New Jersey Women Gain the Vote Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

More than a century before national woman suffrage was secured, women in New Jersey briefly exercised the right to vote after being given the right in the state’s new constitution. In 1807, however, the state legislature changed the suffrage clause to include only white, taxpaying men.

Summary of Event

New Jersey was unlike other states of the early republic in that its first constitution allowed its female inhabitants the right to vote. Voting rights;women Human rights It has been said that this instance, even though it lasted just thirty-one years, was one of the most important, early, opportunities women have had to vote in the United States. Yet, after being the center of a political struggle between male politicians, the right to vote was taken from women. Women did not regain it until the Nineteenth Amendment (U.S. Constitution) Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920. [kw]New Jersey Women Gain the Vote (July 2, 1776) [kw]Vote, New Jersey Women Gain the (July 2, 1776) [kw]Women Gain the Vote, New Jersey (July 2, 1776) [kw]Jersey Women Gain the Vote, New (July 2, 1776) New Jersey and women’s suffrage Suffrage Women;voting rights [g]American colonies;July 2, 1776: New Jersey Women Gain the Vote[2260] [g]United States;July 2, 1776: New Jersey Women Gain the Vote[2260] [c]Women’s rights;July 2, 1776: New Jersey Women Gain the Vote[2260] [c]Social issues and reform;July 2, 1776: New Jersey Women Gain the Vote[2260] [c]Government and politics;July 2, 1776: New Jersey Women Gain the Vote[2260] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;July 2, 1776: New Jersey Women Gain the Vote[2260] Boudinot, Elias Cooper, John

On the recommendation of the Continental Congress, Second (1775) Second Continental Congress, several New Jersey legislators of the Provincial Congress Provincial Congress;New Jersey met from May 26 to July 2, 1776, to draft their first constitution to formalize their revolutionary government. That first draft of the New Jersey constitution included the clause that allowed, albeit indirectly, women the right to vote. The clause states that all residents worth at least £50 “shall be entitled to vote.”

Few records remain from the eight days it took to draft the document at the highly secretive forum, making it difficult to determine the drafters’ motives. Scholars have debated whether it was the framers’ intention from the beginning to include women or if, in their haste to draw up the document, they inadvertently included the rights of some women to vote. Such women would have included only young women not yet married and women who were widowed, as well as African Americans of both genders; few African Americans, however, would have been able to meet the economic qualifications.

The Quakers, Quakers;and voting rights[voting rights] a religious group known for embracing gender equality, likely played a substantial role in the drafting of New Jersey’s constitution. In the Quaker religion, women could hold positions of power, although they could not hold all the same positions as men. John Cooper, a Quaker, created a draft of the constitution that entitled women to vote, a move of which many members approved. It was not until 1790 that Cooper openly expressed his belief that women should be able to vote and that a law was drafted to specifically include women. The law became effective November 18, 1790, and it cleared up any misconceptions of the suffrage clause by replacing “he” with “he or she” in the clause.

The year 1790 also marks the point when Federalist Party;and voting rights[voting rights] Federalists, many of whom were Quakers, wanted to expand their electorate in hope of gaining control of the legislature. In 1790, east Jersey controlled the legislature and west Jersey needed to find more support, and women were an eligible group. The pinnacle of the Federalist campaign to include women in the electorate came in 1793. On July 4 of that year, Elias Boudinot, a friend of Federalist Hamilton, Alexander Alexander Hamilton, gave a speech expressing his desire for more women to become involved in public affairs. Boudinot, aware of the criticisms women would receive, reminded the audience that if it were not for Spain’s Queen Isabella, Christopher Columbus would not have been able to make his discoveries in the Americas during the late fifteenth century.

As the decade progressed, the Federalists began to change their opinion of woman suffrage because of the influence of French émigrés who were strongly affected by the French Revolution. These émigrés believed New Jersey was giving women too much credit in the political scene. The emergence of the Republican Party also created concern for women voting. Despite their hesitancy, the Federalists continued to seek the support of women voters in the elections.

