Explain why property was important as a qualifier for voting in British America. How did such a policy exclude able voters? Were liberty and property ownership linked? Why or why not?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Property was an important qualifier for voting in Colonial America because people believed that there was a connection between owning property and being free.  People believed that liberty and owning property were linked and so they were willing to place property qualifications on the franchise even if that meant excluding able voters.

In those days, people believed that only those who were independent of anyone else’s influence should be allowed to vote.  They felt that such people were the only people who were truly free.  After the Revolution, Thomas Jefferson wanted society to be made up of small, independent farmers.  He wanted this because all of those people would be free of others’ influence and could make up their own minds.  This would make them fit to participate in a democracy.  People who did not own property, in this view, could not truly be free.  They would have to vote the way that they were told to vote by those who had power over them.  If they worked for someone, that person would, it was believed, have power over them and be able to dictate their vote.  Therefore, it would be wrong to allow such people to vote.

Another reason for denying the vote to landless people was the idea that only those who owned property had a permanent stake in society.  People who owned no land, it was thought, would not really want the best for their society.  They would not be tied to their land and would therefore not really care what happened to the community in which they lived.

From our point of view, this is unjust.  We believe that even the poor have the ability to think for themselves and we believe that they have as much stake in our society as anyone else.  However, this was not how people thought in colonial times, which is why property was an important qualification for voting in those times.

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