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September 24, 2015 / Joanne Yeck

Suffrage in Buckingham County

Political Cartoon_1904

Political Cartoon (1904), Courtesy The Times-Dispatch

In March of 1903, Senator Frank C. Moon, of Lynchburg and Snowden in Buckingham County, was mentioned in the Richmond newspapers in connection with the heavily disputed suffrage law which was to become part of the new Virginia Constitution. The Times-Dispatch covered the story:

Senator Moon to Offer Bill Making Temporary Clause Permanent.

Senator Frank C. Moon, of Buckingham, will offer in the Senate to-day an amendment to the Constitution, making material changes in the suffrage ordinance, and the outcome of the battle over its adoption is looked forward to with great interest, as it will bring up in the General Assembly the very questions which kept the Suffrage Committee of the convention divided for many months.

The amendment, which is understood to be the result of a conference here between Congressman Flood and a number of legislators, will propose to abolish the permanent understanding clause and make the temporary one permanent.

This does not interfere in any way with the poll tax feature, but will make the qualifications for registration for all time as follows:

Soldier, son of a soldier, property ownership or educational qualifications.

The proposed amendment will no doubt cause a great fight in the Legislature.

Congressman Flood, who had just come from a conference on the subject made the announcement to a representative of The Times-Dispatch. He said he was glad the question would be brought up and that the amendment set forth the views of himself and the majority of the Suffrage Committee, who struggled so hard for the principle in the convention last year.

The amendment, if adopted, will place broad powers in the hands of the registrars, and leave them in the position they now occupy with reference to the voters.

The poll tax and “understanding clause” not only succeeded in disenfranchising many African-Americans but also excluded illiterate and poor Whites from voting. According to Encyclopedia Virginia:

In the end, the constitution that emerged from these debates placed severe new restrictions on voter eligibility. It required payment of a $1.50 poll tax, to be paid six months in advance of any election. Not only that, but the law stipulated that payment be up-to-date for the previous three years. The double-vote plan was rejected, but the convention did adopt the understanding clause, making it a temporary measure for the years 1903 and 1904. In order to avoid the appearance of discrimination against poor whites, the convention also elected to choose the registrars who would enforce voter laws during the first two years following the implementation of the constitution. An additional law that took effect after 1903 required a written application for registration, completed without assistance. Finally, all Civil War veterans, North and South, and their sons were exempted from all of the above requirements.

These changes in Virginia suffrage laws would have a long and lasting impact not only on individual voters but also on the results of local initiatives, including the subject of the next serial to be featured at Slate River Ramblings.

Coming next: The Buckingham Whiskey Wars

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