietor his, her, or
their Heirs or Afsigns shall be entitled to the service of such
child until he or she shall arrive to the age aforesaid,
in the same manner as if such Child had been bound to
service by the Overseers of the Poor.
 
And be it further enacted, That every person being an Inhabi
=tant of this State who shall be entitled to the service of a child
born after the four day of July as aforesaid, shall within
nine months after the birth of such child, cause to be deli
=vered to the clerk of the city or Town, whereof such person shall
be an inhabitant, a certificate in writing containing the
name and addition of such master or mistrefs, and the
name age, and sex of every child so born, which certificate
shall be, by the said Clerk recorded shall be good and
sufficient evidence of the age of such Child, And the Clerk of
such City or Town shall receive from said person Twelve
cents for every Child so registered, and if any such person
neglects to make a return of every such Child as afore
said to said Clerk within nine months after the Birth
thereof, such person shall forfeit and pay Five Dollars
for every such offence, to be sued for and recovered by the
Clerk of the City or Town in which such person resides,
the one half for his own use and the remainder for the use
of the Poor of the said City or Town: Provided neverthelefs that
it shall be and is hereby made the duty of the Town Clerk to
register the certificate of any such child at any time after
nine months from its birth and every master or mistrefs,
masters or mistrefses of every such Child shall forfeit and
pay the sum of One Dollar for every month, he she, or they
shall neglect to deliver such certificate to the Town Clerk.
 
And be it further enacted that the person entitled to such
service may neverthlefs within on year after the Birth of
such child elect to abandon his or her right to such service
by a notification of the same from under his or her hand
and lodged with the Clerk of the Town or city where the owner
of the mother of any such Child may reside; in which case
every child abandoned as aforesaid shall be considered as paupers
of the respective Town or City where the proprietor or Owner of
the mother of such Child may reside at the time of its birth;
and liable to be bound out by the Overseers of the Poor on the
same Terms and Conditions that the Children of paupers
were subject to before the pafsing this Act.
 
And be it further enacted that every Child abandoned
as aforesaid shall be supported and maintained till bound
out by the Overseers of the Poor as aforesaid at the expence of this
State provided however that the said support does not exceed three Dollars and fifty Cents per Month for each child
and the comptroller is hereby authorized and directed to
draw his Warrant on the Treasurer of this State for the
amount of such account not exceeding the allowance
above prescribed, And the Accounts of the respective Towns or cities being first signed by the Supervisor of the Town or
Mayor of the City as the case may be where such Child
may be maintained as aforesaid. And Provided also
that the Person so abandoning as aforesaid shall
at his own expence support and maintain every such child
till it arrives at the age of one year, And every owner omitting
to give notice in due form as aforesaid shall be answerable
for the maintenance of every such child until the arrival
of the respective period of servitude specified in the first sec
=tion of this Act.
 
And be it further enacted that it shall be lawful for the
owner of any slave immediately after the pafsing of this Act
to manumit such slave by a certificate for that purpose
under his hand and Seal.
 
State of New York                                               State of New York
    In Senate March 20th, 1799                               In Afsembly February 9th, 1799
This Bill having been read the third time        This Bill having been read the third time
   Resolved that the Bill do pafs.                         Resolved that the Bill do pafs.
    By Order of the Senate.                                      By Order of the Afsembly.
                Stephen Van Renfselaer                                    Birck Ten Broeck Speaker
                A. Prudent
 
 
 
Questions
  1. In what year was this document written?
  2. What kind of document is this?
  3. According to this document, when will a child born of a slave be deemed free?
  4. What conditions are attached to this freedom?
 

     An Act relative to slaves and servants
New York State Archives, NYSA_13036-78_L1817_Ch137_p2
 
Document Description
An act relative to slaves and servants, 1817, containing a provision freeing every child born of a slave in the state who was born after July 4, 1799. This was, however, a gradual process. All such children were still bound to the master of their mother until age 28 (for males) or age 25 (for females). Every child born of a slave after this act was passed was also legally owned by the mother's master until age 21. According to the terms of the law, all slaves were to be free by 1827.
 
Transcription
And be it further enacted, That every child born of a slave within this state, after the fourth of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine, shall be free, but shall remain the servant of the owner of his or her mother, and the executors, administrators or assigns of such owner, in the same manner as if such as child had been bound to service by the overseers of the poor, and shall continue in such service, if a male, until the age of twenty-eight years, and if a female until the age of twenty-five years; and that every child born of a slave within this state after the passing of this act, shall remain a servant as aforesaid until the age of twenty-one years and no longer.
 
