HISTORY OF ELECTION DAY
Why do we vote on a Tuesday in November in the US?
Historically, the United States was an agrarian society where much of the calendar revolved around farming. In 1840, Congress set voting day on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. This time provided a convenient month for farmers, who needed to travel perhaps overnight to the county seat’s polling places, following the Autumn harvest season. The weather would not yet have turned bad enough to make rural roads impassable.
Rural Americans would begin their trip on Monday, rather than on Sunday lest their travel interfere with Sunday worship services. It had to be on a Tuesday following the first Monday so as not to fall on November 1st, a holiday known as All Saints Day. Additionally, the first day of the month was when accounting books were brought up to date. While Election Day is a federal holiday, it is observed only by government holidays in the capital of Washington D.C. and those counties that border it in the states of Virginia and Maryland.
Voting in America was originally limited to citizens who were free, white, male and landowners.
- In 1856 Congress removed the landowner restriction.
- The 15th Amendment to the Constitution passed by Congress in 1870 allowed African American and other nonwhite men to vote, though this was restricted in parts of the South (and North) until the 1960s. In 1924 Congress granted the right to vote to Native Americans, though some states banned this until the 1940s.
- The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, ratified in 1920. But the first woman to run for President was Victoria Woodhull, who ran in 1872, almost 50 years before women could vote. Since then over 200 women have run for President, although from minor political parties.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian