The provision on suffrage in the New Jersey state constitution of 1776 granted the right to vote to “all inhabitants” who were of legal age, owned property worth 50 English pounds, and resided in a county for at least one year. No one is sure what was meant by “all inhabitants” since the New Jersey constitutional convention was held in secret. But it appears that no agitation for woman suffrage occurred at the convention. After the state constitution was ratified by the voters, little comment on the possibility of women voting took place in the state for 20 years. Even so, one state election law passed in 1790 included the words “he or she.” It is unclear how many, or if any, women actually voted during this time.
In 1797, a bitter contest for a seat in the New Jersey state legislature erupted between John Condict, a Jeffersonian Republican from Newark, and William Crane, a Federalist from Elizabeth. Condict won the election, but only by a narrow margin after Federalists from Elizabeth turned out a large number of women to vote for Crane. This was probably the first election in U.S. history in which a substantial group of women went to the polls. Newspaper coverage of women voting was widespread in the state and included the publication of a new song titled, “The Freedom of Election.” The sarcastic last verse illustrates pretty much what the attitude of many New Jersey men must have been:
Then freedom hail! thy powers prevail
o’er prejudice and error;
No longer shall man tyrannize,
and rule the world in terror:
Now one and all, proclaim the fall
of Tyrants! – Open wide your throats,
And welcome in the peaceful scene,
of government in petticoats!!!
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