Questions
  1. In what year was this document written?
  2. What kind of document is this?
  3. According to this document, when will a child born of a slave be deemed free?
  4. What conditions are attached to this freedom?
  5. How have the conditions attached to freedom changed from 1799 to 1817?
  6. According to the New York State Constitution of 1777, would African-Americans freed under these acts be allowed to vote?
 

     Second Constitution of the State of New York, Article II
New York State Archives, NYSA_A1804-78_Constitution1821_Article 2
 
Document Description
New York State Constitution, Article II, 1821, maintaining property requirements for African American men who wish to vote.
 
Transcription
ARTICLE II.
Section 1. [Qualifications of voters.]—Every male citizen of the age of twenty-one years, who shall have been an inhabitant of this state one year preceding any election, and for the last six
months a resident of the town or county where he may offer his vote; and shall have, within the
next year preceding the election, paid a tax to the state or county, assessed upon his real or
personal property; or shall by law be exempted from taxation; or, being armed and equipped according to law, shall have performed, within that year, military duty in the militia of this state;
or who shall be exempted from performing militia duty in consequence of being a fireman in any city, town, or village in this state; and also, every male citizen of the age of twenty-one years, who shall have been, for three years next preceding such election, an inhabitant of this state; and, for the last year, a resident in the town or county where he may offer his vote; and shall have been, within the last year, assessed to labor upon the public highways, and shall have performed the labor, or paid an equivalent therefor, according to law, shall be entitled to vote in the town or ward where he actually resides, and not elsewhere, for all officers that now are, or hereafter may be, elective by the people; but no man of colour, unless he shall have been for three years a citizen of this state, and for one year next pr eceding any election, shall
be seized and possessed of a freehold estate of the value of two hundred and fifty dollars, over and above all debts and incumbrances charged thereon; and shall have been actually rated, and paid a tax thereon, shall be entitled to vote at any such election. And no person of colour shall be subject to direct taxation unless he shall be seized and possessed of such real estate as aforesaid.
Transcription from NYS Unified Court System website: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/history/constitutions/1821_constitution.htm
 
Questions
  1. In what year was this document written?
  2. Compared to the Constitution of 1777, how have the property requirements for white men to
    be able to vote changed?
  3. Compared to the Constitution of 1777, how have the requirements for African-American men
    to be able to vote changed?
  4. Before the passing of the 1821 Constitution, New York State had approximately 6,000
    African-American voters. If $250 in 1821 is the equivalent of about $4,000 today, how many
    African-Americans would you guess may have been able to vote after the passing of the 1821
    Constitution?
 

     Proposed constitution of the state of New York, resolutions of February 28, 1868
New York State Archives, NYSA_A1806-78_ProposedConstitution1868_02-28
 
Document Description
Proposed New York State Constitution, 1867-1868, proposing to eliminate property requirements for African American men to vote
 
Transcription
In Convention February 28, 1868
Resolved, That this Constitution be submitted at such time as the Legislature shall provide, to be voted upon in the following manner:
Each elector shall be allowed to vote two ballots, which shall be deposited in separate boxes; one ballot shall be endorsed "Constitution," and contain on the inside when folded, the words, "For the amended Constitution" or "Against the amended Constitution."
One ballot shall be endorsed "Constitution - Property Qualification," to contain on the inside when folded, the words "For the Property Qualification for men of color," or "Against the Property Qualification for men of color," and no vote cast endorsed "Constitution" shall affect the question of Property Qualification for men of color.
If a majority of the votes cast, endorsed "Constitution" shall contain on the inside the words "For the amended Constitution" then the proposed Constitution shall be, the Constitution of the State of New York, except as the same may be modified by the result of the vote on the property qualifications as hereinafter provided. But if a majority of the votes cast so endorsed, shall contain on the inside the words "against the amended Constitution" then the proposed Constitution shall be declared rejected and the present Constitution, except the provision relating to men of color shall remain in full force.
If a majority of the ballots cast endorsed "Constitution - Property Qualification" shall contain on the inside the words "For the property qualifications for men of color," then the words following, viz.: "but no man of color unless he shall have been for three years a citizen of this State, and for one year next preceding any election, shall have been seized and possessed of a freehold estate of the value of two hundred and fifty dollars, over and above all the debts and incumbrances charged thereon, and shall have been actually rated and paid a tax thereon, shall be entitled to vote at such election. And no person of color shall be subject to direct taxation unless he shall be seized and possessed of such real estate as aforesaid," shall remain a part of the Constitution, and if the proposed Constitution shall be adopted, shall be added to the end of the section one of the second article thereof; but if a majority of the votes cast, so endorsed, shall contain the words "Against the property qualification for men of color," then the words above quoted shall be no part of the Constitution.
W. A. Wheeler
President
Luther Coldwell
Secretary
 
Questions
  1. In what year was this document written?
  2. What part of the New York State Constitution are the delegates reconsidering in this excerpt?
  3. Using your knowledge of history, what was going on in the United States that might have led
    to New York State’s reconsidering the property requirements for African-American men’s voting rights?
     
