Before 1800 the right to vote was extremely limited to only specific people. In the original thirteen states, New England and the Southern states, voting was only extended to property owning white males or white male taxpayers. This limited group amounted to less than half of the white male population, and none of the free or slave black population or women of any race. This expansion of this right was only stretched out a bit from the original group. Many factors lead to this expansion; however the most forthcoming reasons were the expansion of the country as whole, boundary wise, creating the west (mid-west present day), and the competition for votes from political parties.
The United States expansion was a pressing topic throughout 16th century, resulting from the American Revolution, and other major events that shaped the country. Expansion of the country led to more liberal thinking and a larger population in general. The expansion encouraged the nation’s independence and self-reliance, and strengthened national pride.
Of the new west, nine became states by 1840. These news states where new and forward in their thinking, extending the right to vote to all white males over the age of 21. This was a new and un-heard of expansion. Kentucky was the first state (admitted to the Union in 1792) that extended the right to vote to all white males in the state. Tennessee and Ohio (both entered within 7 years of each other, 1796 & 1803) did not have statewide male suffrage; however, it did have lowered tax payer qualifications, closer than the original states to universal suffrage.
By 1820, most of the original 13 states had fallen into uniform with the others, extending the right to vote to all white men. However, with all things, there are always those who lag behind in progress, in this case it is three states: Rhode Island, Virginia, and Louisiana. These states did not extend their voting until much later, but by 1840 most of the country had followed, and 90% of white males could vote.
The extension of this right was driven by an unexpected force. It was not equality or fairness; it was competition of political groups. Political parties had begun to form after the downfall of the Federalist group, and then following the split of the Republicans. There were several political parties during this time period, each competing for votes. Universal male suffrage was extended mainly to gain votes.
Universal Male Suffrage was also extended because of issues that arose due to the War of 1812. Most white males were expected to sign up to fight in their local militia, despite their age (exception of the free black militia of the north). The fact that all white men could fight for their country, led many to question why they were allowed to fight, but not vote on many important issues, like government officials.
Even with this extension, the voting in the United States was far from universal suffrage. Despite this fact, the expansion of voting qualifications doubled the amount of people eligible to vote. The expansion also changed who the citizens where voting for. It now included votes for governors and the presidential electors. This used direct votes, rather than small groups of state legislators. This expansion shaped the course of the future history, from the next president chosen (Andrew Jackson) to the Women’s Suffrage movements of the 1920s and African American Suffrage.