By Joseph Rochez
Through most of American history, participating in government decision through voting was limited to only a portion of the American population, which in itself is very undemocratic for a nation that prides itself on being a democracy. Before the Civil War, it was mostly property owning white males who enjoyed the privilege of voting. It was not until the end of the Civil War that African Americans were given that right to vote through the passing of the 15th Amendment. Even then, southern Democrats for the next 80 years made it difficult for people of color to vote. Southern states such as Georgia and Tennessee issued literacy tests and poll taxes to hinder basically most of the Black population from voting. These were just a few methods that were used to keep people of color from voting. It wasn’t until the 1920s that women were given suffrage in what was known to be a progressive era in the United States.
Even with the progressive era closing some inequality among gender, African Americans and other minority groups still suffered some limitations at the voting booths which gave White people the edge when it came to voting. The Civil Rights movement in the 1950s as well as the burden of the Cold War put pressure on the federal government to act on the inequality and injustices towards African American communities that were guaranteed to them as citizens under the court of law and the constitution. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 under Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson eliminated barriers at the state and local level which made it unconstitutional to restrict voting by using literacy tests and poll taxes. At this time in history, the Democratic party has become increasingly liberal and progressive while marginalizing the conservative and racist dixiecrats (Southern Democrats). This legislation came following the violence that occurred in Selma, Alabama during a peaceful voting rights march where state troopers violently beat many of the protesters to near death.
In 2016, we see greater minority participation in local and federal elections. Although this is encouraging, voter turnout is low. Only about 53% of the general population votes in presidential elections. It’s even less for congressional elections. In a nation like Britain, voter turnout is 61%. Voting is essential to democracy. Throughout the 20th century we can see that American society makes an effort to show that it is a true democracy and urges Americans to vote. This pin in the HHS Permanent Collection is from 1952, urging Americans to vote from Chicago and was distributed by the American Legion, a wartime veteran’s organization that was formed in 1919. Promoting the vote is probably what led to an increasing amount of Americans eligible to vote to do just that. It is probably the reason why Dwight Eisenhower won on a landslide over Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson in 1952. There is a saying; ‘when you want something that badly, you go and get it’. The change you want isn’t going to happen unless you act on it.
Click here to see more 20th century campaign pins from our historic collections.
Desilver, Drew. “U.S. Voter Turnout Trails Most Developed Countries.” Pew Research Center. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts. Web. 2 August 2016.
History.com Staff. “Voting Rights Act.” History.com. A+E Networks, 2009. Web. 1 November 2016.
“The Importance of Voting.” MassVOTE. Boston: MassVOTE, 2013. Web. 1 November 2016.
Ooicu812baby. “Vtg Antique Estate Very Rare 1952 I Voted Flag Pin Back Button LJ Imber Chicago.” eBay Inc. Web. 1 November 2016.