Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super books for Super Tuesday

Georgia is one of the many states holding a Presidential primary today. I just got back from casting my vote, and it occurred to me that this is a fine time to recommend a couple of books on the history of the vote in America. One is The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States by Alexander Keyssar, first published in 2000. When it was reissued in paper, a new afterward was added in which Keyssar tackled the electoral college and how that Constitutional provision played out so controversially in the 2000 Presidential election.

This is one of those books that having read several years ago, I realize that at some point I'll have to read it again, so fascinating and important is the story it tells. While the main text is interesting, the charts and tables in the back of the volume alone are a valuable reference worth the purchase price. For example, pages 399-402 list the states and territories that allowed women to vote before passage of the Nineteenth Amendment; this is not easy information to find anywhere else.

Another good little book is Robert M. Goldman's Reconstruction & Black Suffrage: Losing the Vote in Reese & Cruikshank, published in 2001. In 156 pages of text, Goldman chronicles the Supreme Court's regrettable nineteenth century decisions that limited the scope of the Fifteenth Amendment and enabled states to easily deny suffrage to African-Americans by in effect declaring "We're not keeping them from voting because they are black, we are doing it because they are illiterate, or can't pay a poll tax, or can't recite Washington's First Inaugural Address word for word, etc." (That's an exaggeration on reciting Washington's speech, but not by much.) Here's an election day tip of the hat to Thurgood Marshall, Dr. King, LBJ, and everybody else who made sure that nearly a century after the Fifteenth Amendment, it would finally be honored.

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