Episode 284: Democracy & Voting in British America

The British North American colonies formed some of the most democratic governments in the world. But that doesn't mean that all early Americans were treated equally or allowed to participate in representative government.

Who could vote in Early America? And who could participate in representative government?

Historians James Kloppenberg, the Charles Warren Professor of History at Harvard University, and Amy Watson, an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, join us to explore who democracy was meant for and how those who lived in colonial British America understood and practiced representative government.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.

Episode Summary

James Kloppenberg, the Charles Warren Professor of History at Harvard University, and Amy Watson, an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Alabama, Birmingham take us through the origins of representative government, the practice of voting, and elections in colonial British America.

What You’ll Discover

  • The origins of the terms “democracy” and “republic”
  • The origins of the practice of popular sovereignty in English governance
  • Why British North Americans deviated from the English standard of governance
  • Differences in the number of men who could vote in 17th- & 18th-century England & British North America
  • Why some might consider 17th-century New England town meetings as fledgling democracies
  • The origins of the first election for a town official in New England
  • Difference between colonial New England & colonial Virginia’s practices of democracy
  • The significance of land ownership as a qualifier to vote
  • How far the colonies had deviated from English practices of democracy by the American Revolution
  • Who was qualified to vote and who was excluded from voting in colonial British North America
  • What Election Day was like in colonial British North America
  • Variations in election day experiences and practices across colonial America
  • The practice of treating in elections
  • How women and people of color participated in election day
  • Inherited English political traditions and partisanship
  • Westchester, New York Election Day 1733 and its connections with English political events
  • Philadelphia Election Day Riots of 1744
  • Potential for violence during election day
  • How colonial election practices influenced the founders

Links to People, Places, and Publications

Sponsor Links

Support Ben Franklin's World

Join Us!! Become a Ben Franklin’s World Member. Subscribe and help us bring history right to your ears!

Complementary Episodes

Questions, Comments, Suggestions

Do you have a question, comment, or suggestion?

Get in Touch! Send me an e-mail, tweet, or leave a comment.



Enjoy the Podcast?

Why Not Listen regularly through one of these apps?

| Listen on Google Podcasts | Listen to Stitcher |

Ratings & Reviews

If you enjoy this podcast, please give it a rating and review.

Positive ratings and reviews help bring Ben Franklin's World to the attention of other history lovers who may not be aware of our show

Click here to rate & review on iTunes | Click here to rate & review on Stitcher

More from this show