The Constitution for Dummies: The 19th Amendment

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I’ve decided to write on the 19th Amendment today because I want to clarify something about the Constitution and how it works.

When you hear the 19th Amendment, what do you think of?

Most of you, if you know what it means, will think something like this: “Oh, that’s the amendment that gave women the right to vote!”

Precisely.

And that’s how we treat almost all of the amendments and the Constitution. Such and such amendment or provision gives us the right to this or that.

I’m going to make a few points about this amendment and clarify for you that the government never gives us a right to do anything. That’s not what government exists to do and is anything but what the founders envisioned for the Constitution.

Remember, the Constitution confines government. That’s it. It tells government-the federal government-what it can make laws about; meaning anything not mentioned is something it cannot make laws about. The “rights” are a given. We have the rights regardless of government.

sorrowful black woman crying in light room

The 19th Amendment

So, to start, let’s look at what the amendment actually says:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Hmmm, pay attention to the language here. The amendment does not say, “All women now have the right to vote”.

No, it says that the right of all citizens to vote shall not be abridged or denied by any government, be it state or federal government, because of one’s sex.

The Amendment Prevents Government From Writing Laws That Would Infringe on an Already Existent Right

So, here’s the thing about how the Constitution works. Government cannot confer upon us any rights. We have all of our rights even if the government is writing laws that are in some way, hindering those rights.

When an amendment like the 19th Amendment is written, it simply tells government, that government can no longer write laws that would infringe upon or hinder this already existent right.

So, in the case of the 19th Amendment, the federal government had actually made no laws infringing on a women’s right to vote. No, state governments were responsible for all laws that hindered women from voting. So, the 19th Amendment simply stopped states from writing laws that hindered a women from voting.

Remember, the Constitution left everything about elections to the states, so there was never a federal law in place that stopped women from voting.

This is likely the popular belief by most people, however. The United States, with national laws, for over 200 years, universally prevented women from voting.

The History of Women’s Suffrage Is More Complex Than You Might Think

woman in red long sleeve writing on chalk board

You might have an idea in your mind about women’s suffrage, that women had been held back, suppressed and unwelcome into the political world until 1919, when suddenly, government conferred upon women the right to vote.

As I’ve already clarified, the amendment only prevents states or the federal government from writing laws that would prevent women from voting. It doesn’t give anyone the right to vote. Government can’t give rights out like lollipops. That would be far too much power for government.

However, suffrage is a bit more complex than what you may have been led to believe.

As early as the 1776, some states allowed all women to vote in all elections (New Jersey) and other states allowed women to vote in local elections and town meetings. (Aside: many states, as early at the 1770s, allowed free black men to vote as well). New Jersey ended up changing their laws to prevent women from voting when New Jersey was blamed for election fraud, or more specifically, for men dressing up as women to vote a second time, thereby creating election fraud.

However, as time progressed and new states entered the Union, states began to change their laws to allow women to vote. By the time the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1919, only seven states had laws on the books that barred women from voting entirely. In other words, the 19th Amendment was almost more of a token amendment than something that was needed to radically change the standing state laws. It essentially made the laws of of 7 states and any other limiting laws in any other states unlawful.

Conclusion

woman holding fireflies

Do you see how this works? We live in a federalist society, where the states dictate and affect most of our daily lives. The states decided to come together and ratify the 19th Amendment, thereby agreeing that neither they nor the federal government could make laws that stopped anyone from voting because of one’s sex. For most of the states, this amendment would do little to affect them, but they felt it necessary to ratify the Constitutional amendment so that the country as a whole was on the same page.

That’s the beauty of federalism and the Constitution. That’s the beauty of this nation. Rights are never about government giving us something as much as government no longer being able to write laws that prevent us from using something we already have.

Sometimes it’s healthy to remember this.