  4. Do you think the property requirements for African-American men’s voting were removed from the Constitution at this time? Why or why not?
 

     Electoral College. Appointment of Frederick Douglass by Electors
New York State Archives, NYSA_B0023-78_V1_1872_Douglass_Frederick_p003
 
Document Description
Appointment of Frederick Douglass of Monroe County to deliver the votes of the New York members of the Electoral College to the U.S. Senate, 1872.
 
Transcription
The undersigned, a majority of Electors of President and Vice President of the United States, for the State of New York, at a meeting of the Electoral College of said State, held at the Capitol, in the City of Albany, on the fourth day of December, 1872, do hereby appoint Frederick Douglass of Monroe County to take charge of and deliver one of the lists of the votes of the said College for President and Vice President of the United States,to the President of the Senate of the United States at the City of Washington.
In witness whereof, We have hereunto set our hands, this fourth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy-two.
[Electors signatures listed]
 
Questions
  1. In what year was this document written?
  2. Using your knowledge of U.S. government, what is an elector in the Electoral College?
  3. Using your knowledge of history, who was Frederick Douglass?
     
  4. According to the New York State Constitution adopted in 1821, what must Frederick
    Douglass have owned in order to be allowed to vote?
 

     Printed copy of New York State Constitution of 1777
New York State Library, NYSL_MSC_342.7471_N554_1777
 
Document Description
Excerpt of New York State Constitution, 1777, outlining the property ownership requirements for men who wish to vote.
 
Transcription
...to be held in the State for Senators and Representatives in assembly, to be by Ballot, and be directing the manner in which the same shall be conducted. And whereas, it is possible, that after all the care of the legislature, in framing the said act or acts, certain inconveniences and mischiefs, unforeseen at this day, may be found to attend the said mode of electing by Ballot: It is further ordained, that if after a full and fair experiment shall be made of voting by Ballot aforesaid, the same shall be found less conducive to the safety or interest of the State, than the method of voting viva voce, it shall be lawful and constitutional for the legislature to abolish the same; provided two thirds of the members present in each House, respectively shall concur therein: And further, that during the continuance of the present war, and until the legislature of this State shall provide for the election of Senators and Representatives in assembly by Ballot, the said elections shall be made viva voce.

VII. That every male inhabitant of full age, who shall have personally resided within one of the counties of the State, for six months immediately preceding the day of election, shall at such election, be entitled to vote for representatives of the said county in assembly; if during the time aforesaid, he shall have been a Freeholder, possessing a Freehold of the value of twenty pounds, within the said county, or have rented a tenement therein of the yearly value of forty shillings, and been rated and actually paid taxes to this State: Provided always, that every person who now is a freeman of the city of Albany, or who was made a freeman of the city of New York, on or before the fourteenth day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, and shall be actually and usually resident in the said cities
respectively, shall be entitled to vote for Representatives in assembly within his said place of residence.

VIII. That every elector before he is admitted to vote, shall, if required by the returning
officer or either of the inspectors, take an oath, or if of all the people called Quakers, an affirmation, of allegiance to the State.

IX. That the assembly thus constituted, shall choose their own Speaker, be judges of their
own members, and enjoy the same privileges and proceed in doing business, in like manner as the assemblies of the colony of New York of right formerly did; and that a majority of the said members, shall, from time to time constitute a House to proceed upon business.

X. And this Convention doth further, in the name and by the authority of the good people of the State, ordain, determine and declare, that the Senate of the State of New York shall consist of twenty-four freeholders, to be chosen out of the body of the freeholders, and that they be
chosen by the freeholders of this State, possessed of freeholds of the value of one hundred pounds, over and above all debts charged thereon.

XI. That the members of the Senate be elected for four years, and immediately after the first election...
 
Questions
  1. In what year was this document written?
  2. Using your knowledge of history, what is a Constitution?
  3. According to this Constitution, what inhabitants of the State of New York are allowed to vote?
  4. Based on the context clues in this document, what is a freehold?
  5. According to this document, would an African American man be allowed to vote in New York State elections? Why or why not?