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19th Century African American Voting Rights

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.
 
Essential Question
How do governments protect the rights of citizens?
 
Check for Understanding
Explain how African American men received the right to vote in the United States.
 


     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
Be it enacted by the People of the State of New York represented in Senate and Assembly, That any child born of a slave within this State after the fourth of July next, shall be deemed and adjudged to be born free: Provided nevertheless 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 assigns 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.
 

     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.
 

     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
Transcription of New York Constitution of 1821 excerpt
Article II, Section 1. 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 preceding 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.
 

     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
 

     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]
 

     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
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.