Document Showcase is a regular feature that highlights a topic from State history using records from the New York State Archives. Each Showcase includes sample documents, an historical sketch, and links to educational activities for classroom use.
African American Voting Rights
This slide show is interactive. Click on an image to examine the document more closely. The slide show controls allow you to select, zoom, drag, and pan across each slide show image.
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.
Slide Show Details
Document 1: 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. (Transcript of 1799 law excerpt)
Document 2: 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. (Transcript of 1817 law excerpt)
Document 3: Excerpt of New York State Constitution, 1777, outlining the property ownership requirements for men who wish to vote. (Transcript of 1777 Constitution excerpt)
Document 4: New York State Constitution, Article II, 1821, maintaining property requirements for African American men who wish to vote. (Transcript of 1821 law excerpt)
Document 5: Proposed New York State Constitution, 1867-1868, proposing to eliminate property requirements for African American men to vote. (Transcript of proposed Constitution)
Document 6: 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. (Transcript of Douglass nomination)
For More Information
15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Voting Rights
American Anti-Slavery and Civil Rights Timeline
Black Americans in Congress: The Fifteenth Amendment in Flesh and Blood
Harpers Weekly - Black Voting Rights: The Creation of the 15th Amendment
New York's Electoral College
Voting Rights and the 14th Amendment
Send questions or comments about the Document Showcase to the Public Programs Office of the State Archives by email at: ARCHEDU@mail.nysed.gov or phone (518) 474-6926.