September 17th is Constitution and Citizenship Day, marking the day 225 years ago when our Founding charter was signed in Philadelphia and presented to “We the People” for ratification. As Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar has eloquently explained, never before in world history had a government charter been ratified by the people themselves. Calling our constitutional moment in 1787 the hinge of modern democratic history, Prof. Amar notes that the Founding generation took important steps to increase the number of eligible voters in the ratification process, with many states waiving voting restrictions (such as property requirements) and some allowing African Americans to vote for convention delegates.
However advanced this expanded voting pool may have been during the 18th century; through a modern lens it is obviously profoundly flawed and restrictive. Fortunately, after declaring that “We the People” would be the ones to establish and ordain the Constitution, the preamble also boldly states our intention to “create a more perfect union.” The goal was not just to create something “more perfect” than what Americans had seen before -- whether it be the tyranny of the British crown or the dysfunction of the Articles of Confederation -- but to establish a Union that was itself perfectible across history. Article V, authorizing Amendments, made it clear that the 1787 Constitution was not an end, but a beginning. And perhaps nowhere is that arc of constitutional progress seen more plainly than in the story of suffrage.