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Citizenship in early America, 1840s-1870s

Citizenship in early America, 1840s-1870s. Created by Kimberly Kutz.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In the last video, we discussed who did and did not have citizenship and voting rights from 1789 to the 1830s. To summarize, citizenship was reserved for white men, women, and children. And by the 1830s, the right to vote extended to all white men, regardless of whether they owned property. Although they were citizens, white women could not vote. Indigenous people, enslaved people, and free Black people weren't permitted to be US citizens, or to vote. So let's pick up the story now in the 1840s, when the United States rapidly colonized North America. As part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the peace treaty that ended the Mexican-American war, the Mexican government ceded the territory that's now most of the Western half of the United States. The Mexican people who were already living in that territory were granted US citizenship. Although the indigenous people who were living there were not. Although the Mexican-American citizens were eligible to vote in theory, in practice they faced intimidation from white Americans that limited their access to voting. During the 1850s, debate over the institution of slavery, and the status of Black Americans, consumed the country. In the midst of this turmoil in 1857, the Supreme Court issued the Dred Scott opinion, which we'll talk about in more detail in another video, ruling that Black people were not guaranteed birthright citizenship, and had no pathway to citizenship. Asian immigrants, who started coming to the United States in larger numbers in the 1850s, were also not considered eligible for citizenship. And in the late 19th century, and early 20th century, the US government banned immigration from China and Japan altogether. In the 1860s, the tensions between slave and free states boiled over into war. The Southern states succeeded from the Union to protect slavery, starting a civil war that lasted for four years. During the Civil War, the US government issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring the end of slavery in the Southern states, and after the war, ratified the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery everywhere in the country. But ending slavery didn't automatically guarantee citizenship rights for Black people in the United States. In 1868, the ratification of the 14th Amendment established that all persons born, or naturalized, in the United States were citizens. This ensured that Black people, both men and women, had citizenship. As well as the US born children of Asian immigrants. Although, again, it was still not interpreted to mean that indigenous people had citizenship at this time. In addition, a new Naturalization Act of 1870 broadened the people who were eligible for citizenship to include aliens of African nativity, and persons of African descent. But, just like the end of slavery didn't automatically guarantee citizenship rights, citizenship didn't automatically guarantee voting rights. Nowhere in the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, was the right to vote protected. Elections then, as now, were controlled by the states. And although the 14th Amendment stipulated that states would lose representation in Congress if they denied the vote to any male citizen of voting age, this was the first time that the word male was introduced into the Constitution, which we'll see the importance of in just a sec, it quickly became clear that a stronger Amendment was needed to ensure Black citizens could vote. So in 1870, Congress passed, and the states ratified, the 15th Amendment, which prohibited the Federal Government, and the states, from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's race, color, or previous condition of servitude. This was intended to ensure that Black men had the right to vote, which they exercised in the South for several years, until the US government stopped enforcing the rights of Black citizens in the South, and white supremacist governments returned to power. The 15th Amendment also did not prevent the denial of voting rights on the basis of sex, which was a major blow for the women's suffrage movement. Women would not succeed in their campaign for the vote until 1920. So that's a very brief overview of the changes in citizenship and voting rights in the first 100 years after the founding of the United States. I'll leave you to reflect on a few questions. Why do you think that citizenship changed over time? What does the history of who did, and didn't, have citizenship at various points tell us about the concept of citizenship in the United States? And what's the relationship between citizenship and voting rights?