The nature of American national government has undergone a profound metamorphosis, moving from the near oligarchy which characterized the system as established in 1789 to the imperfectly representative government which it is today. At the time the Constitution was ratified, all restrictions then imposed by the several states on the right to vote for state and federal electors were preserved. These various limitations on the franchise restricted the active body politic to approximately four percent of the total population. Disfranchisement applied then, as now, to those under twenty-one, to those lacking sufficient residence in a given community, to the insane, and to the criminally confined. It applied also to all females, to virtually all Negroes (including many who were not slaves), to most who were not endowed with a freehold estate, to many not owning substantial personal property, and to those of particular religious convictions.
William W. Van Alstyne,
The Administraton's Anti-Literacy Test Bill: Wholly Constitutional but Wholly Inadequate,
Mich. L. Rev.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr/vol61/iss4/5