Allan Lichtman’s new book is about the biggest mistake the Founding Fathers made in drafting the ConstitutionHistorians in the News
tags: Founding Fathers, Allan Lichtman, The Embattled Vote in America
… It’s difficult to overstate the price — moral and political — we’ve paid for this mistake. But a new book by American University history professor Allan Lichtman does a nice job of explaining it. The Embattled Vote in Americais a sweeping look at the history of voting rights in the US, focusing on the constant struggle to extend suffrage in this country.
I spoke to Lichtman recently about how voting restrictions put American democracy at risk, why the right to vote is so important, and what we can do to solve this problem once and for all.
A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
The men who drafted the Constitution made a deliberate choice to not establish voting as a fundamental right. Is that the biggest mistake they made?
I think so. Voting, even to this day, is not guaranteed like other basic rights, such as freedom of speech, or the right to petition, or the right to a jury trial. And this mistake by the framers was compounded by subsequent constitutional amendments, because all of those amendments are defined in negative terms.
Can you explain what you mean by “negative terms”?
I mean the amendments are phrased in terms of what states can’t do. For example, states can’t deny the right to vote according to race, or age, or gender. But none of these amendments established any kind of an affirmative right to vote. So our right to vote today is on very fragile grounds, and although we don’t have the flagrant acts of voter suppression we had in the past, there are still many subtle and powerful forms of denying people the right to vote, which I’d argue is the right that grounds all other rights. ...
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