In Essex County, New Jersey, in October, 1797, Condit, John John Condit, a Republican from Newark, and Crane, William William Crane, a Federalist from Elizabethtown, were both candidates for the legislature. Condit was able to win by a narrow margin, but only after a large group of women went to the polls to vote in the last hours, swaying the outcome. Immediately after the election, the local newspaper reported the seemingly rare occurrence of women voting. For the first time, women voting became a fiercely debated issue for many people of New Jersey.

The Federalists had needed the votes of women to win the elections of 1797 and 1798. At the same time they sought the women’s vote, however, they feared that women’s votes would benefit the Republican cause more than their own; therefore, they altered their position on woman suffrage and began to discourage women from voting. Also, it became increasingly necessary to revise the constitution of New Jersey so that it reflected the federal Constitution, which many believed did not allow for woman suffrage.

The next several years saw continued debate over whether the U.S. Constitution actually provided for the franchise for women. In 1800, a presidential election year, Republican officials suggested an amendment to the Election law (United States) election law to guarantee the rights of women to vote at the polls. The amendment was rejected on the basis that the constitution already provided the right. Republican Party;and voting rights[voting rights] Republican politicians advertised this ruling prior to the election.

With the Republican politicization of women, the Federalists were again forced to seek the female vote. The Republican politicization did not help in the 1800 election, because more women supported the Federalist candidate than the Republican candidate. Republicans made a swift change of position and presented a bill to Congress that would allow only free white males to vote. At this time, the Federalists saw no need to support the plan when the votes were already on their side.

In 1804, a third party of liberal Republicans emerged. The party succeeded in placing itself directly in the middle of Republican and Federalist ideology, gaining support from both sides, with the larger share coming from the more moderate Republicans. The 1806 election for the building of a new courthouse in the heavily populated Republican county of Essex created a great deal of intraparty conflict. The moderate Republicans lost the fraudulent election and petitioned for its annulment. The Republican leadership saw the strain and embarrassment the third party was creating so close to the 1808 presidential elections and began to make amends. Newark would receive the courthouse in return for the vote of moderate Republicans on the bill to limit the vote to white, taxpaying, male citizens. Federalists also agreed to the passage of the bill.

Significance

In 1807, New Jersey would change the suffrage clause of its constitution to include only adult taxpaying white males, thereby taking away women’s voting rights. As 1808, a presidential election year, approached, it became necessary to create a unified Republican Party in order to win the election in the light of President Thomas Jefferson’s unpopular embargo in New Jersey. Little was heard from the women who lost their right to vote. They were not able to arrange a formidable group as a result of laws that denied married women, the largest single group of women, a voice in politics. The young Federalist women who could vote declined to speak out for fear of association with African Americans and others who were disenfranchised. The law of 1807 eliminated female representation for political reasons, much as women had been granted suffrage for political reasons. It would be 1920, more than a century later, before women won the right to vote on a national level.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baker, Paula. “The Domestication of Politics: Women and American Society, 1780-1920.” American Historical Review 89 (June, 1984): 620-647. Discusses the politicization of women for the advancement of male candidates and their political parties.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dodyk, Delight W. “Education and Agitation: The Woman Suffrage Movement in New Jersey.” Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Rutgers University, 1997. Traces the complex history of the New Jersey suffrage movement from 1776, when landed women were given the vote, to 1807, when it was taken away, and throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1959. Demonstrates the importance of New Jersey women in the suffrage movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Klinghoffer, Judith Apter, and Lois Elkis. “The Petticoat Electors: Women’s Suffrage in New Jersey, 1776-1807.” Journal of the Early Republic 12, no. 2 (Summer, 1992): 158-193. Sheds new light on what once was considered a hastily drawn draft of New Jersey’s first constitution.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lurie, Maxine N., ed. A New Jersey Anthology. Newark: New Jersey Historical Society, 1994. Collection of seventeen essays by historians covering the full range of the state’s history, including the Revolutionary War, feminism, and movements for women’s rights.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pomfret, John. Colonial New Jersey: A History. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973. Describes in detail the events surrounding the drive to gain votes for representation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Trager, James. The Women’s Chronology. New York: Henry Holt, 1994. Demonstrates the activities of women in the early republic.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Turner, Edward Raymond. “Women’s Suffrage in New Jersey: 1790-1807.” Smith College Studies in History 1 (1916): 165-187. Explores the early conception of the anomaly concerning women voting in New Jersey.

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