Minor v. Happersett

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation22 L.Ed. 627,21 Wall. 162,88 U.S. 162
PartiesMINOR v. HAPPERSETT
Decision Date01 October 1874

88 U.S. 162
22 L.Ed. 627
21 Wall. 162

MINOR

v.

HAPPERSETT.

October Term, 1874

ERROR to the Supreme Court of Missouri; the case being thus: The fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, in its first section, thus ordains:1

1. The word ‘citizen’ is often used to convey the idea of membership in a nation.

2. In that sense, women, if born of citizen parents within the jurisdiction of the United States, have always been considered citizens of the United States, as much so before the adoption of the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution as since.

3. The right of suffrage was not necessarily one of the privileges or immunities of citizenship before the adoption of the fourteenth amendment, and that amendment does not add to these privileges and immunities. It simply furnishes additional guaranty for the protection of such as the citizen already had.

4. At the time of the adoption of that amendment, suffrage was not coextensive with the citizenship of the States; nor was it at the time of the adoption of the Constitution.

88 U.S. 163

5. Neither the Constitution nor the fourteenth amendment made all citizens voters.

6. A provision in a State constitution which confines the right of voting to ‘male citizens of the United States,’ is no violation of the Federal Constitution. In such a State women have no right to vote.

‘All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States, and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction, the equal protection of the laws.’

And the constitution of the State of Missouri2 thus ordains:

‘Every male citizen of the United States shall be entitled to vote.

Under a statute of the State all persons wishing to vote at any election, must previously have been registered in the manner pointed out by the statute, this being a condition precedent to the exercise of the elective franchise.

In this state of things, on the 15th of October, 1872 (one of the days fixed by law for the registration of voters), Mrs. Virginia Minor, a native born, free, white citizen of the United States, and of the State of Missouri, over the age of twenty-one years, wishing to vote for electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, and for a representative in Congress, and for other officers, at the general election held in November, 1872, applied to one Happersett, the registrar of voters, to register her as a lawful voter, which he refused to do, assigning for cause that she was not

[88 U.S. 164]

a ‘male citizen of the United States,’ but a woman. She thereupon sued him in one of the inferior State courts of Missouri, for wilfully refusing to place her name upon the list of registered voters, by which refusal she was deprived of her right to vote.

The registrar demurred, and the court in which the suit was brought sustained the demurrer, and gave judgment in his favor; a judgment which the Supreme Court affirmed. Mrs. Minor now brought the case here on error.

Mr. Francis Minor (with whom were Messrs. J. M. Krum and J. B. Henderson), for the plaintiff in error, went into an elaborate argument, partially based on what he deemed true political views, and partially resting on legal and constitutional grounds. These last seemed to be thus resolvable:

1st. As a citizen of the United States, the plaintiff was entitled to any and all the ‘privileges and immunities' that belong to such position however defined; and as are held, exercised, and enjoyed by other citizens of the United States.

2d. The elective franchise is a ‘privilege’ of citizenship, in the highest sense of the word. It is the privilege preservative of all rights and privileges; and especially of the right of the citizen to participate in his or her government.

3d. The denial or abridgment of this privilege, if it exist at all, must be sought only in the fundamental charter of government,-the Constitution of the United States. If not found there, no inferior power or jurisdiction can legally claim the right to exercise it.

4th. But the Constitution of the United States, so far from recognizing or permitting any denial or abridgment of the privileges of its citizens, expressly declares that ‘no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.

5th. It follows that the provisions of the Missouri constitution and registry law before recited, are in conflict with and must yield to the paramount authority of the Constitution of the United States.

No opposing counsel.

88 U.S. 165]
[62 L.Ed. 627

The CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the court.

The question is presented in this case, whether, since the adoption of the fourteenth amendment, a woman, who is a citizen of the United States and of the State of Missouri, is a voter in that State, notwithstanding the provision of the constitution and laws of the State, which confine the right of suffrage to men alone. We might, perhaps, decide the case upon other grounds, but this question is fairly made. From the opinion we find that it was the only one decided in the court below, and it is the only one which has been argued here. The case was undoubtedly brought to this court for the sole purpose of having that question decided by us, and in view of the evident propriety there is of having it settled, so far as it can be by such a decision, we have concluded to waive all other considerations and proceed at once to its determination.

It is contended that the provisions of the constitution and laws of the State of Missouri which confine the right of suffrage and registration therefor to men, are in violation of the Constitution of the United States, and therefore void. The argument is, that as a woman, born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, is a citizen of the United States and of the State in which she resides, she has the right of suffrage as one of the privileges and immunities of her citizenship, which the State cannot by its laws or constitution abridge.

There is no doubt that women may be citizens. They are persons, and by the fourteenth amendment ‘all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ are expressly declared to be ‘citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.’ But, in our opinion, it did not need this amendment to give them that position. Before its adoption the Constitution of the United States did not in terms prescribe who should be citizens of the United States or of the several States, yet there were necessarily such citizens without such provision. There cannot be a nation without a people. The very idea of a political community, such as a nation is, implies an

[88 U.S. 166]

association of persons for the promotion of their general welfare. Each one of the persons associated becomes a member of the nation formed by the association. He owes it allegiance and is entitled to its protection. Allegiance and protection are, in this

[62 L.Ed. 628]

connection, reciprocal obligations. The one is a compensation for the other; allegiance for protection and protection for allegiance.

For convenience it has been found necessary to give a name to this membership. The object is to designate by a title the person and the relation he bears to the nation. For this purpose the words ‘subject,’ ‘inhabitant,’ and ‘citizen’ have been used, and the choice between them is sometimes made to depend upon the form of the government. Citizen is now more commonly employed, however, and as it has been considered better suited to the description of one living under a republican government, it was adopted by nearly all of the States upon their separation from Great Britain, and was afterwards adopted in the Articles of Confederation and in the Constitution of the United States. When used in this sense it is understood as conveying the idea of membership of a nation, and nothing more.

