This Note looks at the trajectory of suffrage reform from the late eighteenth century to the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment and argues that reformers were obsessed with the inner qualities of persons. Whereas the eighteenth century had located a person's capacity for political participation externally (in material things, such as property), the nineteenth century found these qualities internally (in innate and heritable traits, such as intelligence). To chart the transformation, this Note examines the debates over suffrage in the state constitutional conventions of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as contemporaneous commentaries.
Part I will describe the external view that characterized the eighteenth century, and how its explanatory force gradually faded. Part I1will describe the creation of the internal view, how it led to manhood suffrage, and how, at the same time, it continued to disenfranchise women and blacks. Part II will offer a brief conclusion, tying in some additional categories of excluded persons and exploring the limits of the look within.
Jacob Katz Cogan, The Look within: Property, Capacity, and Suffrage in Nineteenth-Century America, 107 Yale L.J. 473 (1997).