Soon after a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was signed on Sept. 22, 1862, by President Lincoln declaring an end to slavery in the U.S. on Jan. 1, 1863, the question arose concerning what should be done with the formerly enslaved men and women. It was debated all over the country, but especially among Northerners who won the war to keep the South from seceding from the Union and who were trying to shape the reconstruction of the U.S. based upon racial equality.
Among the leaders who understood that freedom needed to manifest quickly was Frederick Douglass, a former slave who escaped from a plantation on the eastern shore of Maryland, and who later became a principal spokesperson and leader of the Black suffrage movement. During a speech delivered before a predominately white audience in January of 1865, Douglass explained that freedom for the Negro meant nothing more than the freedom to choose. That choice, he defined, was the right to vote. “What is freedom?” Douglass asked. “It is the right to choose one’s own … and without this, [the Negro’s] liberty is a mockery.”
A recent study, “Influencing Young Americans to Act,” released this week by the Case Foundation determined that America’s millennials are finding their voice by voting. Among the issues of greatest concern across all demographics of 18- to 30-year-olds were civil rights and racial discrimination, which topped the list. The majority of millennials believe the U.S. has gone “off track” and they are somewhat or extremely dissatisfied with Donald Trump’s leadership.
That said, 75 percent of young Americans surveyed view voting as a form of activism with a majority believing that voting can lead to desired change and two-thirds of them planning to vote in the November midterm elections.
A long time has passed since Douglass and others fought for the right to vote protected by the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution and it is encouraging to know that the value of voting remains alive over 150 years later with millennials.