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In a few cases the suffrage was more explicitly defined.
Thus, in New York City, vestrymen were chosen by persons
qualified to vote in municipal elections. 4 In Maryland only
those inhabitants who were freeholders within the parish and
who contributed to the public taxes and charges thereof,
could vote. 5 The parish suffrage in North Carolina was re-
stricted to a " freeholder in actual possession of estate, real
for his life or that of another or greater estate, either fifty acres
or a lot in town saved according to law within the parish." 6

1 6 Geo. Ill, chap. 450, Allinson's Laws, 287. The earlier statutes used the
words " freeholders and inhabitants, householders;" 3 Geo. I, chap. 22, Nevill's
Laws, 44, * 2 Geo. II, chap. 2, Hall and Sellers ed., 1775, 149.

3 Hall and Sellers ed., 1775, 444.

4 ii Geo. Ill, chap. 1492, Van Schaack's Laws, 624.

5 I Anne, chap. I, 8, Bacon's Laws, Baskett ed., 1723, 13.

6 5 Geo. III. chap. 2, Davis ed., 1773, 305. See also 14 Geo. II, chap. 23,
Davis and Swann ed., 1752, 157.



South Carolina was not so liberal as her northern sister, for
she required membership in and conformity to the religion
of the Church of England. In addition voters were required
to be freeholders and residents contributing to the public
charges of the parish. 1

In the Connecticut society meetings an elector was re-
quired either to be in full communion with the church or
else to possess the same amount of property as a voter in a
town election. 2 Dissenters who were on that account ex-
empt from paying taxes were not permitted to vote. 3

3. Mtmicipal Elections. The Dongan charter gave the
inhabitants of each ward in New York City power to elect
aldermen. 4 We have already seen that Leisler had the mayor
and sheriff elected by the Protestant freeholders. 5 The Mont-
gomery charter seems to have gone no further than that of
Dongan in defining the qualifications of a voter. 6 It was not
until 1771 that the assembly passed an explanatory act, 7 in
which it was stated that the aldermen were to be chosen by
the freemen and freeholders of each ward. The freemen must
have held their freedom for at least three months, 8 and have
actually resided in the ward for one month before the election
day. The qualification of a person voting in right of a free-
hold was similar to that required in general elections. This
was a freehold of forty pounds not held in trust for any
body corporate or politic or for any pious or religious use ;

1 Act 1704, no. 225, 21, 2 Cooper, 242.

2 Fifty shillings in freehold, or forty pounds in the common list. 12 Geo. II,
chap. 33, Session Laws, 362; 7 Connecticut Colonial Records, 211.

8 9 Connecticut Colonial Records, 218.

* Mammal of the Common Council of Nnv York, 1868, 9.
5 3 New York Colonial Documents, 675.

* Manual of the Common Council of New York, 1868, 26.
7 II Geo. Ill, chap. 1492, Van Schaack's Laws, 620.

8 In the city of London, liverymen and freemen must have been such for twelve
calendar months. Statute n Geo. I, chap. 18.


and it must have been in the possession of the voter for one
month before the day of election unless it was acquired
within that time by descent or devise. A mortgagor could
vote if he was in possession and in receipt of the profits. If
not, the franchise belonged to the mortgagee. The estate
of a voter must be situated within the ward in which he voted.

The qualifications of municipal electors in Albany were
not clearly defined until 1773, when a contested election case
was decided by the common council. A set of regulations,
founded, it was said, upon the custom of the board, was
adopted, and these show that the suffrage was very wide.
Every person twenty-one years of age, and born within Brit-
ish dominions, could vote- in the ward where he resided, pro-
vided he had been a resident of the city for six weeks. This
was the general rule, and to it there were a few exceptions :
a bond servant could not vote during the time of his servi-
tude ; the votes of persons who were influenced by bribes
were declared null and void ; aliens were prohibited from
voting, whatever might have been the length of their resi-
dence ; persons not naturalized, or who had not taken the
oaths of supremacy or allegiance, were debarred; and no one
could vote in a ward to which he had removed just before the
day of election. The rule in regard to residence was much
more strictly enforced than it would be to-day, and a man
who occasionally went out of town to visit his family was de-
clared a sojourner, and on that account debarred from voting. 1

Lancaster is the only one of the Pennsylvania boroughs
whose charter clearly expressed the qualifications of an elector.
The suffrage was restricted to inhabitants, householders within
the borough, who had resided there for a year preceding the
date of the election, and who had hired a house and ground
of the yearly value of five pounds sterling. 2 ,