The Liberty Belle

12 thoughts on “The Constitution for Dummies: The 19th Amendment”

  1. Bob Manderville

    “We live in a federalist society, where the states dictate and affects most of our daily lives.”
    “Remember the Constitution confines government……..It tells government, the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT what it can make laws about meaning anything not mentioned is something IT CAN NOT make laws about” ……. (otherwise known as states rights- see Article 10 of the Constitution)

    taken from the above “The Constitution for Dummies”

    Taking this in mind (which you are absolutely correct in stating and I have no gripe with) it begs to ask “Why did 18 states Attorney Generals and 135 Republican Congressmen think that they had the right to encroach on the states sovereignty and dictate that their election results were fraudulent therefore disfranchising all of those states voters during the last election?” Luckily we had responsible STATE officeholders and judges ON EVERY LEVEL that saw through this unlawful ruse and turned down any challenge. Unfortunately we have Constitutional imbeciles running one half of our government and half of the population being led by the nose by lies.

    1. C. McMasters Ph.D.

      Thanks for the comment! While I could respond to more, I’ll simply address your first paragraph, that yes, Amendment 10 does reiterate what the Constitution already makes very clear, that all powers not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution as federal, are therefore state powers. The 10th amendment is actually unnecessary and redundant if the U.S. federal government was following the actual Constitution.

      According to Dr. Lawson, professor of law at Boston University:

      “In sum, the Constitution’s Framers thought that a bill of rights was appropriate for an unlimited government, but not for a limited one like the national government created by the Constitution. The Constitution accordingly sought to secure liberty through enumerations of powers to the government rather than through enumerations of rights to the people…It remains a government of limited and enumerated powers, so that the first question involving an exercise of federal power is not whether it violates someone’s rights, but whether it exceeds the national government’s enumerated powers.

      No law that would have been constitutional before the Tenth Amendment was ratified becomes unconstitutional simply because the Tenth Amendment exists. The only question posed by the Tenth Amendment is whether a claimed federal power was actually delegated to the national government by the Constitution, and that question is answered by studying the enumerated powers, not by studying the Tenth Amendment. That was the understanding of the Supreme Court for nearly two centuries.

      It [Bill of Rights] was considered unnecessary because the national government was a limited government that could only exercise those powers granted to it by the Constitution, and it had been granted no power to violate the most cherished rights of the people.

      Nonetheless, the Supreme Court, especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, has sometimes been very fond of arguments that run something like: ‘All self-respecting governments can do X, our national government is a self-respecting government, therefore our national government can do X.’ This kind of reasoning was used to support dubious federal powers to exercise eminent domain, to implement a military draft, to hold overseas colonies, and to pass laws concerning immigration.

      The Tenth Amendment, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, might have value as a kind of backstop in case the original Constitution’s meaning gets too deranged. In modern times, the enumerated powers of the national government have been misread beyond all recognition, to the point that the actual Constitution is not really part of the governing structure at all. We live with a shadow, or ‘zombie,’ Constitution that has the outer husk of the original document but none of its actual substance.”

      In other words, states rights is not given to states by the 10th Amendment, but rather by default of the powers NOT given to the federal government in the Constitution itself. The 10th Amendment is merely a redundant re-assertion of such state power.

  2. Ms. Mcmasters. You bring me hope and inspiration for our future given that you have emerged from a Marxist training academy with clear and sound mind. As for Mr Manderville attempting to drag you into a skirmish, you are wise to stand down to any person who approaches a debate of ideas by using the evidence of “lies” as his weapon. Sadly that word is weaponized beyond repair at this point (as so many are) and we have only the constitution and rule of law to save us. I hope you have many friends and followers. Thanks again!

    1. Bob Manderville

      Chris: There was no “skirmish” intended. When adults had conversations in previous times they traded ideas back and forth. As Ms McMasters stated in the first sentence of her response “I’ll simply address your first paragraph” and she neglected to answer my question.

      As to my ” approaching the debate of ideas with lies” I hope you can specify exactly where I lied.

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