We crow about the Founding Fathers this and the Founding Fathers that,but probably, we do not know what the this or that really is. And we forget that our current form of Constitutional Government only came into being after they—the almost God-like Founders (well, they were at least acting for God)—mucked it up real bad with the Articles of Confederation
We think they cherished a universal right to vote, that it was almost on par with those certain inalienable rights of life, liberty and happiness. Yes, I know it is “the pursuit of happiness,” but then I am a troublemaker—everyone knows God gave us the right to be happy.
Well, they did and they did not, at least in Federal elections.
The original concept was sort of like the British system with its House of Commons and House of Lords, except it is much easier to become a Senator than a member of the House of Lords.
Senators were supposed to represent the interests of the individual states to Congress, Which is why each state, regardless of size has two Senators. Now the people elect them in a popular vote. I am not sure which is better, but since the popular vote began, it is all but impossible to defeat a Senator in an election and their tenure has significantly increased, while, before the 17th Amendment, passed in 1913. Now, they have become so powerful, it is said that the Prseidnet needs Senators but Senators have no need of a President. Is it a coincidence that the Amendment starting the US Income Tax was approved the same year?
Presidential elections were to be determined by electors from each state to be selected by each state in whatever manner each state saw fit. The electors were apportioned based on the census, which counted the people in each state. This is where the infamous “Blacks are 3/5 a person” nonsense started. Contrary to what many think, this was not the will of the “slave-holding” states, they wanted each slave counted as a full person because that would give them more power in Congress.
The problem was what representation was required of people not free to act on their beliefs; based on this non “slave holding” states did not want to count slaves at all. The compromise was made in order to get the Constitution passed.
The real tragedy was that in the name of getting the Constitution ratified, opponents of slavery gave in and did not eradicate slavery at that time. How much different would we be without that stain, without the war between the states and all that followed. Would the civil rights movement even have been necessary? Nope, better not to question Saints Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison and the rest.
About the only place citizens had a right to vote in Federal elections was for their Representative to the House of Representatives, the number of which was also based on the census and originally, the 3/5 Federal Compromise.
Women were not allowed to vote. Yes, we all know this, so did we sin against the Founders when they got the right?
And even in the states, voting tended to be limited to white property-owning men.
In the period following the Revolution, many states replaced the requirement for owning land with payment of taxes on the basis that those who paid taxes were those requiring representation—no taxation without representation. This was more semantics than anything because it was more than 100 years before the income tax was passed.
Vermont was the first state to lift the landed requirement. As late as 1860, five states limited voting to those owning land and two others allowed only taxpayers to vote.
The fact of the matter is that our Founding Fathers were elitist. Yes, many of them had liberal ideas, but these ideals did not extend to the common people, but to other elites. Yes, their words often support concepts of universal equality, but really, they did not trust the people in general to know what was best for them.
In some ways, this can be forgiven them because at the time of the founding of the country, communication was not as easy as it now is, and mass communication was unheard of outside of pamphlets and newspapers, and most newspapers of the time were so biased as to make Faux News actually appear fair and balance even to Nancy Pelosi. While literacy rates were higher then than now, access to diversity of opinion could be extremely limited, and without information, why should the general populace be trusted to make good decisions?
Governing should be to those most likely to feel the effects of the decision process: the rich, landed, American aristocratic and moneyed elite. The system set up in the beginning is what grew into the Gilded Age, which we seem to be on the verge of repeating, if we are not there already.