1 I Collections on the History of Albany, 250, el seq. 2 Miller ed., 1762, 18.


The statute books of the American colonies contain very
few provisions which show in what manner local elections
were conducted. There is greater dearth of material on this
subject than on that of local suffrage which, in New England
at least, was defined with some degree of precision. The
manner in which local elections were to be called, 'and the
date on which they were held, were usually prescribed, but
beyond this no general regulation appears to have been
attempted. The absence of statutory provisions concerning
the management of town elections would, therefore, seem to
show that the matter was largely governed by local custom
and usage, that was to a great extent moulded by the influ-
ence of the practices then current at general elections.

i. Town Elections. In Massachusetts, under the second
charter, town elections were held during the month of March, 1
while in Connecticut' they took place in December. In the
former colony the exact date was fixed, and notice was given
by the constable, 1 while in the latter this duty devolved
upon the selectmen. 2

In Rhode Island the freemen of each town appear to have
appointed a date for their local elections, 3 and a fine was im-
posed on all towns which failed to elect the required number
of officers. 4 This latter provision would seem to have been

1 Laws, 1692-3, chap. 28, I Ames and Goodell, 65, Additional acts on the sub-
ject of town electiors are: Laws, 1735-6, chap. 8, 1,2 Ames and Goodell, 761;
Laws, 1738-9, chap. 26, ibid., 980; Laws, 1742-3, chap. 28, i, 3 Ames and
Goodell, 47. 2 Session Laws, 113.

3 Franklin ed., 1744, 9. 4 Hall's Code, 1767, 87.



necessary in the other New England colonies as well, in
view of the fact that the election of the prescribed number
of officers proved a burden from which the towns would
have been glad to have escaped. The charter granted to
Providence in 1649 gave to the inhabitants of that town
power to choose their officers of justice on the first second
day of June of each year. 1 During the governorship of
Andros the towns embraced in his "dominion" elected their
officers annually on the third Monday in May. 2 The writer
is inclined to believe that the written ballot was generally
used in New England town elections. In the Plymouth col-
ony we find a statute providing that selectmen should be
chosen "by papers," 3 and as far back as 1637 such appears
to have been the practice in at least one Massachasetts town. 4
In the middle colonies town elections were usually held in
the spring. The Duke's Laws appointed the first of April
as the date for choosing constables. 5 Thus, in New York
they took place on the first Tuesday in April, or on the days
expressed in the charters and patents of the several towns. 6
In New Jersey the various local officers were chosen on the
second Tuesday in March,' while in Pennsylvania supervis-
ors and boards of audit were elected on the third Saturday
of the same month. 8 In the latter province the election of a
pound-keeper took place in each town on the twentieth of
May, or on the following day if that should happen to be
First Day. 9 The county officials were chosen in the autumn

1 1 Rhode Island Colonial Records, 214. 2 3 Connecticut Colonial Records, 247.

3 Book of General Laws, 1671, chap. 5, Brigham, 260.

4 Coffin, History ofNewbury, 23. 5 Page 70, ed., Harrisburg, 1879.

6 3 Will, and Mary; 2 Anne; Van Schaack's Laws, 3, 54, 756. In Albany and
Tyron counties, as well as in the Manor of Rensselaerwyck, they were held on the
corresponding day of May, Van Schaack's Laws, 689.

" Nevill's Laws, 32, 44, 48. 8 Hall and Sellers ed., 1775, 404, 444.

9 2 Geo. II, chap. 2, Hall and Sellers ed., 1775, 149.


at the time of the selection of assemblymen, 1 while in Dela-
ware the various hundreds voted for assessors on September
1 5th. 2

For the purpose of electing poor officers in New Jersey,
meetings were called at a convenient time and place on the
warrant of any one justice of the peace. 3 After 1744, how-
ever, these officials were chosen at the regular town meetings,
and vacancies were filled at special elections called " on a
short day," by means of a precept from a justice. 4 In Penn-
sylvania there were provisions requiring a notice of five days
of all town elections. Advertisements were posted in the
most conspicuous places of the several towns and boroughs. 5
These elections were generally held in the afternoon between
the hours of three and six, 6 though in the borough of Lancas-
ter the hours were from ten until four. 7 Ten days' notice was
required for the elections of assessors in Delaware, and they
must take place before six o'clock in the afternoon. 8 In New
Jersey the chosen freeholders were elected in the most pub-
lic place of each town. 9 This was also true of pound-keepers
in Pennsylvania, 10 although supervisors were chosen at a
point as near to the centre of the township as was possible. 11

In the laws of the middle colonies very little is said in re-
gard to the procedure at town elections. In Pennsylvania
it was provided that the voting should be by means of
" tickets in writing." 12 There was nearly always some provision
in regard to the choice by a majority or a plurality of voices,
but a precise meaning does not always attach to these terms.

