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Age in AmericaThe Colonial Era to the Present$
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Corinne T. Field and Nicholas L. Syrett

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479870011

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479870011.001.0001

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“If You Have the Right to Vote at 21 Years, Then I Have”

“If You Have the Right to Vote at 21 Years, Then I Have”

Age and Equal Citizenship in the Nineteenth-Century United States

(p.69) 3 “If You Have the Right to Vote at 21 Years, Then I Have”
Age in America

Corinne T. Field

NYU Press

Focusing on debates over the right to vote in Massachusetts and New York between the Revolution and Reconstruction, Corinne T. Field argues that white male legislators, women’s rights activists, and black civil rights activists recognized chronological age to be an arbitrary but necessary barrier to full citizenship. Noting that every state barred minors under age twenty-one from voting in this period, Field shows that participants in suffrage debates recognized that this age-based barrier to suffrage was an artificial distinction rooted in human rather than natural law. Further, legislators acknowledged that many Americans did not know exactly how old they were. Nonetheless, all agreed that age-based qualifications for suffrage based on adulthood were necessary to prevent young children from going to the polls, a contingency that even the most radical champions of universal suffrage did not support. Precisely because Americans recognized age as an arbitrary but necessary barrier to political rights, legislators used the age qualification to prove that voting was not a natural right but a privilege that could be limited by other criteria such as race, gender, property, and residency.

Keywords:   vote, twenty-one, adulthood, rights, Reconstruction, women’s rights, civil rights, suffrage, race, gender

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