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Voters in a Foreign Land: Alien Suffrage in the United States, 1704–1926

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2022

William & Mary, USA


As early as 1704, noncitizen immigrants were legally allowed to vote in what would become the United States. By the end of the eighteenth century, noncitizens could legally vote in most states. State lawmakers offered the franchise as an incentive for white, male, Europeans of working age to migrate. However, rising immigration and nativism led states to reconsider alien suffrage, as noncitizen voting was known, and alien suffrage nearly disappeared by the 1840s. Revived by territorial expansion, demands for cheap labor, urbanization, racism, and sexism, alien suffrage expanded in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, peaking a century after the nation’s founding. However, resurgent nativism, wartime xenophobia, and corruption concerns pushed lawmakers to curtail noncitizen voting, and citizenship became a voting prerequisite in every state by 1926.

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