A Caltech Library Service


Kousser, J. Morgan (1983) Suffrage. Social Science Working Paper, 471. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA. (Unpublished)

[img] PDF (sswp 471 - Apr. 1983) - Submitted Version
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


The history of suffrage and political participation in America has been less concerned with principles and is less a tale of unreversed expansion than it is sometimes held to be. Beginning with the 1430 adoption of the 40 shilling freeholder standard in England, I trace major developments in suffrage theories and laws and in actual political participation through the 1982amendments to the Voting Rights Act and that year's Congressional elections. In a country of plentiful land and dear labor, the vast majority of white men who lived long enough could expect eventually to accumulate sufficient wealth to meet the property qualifications for voting. Restrictions were only loosely enforced, anyway, especially in close elections. In some cases women and blacks were allowed to cast ballots. Nevertheless, in few elections in the colonial and early national periods did as many as half of the white adult males vote, Variations in the competitiveness of the elections seem to have been the major determinant of differences in turnout within the qualified electorate during this period. The clearest illustrations of arguments over philosophical principles and jostlings for partisan advantage occur in the struggles over black and woman suffrage. Beliefs in the genetic or cultural inferiority of the racially and sexually excluded classes were less important in influencing when (though perhaps not whether) each won or lost the franchise than were the consequences of inclusion or exclusion for political parties and other relevant groups. The overwhelming black preference for the Republicans guaranteed their relatively early enfranchisement and disenfranchisement, while the lack of a predictable partisan bias among women delayed the vote for them, but once it was granted, reduced incentives for either party to attack it. The three major trends in turnout in the U. S. over the last century—the large decline in southern and the smaller decrease in northern participation around 1900, the growth in southern voting rates since World War II, and the falling off of turnout outside the South since 1960—have each become the subject of considerable scholarly controversy. While it is clear that the late nineteenth century southern voting depression was primarily the result of legal restrictions, rather than of a deterioration in competition or of other factors, research on the north has not yet come to a generally accepted conclusion on the same issues. In any case, the "laws" versus "competition" controversies have rested on a false dichotomy, for the two generally interact. Thus, the post-1945 rise in southern voting is the result not only of changes in statutes—the national decision to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment—but also of alterations in behavior by the parties and by both black and white southern voters. As in many such matters, the smallest and perhaps least permanent change—the decrease in non-southern participation since 1960—has generated the most heat and the least agreement. After surveying the relevant political science literature, I conclude that the decrease is best explained by a set of singular circumstances and that it is probably evanescent.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription ItemPublished Version
Alternate Title:Suffrage and Political Participation
Additional Information:Published as Kousser, J. Morgan (1984) Suffrage. In: Encyclopedia of American Political History. Vol.3. Scribner, New York, pp. 1236-1258.
Group:Social Science Working Papers
Series Name:Social Science Working Paper
Issue or Number:471
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20170922-152739492
Persistent URL:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:81776
Deposited By: Jacquelyn Bussone
Deposited On:25 Sep 2017 22:48
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 18:46

Repository Staff Only: item control page