1 October ist. 2 6 Geo. Ill, Adams ed., 1797, 429.

x 7 Anne, chap. 6, Nevill's Laws. * 14 Geo. Ill, Allinson's Laws, 408.

5 Hall and Sellers ed., 1775, 404, 444, 495.

6 Ibid., 444. 7 Ibid., 495. 8 Adams ed., 1797, 429.

9 12 and 13 Anne, chap. 18, Nevill's Laws, 32.

10 Hall and Sellers ed., 1775, 149. u Ibid., 444. 12 Ibid., 404, 444.



For example, the writer has found one statute in which the
words majority and plurality occur in the same connection,
and are apparently used interchangeably. 1 In Pennsylvania
the persons chosen as supervisors were returned in writing be-
fore March 25th to the office of the clerk of the quarter ses-
sions. Their certificates were under the hands of the super-
visors of the public roads. 2

2. Parish Elections. Wherever the Church of England
was established it would seem proper to have parish elec-
tions takejDlace on Easter Monday. Such was indeed the
rule in Maryland 3 and in both North* and South 5 Carolina.
In New York, however, vestry elections were held on the sec-
ond Tuesday in January, 6 although after 1770 the city vestry
was chosen at the city hall on the feast of St. Michael, which
was also the day appointed for municipal elections. 7 Before
this two vestrymen had been chosen in each ward. In this
province the electors were called together by warrants issued
by the justices of the peace to the various constables. 8

In Virginia no particular date was fixed for parish elec-
tions. The earlier statutes required that warning should be
given, 9 while the law passed by Bacon's assembly com-
manded the wardens to publish an election on two succes-
sive Sundays. 10 In South Carolina notice of vestry elections

1 New Jersey : 4 Geo. II, chap. 4, Nevill's Laws, 200.

2 Hall and Sellers ed., 1775, <\<\<\.

3 1 Anne, chap. I, 8, Bacon's Laws ; Baskett ed., 1723, 13.

4 14 Geo. II, chap. 23, Davis and Swann ed., 1752, 157; 5 Geo. Ill, chap. 2,
Davis ed., 1773, 305.

6 Act 1704, no. 225, 21, 22, 2 Cooper, 242.

6 4 Will, and Mary, Van Schaack's Laws, 19. The date for Richmond County
was afterwards changed to the third Tuesday in March. Van Schaack's Laws' 2^0.

1 10 Geo. Ill, chap. 1492, Van Schaack's Laws., 624.

8 Van Schaack's Laws, 19, 566. 9 1 6 Car. I, Act v, I Hening, 290.

^Bacon's Laws, Act vi, 2 Hening, 356.



was given by public summons. 1 In North Carolina, on
some Sunday at least forty days in advance, the sheriff
posted notices on every church and chapel and also publicly
read the election law at the door of the court house between
the hours of twelve and one on the second day of the court
preceding the election. Such thorough publication was
doubtless necessary because in this province elections took
place but once in three years, and the attendance of all ex-
cept Quakers was required. The only valid excuse for
absence was " bodily infirmity or legal disability," and the
penalty for non-attendance was twenty shillings proclama-
tion money, which could be recovered within ten days by a
warrant from a justice of the peace. 2 In case of "badness
.of weather or any other unavoidable hindrance" and "un-
foreseen accidents" in both the last named provinces, ves-
trymen could be elected on days other than those appointed
by law. In such a contingency a sheriff in North Carolina
appointed a day not less than ten nor more than twenty
days in the future, and personally summoned the freehold-
ers ; while in South Carolina public notice on two Sundays
was sufficient. The old vestrymen held over until their suc-
cessors were elected, and, if the conditions precedent were
strictly complied with, the election though postponed was as
valid as if it had taken place on Easter Monday. 3 In gen-
eral it may be stated that vestry elections took place in the
parish church, or if there was none at some convenient place. 4
A peculiar feature of the Maryland parish meeting was
the preliminary voting in order to determine which of the

1 Act 1704, no. 225, 21, 22, 2 Cooper, 242.

2 5 Geo. Ill, chap. 2, Davis ed., 1773, 305.

