From the beginning of the nineteenth century to the end of Reconstruction, how did different groups of Americans define citizenship?    

1 Answer | Add Yours

rrteacher's profile pic

rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The idea that citizens should all have the franchise (i.e. the right to vote) and equal protection of law was largely unknown in the first part of the nineteenth century. At the turn of the century, most states allowed only white males with a certain amount of property to vote, and no states, except, briefly, for New Jersey, had allowed women to vote. After marriage, women gave up most of their property rights to men in almost every state. Only a handful of states allowed free blacks to vote, and of course the majority of African-Americans were enslaved, and had no rights at all. 

Changes for white males were gradual, though most states dropped or limited property requirements for voting during the 1820s and 30s, greatly expanding the franchise. With political rights came, by and large, equality before the law for all white males, though class privilege certainly existed throughout the nation. Women never gained the right to vote until the last part of the century, and then only in a few states, and indeed the prevailing "cult of domesticity" tended to circumscribe their social roles. They did, in many states, gain limited property rights, though in most places women could not even sue for divorce except on very extreme grounds.  In theory, African-Americans were given full citizenship rights by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, but in reality, they faced legal, political, and social  inequality, especially in the South. There was a brief window during congressional Reconstruction in the South when African-Americans enjoyed and exercised the right to vote, but this proved fleeting.

In short, by the end of Reconstruction

We’ve answered 318,960 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question