The Constitution and Suffrage

Jefferson and the Election of 1800

Contested Elections and the
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America at Mid-Century

Civil War


Women’s Suffrage

Women Get the Vote

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A New Deal for Workers

Big City Voting

Native Americans and Chinese
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Civil Rights

The Promised Land

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New Voices

Mexican American Voters

9.04 The Constitution and Suffrage

James Madison, seen by many scholars as the architect of the U.S. Constitution, created the framework for the U.S Constitution and negotiated many of the compromises necessary for its passage. Madison, a virginian, would later serve as president.

In 1787 the United States had reached an economic and diplomatic crisis. That summer a Constitutional Convention was called to amend the Articles of Confederation. Among the most important issues to be resolved were electing representatives, senators, and the president.

The Constitution created a bicameral Congress - the number of representatives for each state would be based on population and two senators would be chosen from each state. Representatives would be popularly elected. The state legislatures would have responsibility for electing senators (which lasted until 1913). Direct election of the president and vice president sparked contentious debate. The convention settled on the Electoral College - delegates elected by the state legislatures who would reflect the popular vote in their state, a device which would help non-regional candidates.

The Constitution also gave Congress the authority to make or alter federal electoral regulations. Five slaves would equal three free people to arrive at the number of representatives allotted and for direct taxation, the Three-Fifths Compromise. This gave the southern states less political clout but no tax on importing slaves or exporting cotton.

Federal Hall, New York City, where George Washington tooks his first oath of office on February 4, 1789.

Eligibility to vote for representatives would be based on each state's rules for voting on the state legislature's lower house. For example, the 1777 New York State Constitution required that a man have considerable wealth to be able to vote for the state Assembly - he had to pay taxes as well as own property worth at least 20 pounds or pay an annual rent of 2 pounds. Ten of the original 13 states had property and/or tax requirements when the U.S. Constitution came into effect.

Scene at the Signing of the Constitutional Convetion by Howard Chandler Christy (1937). This painting depicts the signing of the Constitution on Sepetember 17, 1787. George Washington is standing. Sitting in the foreground are (left to right) Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison.

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