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They were far more democratic than the older states. The influence of the frontier was felt in this as in so many other ways.
Restrictions on the basis of color naturally went along with slavery. In all the colonies there were among the early immigrants some "indentured servants." These were not slaves, but men who were held to work for a certain number of years.
Such servants were not allowed to vote, whether white or black, but there was no colonial law in the North to prevent any free negro from voting. In the South, slavery was always a bar, and twenty-three states limited voters to “ white male citizens.” The Fifteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, adopted in 1870, abolished this qualification of color. It reads:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
The restriction of voting to males was a matter of course in the early history of the country. From the very nature of the state in early times, women would scarcely be thought of as belonging to it, for at first the nation was a band of warriors. Its purpose was conquest. Later it enforced order and governed trade, but it had practically none of the duties which would especially interest women, so long as the earlier division of labor between men and women continued. In the early part of the nineteenth century, along with the growth of democracy in other lines, agitation began for woman's suffrage. The claim was at first based almost entirely upon the idea of an equal right. Those who sought the ballot for women felt that to be deprived
of the ballot was a stigma. It seemed humiliating to be classed with slaves, minors, criminals, and idiots. The Western States have shown again the influence of the frontier, for they have been far more radical in granting suffrage to women than the East, although in school elections most of the Northern States have woman's suffrage. Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming have granted suffrage to women. Some time ago Illinois granted partial suffrage to women, and she has recently been followed in this by a large group of other states.
It is noteworthy that arguments for extending the suffrage to women have changed in emphasis. It is now maintained by the advocates of suffrage that on the one hand government, and particularly city government, is doing so many things which were formerly under home control, such as disposal of waste, regulation of health, milk, food, education, and protection of children, that women have a duty to take part in government. And again, it is claimed that as women themselves have been obliged to leave home so largely and enter into business life and factories, they are more immediately concerned with government than in earlier times. The case is now discussed not so much on the basis of equality of rights as upon that of equality of needs and duties.
The early settlers of the country brought with them (3) Social many of the Old World customs and ideas as to social equality rank. Some of these were soon modified by life in a new country. The man who could shoot straight or chop down a tree with strong and sure strokes was certain to be respected. Nevertheless, many of the old distinctions died hard, especially in the region near
the coast. In New England, pews in church were assigned by a committee appointed to "dignify the meeting-house,” that is, to seat each family in its proper position. The names of Harvard College students were printed in the catalogue according to their social rank. In New York, many great families had been given large tracts of land. The heads of these families were looked up to almost like the lords of the manor in England. Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, was more democratic; but in the South, Virginia and South Carolina were settled by English gentry to a considerable extent, and the large plantations kept up social distinctions. Professor McLaughlin quotes from the Life of Devereuz Jarrett, who lived in Virginia in the middle of the eighteenth century:
“We were accustomed to look upon what were called gentlefolks as beings of a superior order. For my part, I was quite shy of them, and kept off at a humble distance. A perriwig, in those days, was a distinguishing badge of gentlefolk,—and when I saw a man riding the road near our house, with a wig on, it would so alarm my fears, and give me such a disagreeable feeling, that I dare say, I would run off, as for my life. Such ideas of the difference between gentle and simple were, I believe, universal among all of my rank and age. But I have lived to see a vast alteration, in this respect, and the contrary extreme prevail. In our high republican times, there is more levelling than ought to be, consistent with good government. I have as little notion of oppression and tyranny as any man, but a due subordination is essentially requisite in every government. . . In theory, it is certainly superior; but in practice it is not so. This can arise from nothing so much as the want of a proper distinction between the various orders of the people.”
The original settlers who brought these class distinctions were largely English. A new set of immi
grants in the middle of the eighteenth century, Scotch, Irish, and German, were more democratic. They came from poorer classes in the Old World, and they settled, not by the seaboard, where it was easier to keep Old World ideas, but on the frontier, in the wilderness, where it was natural to forget old distinctions and make a new beginning. The following quotation from Professor Turner's famous address on The Significance of the Frontier in American Life applies to all lines of the growth of democracy, but it is peculiarly appropriate to social class distinctions:
The wilderness masters the colonist. It finds him a European in dress, industries, tools, modes of travel, and thought. It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization, and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and the Iroquois, and runs an Indian palisade around him. Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick; he shouts the war cry and takes the war scalp in orthodox Indian fashion. In short, at the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man.
He must accept the conditions which it furnishes, or perish, and so he fits himself into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian trails. Little by little he transforms the wilderness, but the outcome is not the old Europe, not simply the development of Germanic germs, any more than the first phenomenon was a case of reversion to the Germanic mark. The fact is that here is a new product that is American.”
The Revolution was a great force for democracy. Jefferson's When men had to get together for common defense democracy and fight side by side for years, class distinctions suffered. And the great ideas of equality and self-government, which the Declaration of Independence had presented, could not fail to have a general effect. In
Virginia, after the great Declaration had been adopted, Jefferson entered his state legislature and induced it to pass several measures of a democratic sort. First, was the doing away with entails. An entail is a particular form of transmitting property. If a man gives his son a piece of land without any restrictions, this would be called fee-simple; if he gives it to his son and his son's heirs and to their heirs, this would be a limited gift. It would be given in “fee-tail.” In this case the son would have no right to sell the land, because it had been given to his children as well as to himself, and the children would have no right to sell it; it would have to stay in the same family. Hence, an entail would tend to keep the land in the hands of the same families from generation to generation, and so to keep up class distinctions. Another part of Jefferson's program was to abolish “primogeniture,” that is, the rule that the oldest son should inherit all the landed property, instead of having it equally divided among all the children. Primogeniture, like entail, tended to keep up class distinctions. Abolition of slavery and provision for public schools were other items in Jefferson's scheme, but these he was not able to carry through.
It was, however, the great growth of the country to the New West which swept away the old family distinctions. Indeed, in the frontier towns it was often considered a breach of etiquette to ask what a man's name had been before he came West. All that was asked was that he should behave himself while there. The pioneer set a higher value upon what a man could do than upon who his grandfather had been.
But while one set of forces has been breaking down old class distinctions, a new force has been at work to