The Look within: Property, Capacity, and Suffrage in Nineteenth-Century America

26 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2006

See all articles by Jacob Katz Cogan

Jacob Katz Cogan

University of Cincinnati - College of Law


Wishing to see the trajectory of American history as progressive and democratic, historians have ignored the complexities of suffrage expansion in the nineteenth century - especially the interrelation of exclusion and inclusion. 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). Both enfranchisement and disenfranchisement reflected this change of perspective, this look within.

Keywords: suffrage, property, capacity, enfranchisement, disenfranchisement, voting, state constitutions

Suggested Citation

Cogan, Jacob Katz, The Look within: Property, Capacity, and Suffrage in Nineteenth-Century America. Yale Law Journal, Vol. 107, p. 473, 1997; U of Cincinnati Public Law Research Paper No. 06-28. Available at SSRN:

Jacob Katz Cogan (Contact Author)

University of Cincinnati - College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210040
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0040
United States
513-556-0105 (Phone)
513-556-1236 (Fax)


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