3 North Carolina: 5 Geo. Ill, chap. 2, Davis ed., 1773, 305. South Carolina:
Act 1712, no. 307, 6, 2 Cooper, 366.

4 South Carolina: Act 1704, no. 225. 21, 2 Cooper, 242. Maryland: I Anne,
chap, i, 8, Bacon's Laws*



vestrymen in office should be discharged. The law required
that two vestrymen should go out of office each year, but
gave to the parishioners the power of deciding who should
be put out. 1 In South Carolina an election for the choice of
a minister was called by commissioners, and returns were
made to them within two months. If this last step was
omitted the commissioners could declare an election void. 2

The statutes governing parish elections contain the usual
vague provisions in regard to plurality or majority of voices,
one term being used about as often as the other. The
writer thinks that parish officers were chosen by viva voce
vote, though he is aware that in the only two instances where
detailed regulations were given, provision is made for a poll.

At first in New York City vestrymen were chpsen in every
ward/ but after 1770 they were elected at the City Hall at
eleven o'clock on the morning of the festival of St. Michael
the Archangel. The Mayor, Deputy and Recorder presided,
and if no poll were demanded it became their duty at the ex-
piration of two hours, to declare who was elected. If a poll
were required they appointed and swore in a clerk, who was
to take it down in writing. If in two days all the votes could
not be recorded, the presiding officer had authority' to ad-
journ the poll. The election could not be closed so long as
there were any voters awaiting to be polled or until proclam-
ation had been made and an interval of fifteen minutes had
elapsed. 4

In North Carolina the course of procedure was similar. At
ten o'clock on the morning of the election, which was held
" at the usual place," the sheriff or his deputy made procla-
mation and began to take the poll. The name of each elec-

1 I Anne, chap, i, 8, Bacon's Laws,

2 Act 1712, no. 307, 2 Cooper, 366. s Van Schaack's Laws, 267.

4 II Geo. Ill, chap. 1492, 12, Van Schaack's Laws, 624. See also ibid., 566.



tor was entered in a book, but in all cases the full number of
twelve vestrymen must be voted for. All votes were given
openly, and at sunset the sheriff cast up the votes and an-
nounced the election of the twelve candidates having the
highest number of suffrages. In case of a tie the sheriff was
given a casting vote. For illegal voting there was a fine of
.5, half of which went to the informer and half to the poor.
In such cases the onus probandi was placed on the defend-
ant. 1

There were few provisions in regard to parish elections in
Connecticut, and these disclose no vital differences from the
methods followed in town meetings. The settled inhabitants
of parishes met annually in the month of December for the
purpose of choosing a new clerk and committee. Five days'
notice of such meetings were given by the persons in office. 2
After new societies had been drawn off, organization was
effected at a meeting called by a warrant issued by an assist-
ant and a justice on the demand of three inhabitants. 8
Town and society elections do not seem to have been very
peacefully managed in this colony, for a law was passed im-
posing a fine of five shillings upon all persons participating
in disturbances at such meetings. 4

3. Municipal Elections. We have seen that the free-
holders and freemen of New York were authorized by the
Dongan and Montgomery charters to elect certain officers on
the feast of St. Michael the Archangel. The earlier instru-
ment prescribed a majority of votes as necessary to consti-
tute an election, while the second declared a, plurality suffic-
ient. Each ward was constituted an election district, and no

J 5 Geo. Ill, chap. 2, Davis ed., 1773, 305.

2 6 Connecticut Colonial Records, 33; 4 Geo. I, Session Laws, 231.

3 7 Connecticut Colonial Records, 74; 13 Geo. I, Session Laws, 335.
4 2*Geo. II, chap. 41, Session Laws, 366.



further provision was made beyond empowering the aldermen
of each ward to appoint -the place of election. In conse-
quence many abuses arose, but it was not until 1771 that
a statute was enacted explaining the manner in which New
York City officers were to be chosen. 1

By virtue of this law, the Mayor, Aldermen and Common-
alty were authorized to appoint returning officers and fix the
places of election eight days in advance. The returning
officer was always a resident of the ward in which he acted,
and clerks were also appointed to 'take the poll, at a com-
pensation of twenty shillings, lawful money of New York.
Every elector was required to declare publicly whether he
voted by virtue of his freedom or of his freehold. For re-
fusal to so declare, his vote was null and void. Persons hav-
ing freeholds fronting on the East side of Broadway could
vote only in the West ward. 2

