I recently read The Accessible Federalist by Adam Seagrave (a great resource to avoid archaic English).

In the Federalist 57, I came upon something interesting. James Madison appears to have been advertising that anyone would be able to vote in the new republic! Perhaps it was implied that slaves would not get this privilege - however, I was always told that only white landowners could vote? This seems to include more that just that.

Here's the quote. Keep in mind that this version of the papers is a translation into modern English. I do believe Seagrave to be a credible scholar - there's no political bend to the translation as far as I can tell.

Who are to be the electors of the federal representatives? Not the rich any more than the poor, not the educated any more than the uneducated, not the members of prominent families any more than the common man. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States. They are to be the same people who exercise the right of electing the corresponding branch of the legislature in their state.

Seagrave, S. Adam. The Accessible Federalist (p. 47). Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Any thoughts? It's my understanding that early voting rights were mostly at the discretion of the states. Still, the Federalist Papers were published to convince Americans to agree to the Constitution. You would think that folks would be pretty disappointed if this bit of incentive didn't pan out.


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    "They are to be the same people who exercise the right of electing the corresponding branch of the legislature in their state." To me, it seems that he is saying that the people that already have the right to vote in their own state will get to vote. He is not saying that the whole population will have the right to vote. Furthermore, I think that you are assuming that many people wanted to extend the right to vote, but this quote could also be meant to assure that the right to vote will not be extended to new (undesirable to some) people
    – gabriele
    Sep 11, 2019 at 11:05
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    "Old English," with a capital O, is the Anglo-Saxon language, not spoken since the 1100s more or less. To avoid ambiguity, it might be better to refer to the language of the 1700s as "archaic" rather than "old"; it's even too late to be considered "Early Modern English" (the language of Shakespeare).
    – phoog
    Sep 11, 2019 at 15:01

1 Answer 1


The specific provision in the U.S. Constitution is the first clause of Article I, Section 2, with emphasis added.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

The term Electors is synonymous with voters. Because the thirteen original states had already established their legislatures under their constitutions, the clause means that the same voters who elect the representatives in the state's legislature would be the same voters who elect representatives to the U.S. Congress.

While the states may have adopted, as qualifications to vote, English common law of white land owners age 21 and older; this was not a requirement under the U.S. Constitution. Any state, at any time, could have changed to universal sufferage for all citizens age 18 and older without violating the U.S. Constitution.

The above clause and its wording are discussed in Federalist 52, in particular, the first two paragraphs.

FROM the more general inquiries pursued in the four last papers, I pass on to a more particular examination of the several parts of the government. I shall begin with the House of Representatives. The first view to be taken of this part of the government relates to the qualifications of the electors and the elected. Those of the former are to be the same with those of the electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

The definition of the right of suffrage is very justly regarded as a fundamental article of republican government. It was incumbent on the convention, therefore, to define and establish this right in the Constitution. To have left it open for the occasional regulation of the Congress, would have been improper for the reason just mentioned. To have submitted it to the legislative discretion of the States, would have been improper for the same reason; and for the additional reason that it would have rendered too dependent on the State governments that branch of the federal government which ought to be dependent on the people alone. To have reduced the different qualifications in the different States to one uniform rule, would probably have been as dissatisfactory to some of the States as it would have been difficult to the convention. The provision made by the convention appears, therefore, to be the best that lay within their option.

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    I may be confused here, but isn't the 2nd part of your answer contradicting the first? It seems to me Federalist 52 is arguing that states should not have a say in who votes (at federal level), while the first half of your answer essentially says that it was up to states to set those rules... Sep 11, 2019 at 23:10
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    @Fizz - Federalist 52 is arguing that states must not be allowed to use a non-republican method for selecting representatives to Congress; even though each state uses its own qualifications for electors to their own legislatures.
    – Rick Smith
    Sep 12, 2019 at 1:13
  • I'm not sure what "non-republican" would mean in modern terms... Non-elected? Sep 12, 2019 at 1:37
  • @Fizz - Yes, it could mean appointed; it could mean selected by committee. It would mean any method that was not consistent with the voters electing their representatives to Congress.
    – Rick Smith
    Sep 12, 2019 at 2:12

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