After declaring independence on July 4, 1776, each former English colony wrote a state constitution. About half the states attempted to reform their voting procedures. The trend in these states was to do away with the freehold requirement (holding title to property) in favor of granting all taxpaying, free, adult males the right to vote. Since few men escaped paying taxes of some sort, suffrage (the right to vote) expanded in these states. Vermont’s constitution went even further in 1777 when it became the first state to grant universal manhood suffrage (i.e., all adult males could vote). Some states also abolished religious tests for voting. It was in New Jersey that an apparently accidental phrase in the new state constitution permitted women to vote in substantial numbers for the first time in American history.
The act of voting in colonial times was quite different from today. Election days were social occasions accompanied by much eating and drinking. When it came time to vote, those qualified would simply gather together and signify their choices by voice or by standing up. As time went on, this form of public voting was gradually abandoned in favor of secret paper ballots. For a while, however, some colonies required published lists showing how each voter cast his ballot.