Vote. Days before publishing the Declaration of Independence to the world, Benjamin Franklin made a slight change. Thomas Jefferson originally wrote, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable, that all men are created equal…” Franklin preferred a more “analytic truth” of self-evident than Jefferson’s more passionate plea. Of course, not only did “self-evident” include the subjective in the title, but it also put a host of asterisks on who was actually created “equal.”
At first, white men with property were the only Americans routinely permitted to vote. President Andrew Jackson, as a champion of the pioneering white male, helped advance the political rights of those who looked like him, but did not own property. By about 1860, most white men without property were enfranchised.
“Four score and seven years” after America was founded, Abraham Lincoln noted that the nation’s forefathers were dedicated to the “proposition that all men are created equal,” but Americans were warring with each other because one cannot own or enslave an equal. Lincoln urged for a “new birth of freedom.” In 1870, voting restrictions related to “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” were outlawed by Constitutional Amendment, but it would take over another century (and counting) to balance the scales.
As women were left out, Susan B. Anthony waged additional battles to expand the definition of equality, saying “Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” On November 5, 1872, Anthony and 14 other women illegally went to their polling place to cast ballots. Election inspectors stood back to let the women vote, figuring their ballots could later be disqualified. She was later arrested at her home and found guilty. The election inspectors who let her vote were also jailed and ultimately pardoned. She wore her arrest as a badge of honor and it helped usher in the 19th Amendment in 1920. President Trump pardoned her this year on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
A right to vote was not an ability to freely vote. More men and women had to lay down their lives. Men like Martin Luther King, Jr., were killed because they dared to speak out and fight. As John Lewis said, “I have said this before, and I will say it again. The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.”
This story goes on and on, with restrictions, taxes and asterisks placed on voting rights to this very day. Yet, 50-60% of people who are eligible to vote still don’t cast a ballot.
Folio Weekly is not going to tell you who to vote for. It is going to tell you that this election is one of great historical significance. We will be judged by our ability to come together, despite disagreement, to end the shouting and bravado and to determine the future of whether we will ever be the United States of America ever again.
Voting is sacred. People have been jailed. Lives have been lost. It is an undeniable right, which needs oversight and protection. We ask you to take a deep breath and vote and start choosing candidates who exhibit the traits we most valued as children-honesty, integrity, prudence and compassion. Jefferson, Lincoln, Anthony, King and Lewis were just “one vote,” but understood the importance of their one vote.
Your vote is just as important.