Native Americans

“Move On,” Harper’s Weekly, April 22, 1871

“Move On,” Harper’s Weekly, April 22, 1871

Thomas Nast’s cartoon pointed out the hypocrisy of enfranchising naturalized immigrants and not the country’s original inhabitants. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, most Native Americans were classified as members of sovereign nations or dependents under guardianship of the U.S. government. Neither were citizens and neither could vote. Even those who were U.S. citizens could not vote in all states.

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 made all Native Americans citizens but many states still found ways to keep them from voting.

Elect an Indian

Bumper sticker, around 1983

Some Native Americans preferred their traditional cultures and tribal governments and had no interest in U.S. citizenship or ballots. Others desired to combine citizenship with tribal culture. In the 1960s and 1970s Indian empowerment movements began to encourage Native Americans to use voting as a way to help improve conditions and keep tribal autonomy.

Chickasaw woman suffrage handbill, 1910

Chickasaw woman suffrage handbill, 1910

Though part of a matrilineal tribal society, Chickasaw women could not vote in Oklahoma. This handbill encouraged Chickasaw women and men to support woman suffrage.

Courtesy of Dibner Library, Smithsonian Institution