In the Dongan charter of Albany the provisions in regard
to the manner of conducting elections were as vague as those
in the New York charter.* From the evidence submitted at
the trial of a contested election case in 1773, we are able to
gather some information bearing on this subject. The day
of election, as fixed by charter, was the festival of St. Michael
the Archangel, and the aldermen appear to have taken the
poll on the stoops of their several residences. The elections
began at nine o'clock in the morning, and the polls were
open until between four and five o'clock in the afternoon.
One of the electors testified that on going to the stoop where
he had heard that the poll for his ward was being taken, he

1 Both charters were published in the Manual of the Common Council, 1868.

2 1 1 Geo. ill, chap. 1492, 3, 6, 9, Van Schaack's Laws, 620. Some of the
provisions of this act were probably taken from the English statute of 1 1 Geo. I,
chap. 1 8, which regulated the elections of aldermen and other municipal officers
within the city of London.

3 Weise, History of Albany, 200.



found it closed. He complained that he received no notice
of the time of closing, but as it appeared that he did not
offer to vote until after five o'clock, and had failed to call on
the magistrate afterwards, the common council held that he
had forfeited his vote, because the poll had-not in fact been
closed until after four o'clock, and then only because no
more electors had offered to vote.

The testimony of several of the witnesses shows that
bribery prevailed to an alarming extent at this election.
From five to ten pounds appears to have been the usual
price for a vote. In two cases it appears that forty pounds
were paid, and it was proved that one of the persons v^ho
had sold themselves at this price told a bystander that he
was going to buy cattle with his money, and that " he would
be d d if he would vote before he had -been paid." 1

The nearest approach to a municipal election in Philadel-
phia is found after 1771. In that year the freeholders of the
city were first permitted to vote for two wardens, at the same
time that they elected burgesses for the assembly. The
names of the candidates were ordered to be written on a
separate piece of paper, and delivered to the tellers. The
persons elected were returned by certificate " to the Mayor, '
Recorder and Aldermen at their general sessions of the
peace," and entry was made in the minute book by the clerk

of the court. 2


The laws contain no specific provisions concerning the
manner of holding elections in the Pennsylvania boroughs.
The day on which officers must be chosen was usually fixed
by the terms of the charter. In Chester the burgesses and
the high constable were elected by ballot. 3 In Lancaster the

1 I Collections on the History of Albany, 250, et seq.
2 II Geo. Ill, chap. 19, 2, Hall and Sellers ed., 1775, 417.
3 Miller ed., 1762, 14. All the Pennsylvania city and borough charters are also
given in full by Hall and Sellers.



names of the persons chosen as borough officers were certi-
fied under seal to the governor within ten days after the
election. 1 In the election of a supervisor and assessor Lan-
caster was treated precisely like an ordinary town, except
that the voting took place at the court house between the
hours of ten and four. Returns were made by one of the

1 Miller ed., 1762, 15.

* 13 Geo. Ill, chap. 2. 7, 8, Hall and Sellers ed., 1775, 495.




In the following pages are collected a number of the writs
and returns which were in use at various times in the Ameri-
can colonies. Some of the forms were prescribed by statute,
and the writer has added copies of the writs used in calling
the first elections in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland,
as well as the instrument used by Governor Dongan of New
York, in summoning his second assembly. In Massachusetts
Bay a statute prescribed the form of the precepts which were
addressed by the sheriffs to .the selectmen of the several
towns and of the returns made by the latter. The early
returns in Maryland are crude examples of a return by in-

In regard to oaths, it should be noted that a statute did
not in all cases lay down the precise form to be followed.
In the case of an election officer, as a rule, it was simply
enacted that he should swear to do certain things in a proper
manner. On the other hand, the oaths to be taken by
electors were usually given in full, and it is these that form
the second portion of this appendix. The oath of a free-
man in a New England colony was taken at the time of his
admission, and it was therefore in one sense an elector's oath,
because the suffrage was limited to freemen. In other cases
the oaths were usually administered upon demand of the
candidates or- upon challenge. The occasions on which an

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Online LibraryCortlandt F. (Cortlandt Field) BishopHistory of elections in the American colonies → online text (page 19 of 24)