To determine, then, who were citizens of the United States before the adoption of the amendment it is necessary to ascertain what persons originally associated themselves together to form the nation, and what were afterwards admitted to membership.

Looking at the Constitution itself we find that it was ordained and established by ‘the people of the United States,'3 and then going further back, we find that these were the people of the several States that had before dissolved the political bands which connected them with Great Britain, and assumed a separate and equal station among the powers of the earth, 4 and that had by Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, in which they took the name of ‘the United States of America,’ entered into a firm league of

[88 U.S. 167]

friendship with each other for their common defence, the security of their liberties and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other against all force offered to or attack made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence whatever. 5

Whoever, then, was one of the people of either of these States when the Constitution of the United States was adopted, became ipso facto a citizen-a member of the nation created by its adoption. He was one of the persons associating together to form the nation, and was, consequently, one of its original citizens. As to this there has never been a doubt. Disputes have arisen as to whether or not certain persons or certain classes of persons were part of the people at the time, but never as to their citizenship if they were.

Additions might always be made to the...

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265 practice notes
  • Calvin v. Jefferson Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs, CASE NO. 4:15CV131-MW/CAS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Florida
    • March 19, 2016
    ...in 1788 did not bestow a right to vote on all citizens of the United States. See Minor v. Happersett , 88 U.S. 21 Wall. 162, 170–73, 22 L.Ed. 627 (1874). The individual states were responsible for determining which citizens would be granted the power to vote, and from the outset different s......
  • Evans v. Ga. Reg'l Hosp., No. 15-15234
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • March 10, 2017
    ...declare what it should be.... If the law is wrong, it ought to be changed; but the power for that is not with us." Minor v. Happersett , 88 U.S. 162, 178, 21 Wall. 162, 22 L.Ed. 627 (1874).ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and dissenting in part:A woman should be a "woman." She s......
  • Shaw v. Barr, Civ. A. No. 92-202-CIV-5-BR.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
    • August 7, 1992
    ...e.g., Pope v. Williams, 193 U.S. 621, 632, 24 S.Ct. 573, 575, 48 L.Ed. 817 (1904); Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 162, 172-78, 22 L.Ed. 627 (1875). In any event, if this particular voting right were considered such a "privilege," its protection under this Clause could be no broader......
  • Fitisemanu v. United States, Nos. 20-4017 & 20-4019
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • June 15, 2021
    ..., Dawson's Lessee v. Godfrey , 8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 321, 322–24, 2 L.Ed. 634 (1808) ; Minor v. Happersett , 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 162, 167–68, 22 L.Ed. 627 (1874).The common law viewed everyone born in the sovereign's dominion as subjects of the sovereign. Inglis v. Trs. of Sailor's Snug Harbor ,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
265 cases
  • Calvin v. Jefferson Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs, CASE NO. 4:15CV131-MW/CAS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Florida
    • March 19, 2016
    ...in 1788 did not bestow a right to vote on all citizens of the United States. See Minor v. Happersett , 88 U.S. 21 Wall. 162, 170–73, 22 L.Ed. 627 (1874). The individual states were responsible for determining which citizens would be granted the power to vote, and from the outset different s......
  • Evans v. Ga. Reg'l Hosp., No. 15-15234
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • March 10, 2017
    ...what it should be.... If the law is wrong, it ought to be changed; but the power for that is not with us." Minor v. Happersett , 88 U.S. 162, 178, 21 Wall. 162, 22 L.Ed. 627 (1874).ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and dissenting in part:A woman should be a "woman."......
  • Shaw v. Barr, Civ. A. No. 92-202-CIV-5-BR.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
    • August 7, 1992
    ...e.g., Pope v. Williams, 193 U.S. 621, 632, 24 S.Ct. 573, 575, 48 L.Ed. 817 (1904); Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 162, 172-78, 22 L.Ed. 627 (1875). In any event, if this particular voting right were considered such a "privilege," its protection under this Clause could be ......
  • Fitisemanu v. United States, Nos. 20-4017 & 20-4019
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • June 15, 2021
    ..., Dawson's Lessee v. Godfrey , 8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 321, 322–24, 2 L.Ed. 634 (1808) ; Minor v. Happersett , 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 162, 167–68, 22 L.Ed. 627 (1874).The common law viewed everyone born in the sovereign's dominion as subjects of the sovereign. Inglis v. Trs. of Sailor's Snug Harbor ,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • Judicial Review and Democratic Theory: Guardian Democracy Vs. Representative Democracy
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 40-3, September 1987
    • September 1, 1987
    ...of Section 1 for their argument, but the justices who agreed with them (in dissent) emphasized the Privileges or ImmunitiesClause. 34 21 Wall. 162 (1875). These litigants relied on the Privileges or Immunities 16 Wall. 130 (1873). The Privilege of Immunities Clause was the basis of the clai......
  • The Republican Guaranty Contract
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal Nbr. 109-1, October 2020
    • October 1, 2020
    ...whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants, and at all times accountable to them.”); Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 162, 175 (1874) (“The guaranty necessarily implies a duty on the part of the States themselves to provide such a [republican form of] government.”); see a......
  • The "American Creed" and American Identity: the Limits of Liberal Citizenship in the United States
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 41-2, June 1988
    • June 1, 1988
    ...that man wasnaturally destined to be &dquo;woman’s protector and defender,&dquo; and that she13 Two years later, in Minor v. Happersett, 21 Wall. 162 (1875), Chief Justice Waite sus-tained a state denial of the suffrage to women essentially on the ground that this wasa non-fundamental right......

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