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Citizenship and Voting in America


Citizenship and voting rights in America have evolved over time and not without struggles. During much of the eighteenth and nineteenth century voting was reserved for white, male, property owners 21 years of age or older. Blacks, Native Americans, women, the poor and minority groups were discriminated against and left out of the notion of participatory government by its citizens. During the late nineteenth century Black males were finally allowed to vote with the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment but not females (black, white or of any other race). Women fought long and hard for the right to vote; in 1920 the Women's Suffrage movement produced the Nineteenth Amendment, finally giving all women this right. Eighteen-year olds were given the right to vote in 1971 with the passage of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment.

The road to “Justice for all” has not been a short and easy journey, but one fought with struggles and determination by individuals and groups over time. Voting is an important part of being a citizen in America and is a responsibility open to all.



1. Explain to students that decisions need to be made for an upcoming class celebration (or some other decision that is appropriate for your class). Everyone has a vote as long as they meet certain qualifications.

2. Have the entire class stand up. Read each of the following qualifications aloud. After each qualification is read, have students who do not meet the requirement sit down.

  • You must be free
  • You must be at least _____ years old. (Select an age most students fit)
  • You must own property (If your family rents, you may not vote)
  • You must be white
  • You must be Protestant (Not Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, or other)
  • You must be male

As students are eliminated, there will be complaints about not being allowed to vote on upcoming decisions. Explain to students that in the colonial period the only people who could vote were free white males 21 years of age or older who were also property owners and members of the Anglican Church.

3. Using the Voting “Chain of Events” Directions and the Voting "Chain of Events" Cards, create a three-dimensional paper chain as a visual timeline illustrating the gradual evolution of voting rights in the United States.

4. As a class or individually, have students complete the 1770s Voting Requirements Matrix. If this is done as a class, an overhead transparency may be helpful.

5. Briefly summarize the evolution of voting in the United States.


This lesson was written by Dee Albrinck, elementary school teacher, Hebron, Kentucky, and Ted Green, assistant professor, Multidisciplinary Studies, Webster University School of Education, St. Louis, Missouri.