Expanding Legal Personhood Central Question Since the founding — when “person” largely meant a property -owning white male — the legal definition of personhood in the United States has continually expanded, first to include African Americans then to include women. What work in this regard is left to do? Class Today 1. Slavery and the Declaration: Frederick Douglas’ “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July” 2. Women’s Rights and the Declaration: Abigail Adams’ Letter to John Adams 3. New Frontiers? The Voting Age, and Voting for Non -Citizens 1. Frederick Douglass, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” (1852) • Background:
– Douglas (1817 -1895) born a slave in Maryland, escaped, wrote a widely -read autobiography, bought his freedom, and became an adviser to Lincoln. • Central argument echoes a claim earlier made by Thomas Paine:
– Admires the founders, but wants the U.S. to live up to its own first principles, and abolish slavery. The Declaration “We hold these truths to be self -evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Primary Claim: Slavery undermines America itself. • “This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony” • The practice of slavery is “false” to the country’s past, present, and future. Secondary Claim: Of Course Slaves are people • After Hegel: the slaves do much of the actual work of civilization. • They are thus in some sense better equipped to deal with freedom than their owners.
– Lockean claim: they are in some sense the real owners of the land. • At least, they are real human beings. 2. Abigail Adams, “Letter to John Adams” (1776) • Opposed to both racial and sexual inequality:
– “Remember the ladies”: “The passion for Liberty cannot be Equally Strong in the Breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow Creatures of theirs.” • Sexual inequality as feudal tyranny: women as the “vassals” (servants) of men.
– This against the new democracy. 3. New Frontiers? Laurence Steinberg, “Why We Should Lower the Voting Age to 16” • Basic democratic principle: the laws should be decided by those subject to the laws.
– 16 year -olds are clearly affected by the law: school shootings – Then why aren’t they allowed to vote? Cognitive Capacity • Major objection: aren’t teenagers “notoriously impulsive and hotheaded”? • Hot vs. Cold Cognition – Teenagers are indeed deficient in “hot” cognition — that is, judgment under pressure. – But neuroscientific studies have shown that teenager’s “cold” cognitive capacity — that is, the ability to deliberate carefully, given a relative lack of pressure — is as good as most adults. Civic Education • In countries that allow 16 and 17 year -olds to vote, voter turnout in that range is significantly higher than among 18 year -olds. – This is important because “there is evidence that people who don’t vote the first time they are eligible are less likely to vote regularly in the future.” • Lowering the voting age could raise overall turnout rates. Ron Hayduk , “Why Non – Citizens Should Be Allowed to Vote” “Today, about one in fourteen people in the US are noncitizen immigrants (lawful permanent residents, unauthorized immigrants, or legal residents on temporary visas). They live in virtually every state, city, suburb, and town. They’re teachers and students, physicians and nurses, musicians and construction workers… But while they’re denizens of the same communities and neighborhoods as voters, non -citizens are barred from entering the polling booth. While they live under the same policies set by legislative bodies, they have little ability to influence and select the representatives making those laws.” Voting and Exclusion • Exclusion from democratic participation has made immigrants a “non -voting caste,” vulnerable to political and economic marginalization. • This hurts everyone : it allows elites to divide workers’ voices, and to more easily rule exclusive in their own interests. The Scale of Disenfranchisement “The level of political exclusion of noncitizen immigrants approximates the level of disenfranchisement of women and African Americans in the past. In New York City, 22 percent of the population are non -citizens; in Los Angeles, that number is 33 percent. In many districts, a quarter to a half of the population is prevented from selecting the political representatives that govern their lives.”