Benjamin Franklin was asked after the Constitutional Convention ended in 1787, "What kind of government have you made?" He answered, "A republic, sir, if you can keep it."
As I write this, I am reminded of the incredible impact that the U.S. Constitution has had on our country and the world that has evolved since that date. The Constitution embedded so many protections against abusive or tyrannical government: federalism with significant rights reserved to the states; the Bill of Rights and the personal liberties granted to citizens; and the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary.
This amazing document and its amendments have laid the foundation for our representative democracy, our freedoms and our rights for 225 years.
However, the heavily debated and compromised U.S. Constitution was a document with flaws. Despite the genius of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it took many generations to assure that a broader, more inclusive citizenry had the basic right to vote.
In colonial America, voting was largely limited to white men who owned property. This set the stage for a long history of denying voting rights to women, African-Americans and other racial groups, and the poor.
One of the dynamic strengths of American democracy has been to extend the franchise of voting to a larger and more inclusive scope of citizens.
The county took an initial step when land ownership restrictions were finally removed in the first half of the 19th century.
It took a bloody Civil War to end slavery in the United States and grant voting rights to African-American males. In 1965, Congress passed the historic Voting Rights Act to enforce voting rights for all African-Americans. It made clear that the right to vote could not be denied because of a person's color or race.
Suffrage rights for women presented another hard-fought struggle. The suffrage fight began in 1848. However, women did not gain the right to vote by constitutional amendment in the United States until 1920.
Page 2 of 2 - During the Vietnam War, many argued that if 18-year-olds were old enough to fight, they were old enough to vote. In 1971, a constitutional amendment was adopted to lower the U.S. voting age to 18.
This expansion of the electorate gave substance to the powerful words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence of 1776. He wrote that "all men are created equal" and that "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
The U.S. system of representative democracy works best when we have a good turnout at all elections. Such civic participation fulfills the eloquent words of President Abraham Lincoln that we are a "government of the people, by the people, for the people."
If you are person of color, a woman or an 18-year-old, you only gained the right to vote after many decades of exclusion, and sometimes after bitter conflict. Are you proud of that victory, or do you now take it for granted? Wouldn't voting in the Nov. 6 election be the right thing to do to honor those who helped you achieve your right to vote?
For all voters, don't forget the millions of men and women in the military who have heroically served and sacrificed for our nation since its founding. Isn't your vote in the November election a good way to say "thank you" to our veterans and present military personnel?