The Ties that Bind: The Meaning of Attachment in State Constitutional Revision, 1820-1845 [thesis]

Allison Morvant
Andrew Burstein and Professor Aaron Sheehan-Dean. I am grateful for their encouragement and patience. Since beginning my coursework, I sat through countless seminars next to Emily Wells, and her support and friendship have been essential to me over the last two years. Professor Maribel Dietz generously offered me a peaceful place to stay when I needed to be in Baton Rouge. My mother, Linda Jones, is an expert technical writer, and her careful reading improved this thesis, as well as many of the
more » ... other papers I produced in graduate school. Finally, when I was overwhelmed, my children, Camille Morvant and Ben Morvant, were always quick to remind me that in our family, we can do hard things, especially when there is enough iced coffee. iv PREFACE On October 13, 1829, as delegates to the Virginia constitutional convention were beginning the work of drafting a new state constitution, a group of citizens excluded from the convention petitioned the delegates, arguing that the state's restricted franchise was unfair and unjust. It vested in "a favored class, not in consideration of their public services, but of their private possessions, the highest of all privileges: one which, as is now in flagrant proof, if it does not constitute, at least is held, practically to confer absolute sovereignty." They argued that the existing constitutional requirements of freehold suffrage were inconsistent with the basic premise of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the equality of all white men under natural law, and with the republican principle of majority rule. 1 The members of this group, the non-freeholders of Richmond, were prohibited from voting under the existing 1776 constitution and appealed to the convention for an extension of suffrage. At the time the 1776 constitution was ratified, a majority of its framers held traditional English beliefs about the nature of political power and the franchise, arguing that property ownership was the best way to ensure that voters had "permanent common interest with, and attachment to the community." As a result, the Virginia constitution of 1776 continued colonial suffrage requirements, restricting the right to vote to free white men who owned a freehold: at least fifty acres of unimproved land, twenty-five acres of land with a plantation and house of at least twelve square feet or a town lot with a house of at least twelve square feet. The nonfreeholders argued that in addition to violating natural law, it was axiomatic that virtue, intelligence, and patriotism could not be equated with property ownership. They were essentially making the case for a broader conception of attachment to the community: property was only
doi:10.31390/gradschool_theses.5013 fatcat:wmhjzgntofdepkt5ywgisoqgia