right; that it gives Congress the power to enforce this assumption; and, consequently, that it takes from the State its ancient prerogative of fixing the qualifications of electors.

It really does nothing of the kind. It declares, simply, that "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged," by either State or nation, "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude"; and it gives Congress the power to enforce this provision for impartial suffrage by "appropriate legislation." There is an assumption only of the potential right to vote. There is no assumption of a vested right to vote. The potential right to vote can become actual only by a law of the State, or in a Territory by a law of Congress. There is no mandate that the actual right shall be conferred in either case. The only mandate is that, in conferring it, the grant must be impartial as between black and white citizens. The plain import of the Amendment, therefore, is that when the right to vote is granted, it must be impartially granted; but it is always competent to the State (or to Congress, as the case may be) to declare that "when.'

[ocr errors]

Six of the Southern States have recently, by changes in their fundamental law, restricted the suffrage by a literary and property qualification. Any resident citizen of the United States, black or white, who owns a certain amount of property and who can read and write the English language, may vote. No citizen, black or white, who does not measure up to this standard of qualification, can vote. The only exceptions are found in what are known as "the grandfather" and "the veteran" clauses. The so-called "grandfather clause" provides that all, whether black or white, who could vote in 1866, and their direct male descendants, may vote, provided they shall register prior to a certain date. The so-called "veteran" clause provides that all, black and white, who served in any war of the United States, or in the war between the States, may vote on the same conditions. The time for such registration has already expired in most of those States. It will expire in all, save one only, on the 1st of

January next,1 and it will expire in that one a few years later. So that the exceptions, whether wise or foolish, are only temporary provisions. And, whatever may be said of these exceptional and temporary provisions, the general and permanent provisions are certainly not open to objection. They are neither illegal nor unjust. The Fifteenth Amendment is not violated by them. Every State is free to fix its own standard of suffrage, provided it applies to all alike. It is no injustice to a citizen to withhold from him the ballot until he shall have accumulated, say, three hundred dollars' worth of property and learned to read and write the language of the country. It may be thought expedient or inexpedient; but it violates no vested right, either under the law of nature or the fundamental law, so long as the conditions apply equally to all citizens.


Since the adoption of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments a great number of cases involving the suffrage have been brought into the courts based largely on the assumption that in some way these amendments extended the suffrage to all citizens. The tendency of the decisions of the Supreme Court in these cases is thus summarized by Mr. J. S. Wise:

In the first case which arose under the XIV Amendment involving the right of suffrage, the Supreme Court was very positive in its statement that the right of suffrage was derived exclusively from the States; that it was not an incidental privilege or immunity of Federal citizenship before the adoption of the XIV Amendment; that the XIV Amendment did not add to the privileges or immunities which it undertook to protect; that suffrage was not even coextensive with State citizenship; that neither the Constitution of the United States nor the XIV Amendment made all citizens voters; and that a provision in the State constitution limiting suffrage to male citizens did not violate the 1 This was written in 1903.

Federal Constitution. In the next case in which suffrage was considered it was declared that the XV Amendment conferred no right to vote, and that it merely invested citizens of the United States with the right of exemption from discrimination against them (in the exercise of suffrage) by reason of race, color, or previous condition; but that the power of Congress to legislate at all concerning voting at State elections rests on the XV Amendment, and can be exercised only by providing punishment when the wrongful refusal is because of the race or color of the voter.

In the case of U. S. vs. Cruikshank, it was said, referring to the two cases above: "The Constitution of the United States has not conferred the right of suffrage upon any one, and the United States have no voters of their own creation in the States."

In sundry other cases recently decided, the effort has been made to induce the Supreme Court to consider the claims and to redress the wrongs of persons who alleged that they had been unlawfully deprived of suffrage; but the court has refused to entertain jurisdiction, declaring that the questions raised are political and call for redress which can be given only by the legislative and executive departments of the government.

While this has been the attitude of the Supreme Court upon suffrage questions, sundry States have been legislating upon the subject in such a way, that, on one pretext or another, large bodies of citizens, who had exercised the right of suffrage uninterruptedly for many years under pledges given to Congress by the States, when they were restored to their relations in the Union, that their suffrage never would be curtailed, have been deprived of their right to vote. Despairing of obtaining any relief from the Federal judiciary, the attempt has been made to transfer the controversy to the House of Representatives. In the 58th Congress (1903-1905) contests were made up from the State of South Carolina in the House of Representatives, which, by the terms of the Constitution, is made the sole judge of the

elections, returns, and qualifications of its members. (Article I, Section 5, Clause 1.) The issue thus presented challenged the right of any of the sitting representatives of South Carolina to hold their seats because of alleged violations of the Constitution of the United States in the State constitution and the laws regulating suffrage under which they were elected. The issues were squarely presented and called for a decision by the House; but the committee on elections made a report in which it stated that the cases involved grave constitutional questions, which, if decided in favor of the claimants, would go to the very foundation of the State government of South Carolina and would perhaps affect not only her representation, but that of the other States; that the House should hesitate about taking a step which might be so far-reaching in its consequences, until the legal questions involved were decided by the courts intrusted with the duty of constitutional interpretation, and that the courts might more safely be relied upon for correct decision than a transitory and ever-changing unprofessional body like the House of Representatives. And so the matter of suffrage rests; the courts declining to pass upon it as a political question, and Congress insisting that it is a judicial question.


With the suffrage as widely extended as it is in the United States there must necessarily be thousands of voters who, whether able to read or not, go to the polls without any adequate understanding of the questions at issue in the election. Now, since it is practically impossible to withdraw the suffrage, once granted, and since intelligent voting is of the essence of good government, how may this ignorant electorate be instructed in the art of government, and the issues so simplified and brought home to the individual voter that he may cast his ballot knowingly? In the following selection Mr. George H. Haynes discusses two measures by means of which the State of Oregon is attempting to solve this problem: [1907].

The first of these laws-the new law regulating primary elections-is intended to secure for the voter information as

to the political aims and principles of the men for whom his suffrage is asked. The information is to be given by the would-be candidates themselves. Each man seeking nomination for office, from that of governor down to that of county clerk, in order to get his name upon the nominating ballot, must sign and file with the proper official a petition stating his residence, declaring himself to be a registered voter of the specified party, and pledging himself that, if nominated, he will accept the nomination and not withdraw, and that, if elected, he will qualify as such officer. Then follows, in the model petition set forth in this statute, the section which constitutes its unique feature:

If I am nominated and elected, I will during the term of my office (here the candidate, in not exceeding one hundred words, may state any measures or principles he especially advocates, and the form in which he wishes it printed after his name on the nominating ballot, in not exceeding twelve words).

Every candidate is thus made the builder of his own platform. Now platform-building, as the committee on resolutions of many a political convention will sadly testify, requires delicate carpentry; yet this law takes the job away from the political carpenters' union and turns it over to any candidate who can wield a hammer and saw wood. But let this non-union laborer rejoice with trembling and build with care; for if his planks be too wide or too narrow, if they be ill-matched or not securely spiked down, he must lay the blame of his downfall not to the work of others, but to the unstable footing erected by his own unskilled hands. And if the making of a platform is difficult and fraught with dangers, what shall be said of an attempt to compress the platform into the dimensions of a foot-stool? Who has not wrestled over the phrasing of a telegram, because only ten words will go for a quarter? The Oregon aspirant for office is limited to twelve words, and in this compass he must indicate his political creed, his favorite policy or his scheme of patriotic service. He must try to find for his platformette a phrase which shall serve as the rallying cry of his cam

« ForrigeFortsett »