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.
Page 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
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United
States, in its first section, thus ordains: [Footnote 1
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 Missouri [Footnote 2
] thus ordains:
"Every male citizen of the United States shall be entitled to
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
Page 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 willfully refusing to place her name upon the list of
registered voters, by which refusal she was deprived of her right
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.
Page 88 U. S. 165
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
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
Page 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
connection reciprocal obligations. The one is a compensation for
the other; allegiance for protection and protection for
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
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," [Footnote 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, [Footnote
] 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
Page 88 U. S. 167
friendship with each other for their common defense, 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 pretense whatever.
Whoever, then, was one of the people of either of these states
when the Constitution of the United States was adopted became
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 citizenship of the United
States in two ways: first, by birth, and second, by naturalization.
This is apparent from the Constitution itself, for it provides
"No person except a natural-born citizen or a citizen of the
United States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution shall
be eligible to the office of President, [Footnote 7
and that Congress shall have power "to establish a uniform rule
of naturalization." Thus, new citizens may be born or they may be
created by naturalization.
The Constitution does not in words say who shall be natural-born
citizens. Resort must be had elsewhere to ascertain that. At common
law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution
were familiar, it was never doubted that all children born in a
country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon
their birth, citizens also. These were natives or natural-born
citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners. Some
authorities go further and include as citizens children born within
the jurisdiction without reference to the citizenship of their
Page 88 U. S. 168
parents. As to this class there have been doubts, but never as
to the first. For the purposes of this case, it is not necessary to
solve these doubts. It is sufficient for everything we have now to
consider that all children born of citizen parents within the
jurisdiction are themselves citizens. The words "all children" are
certainly as comprehensive, when used in this connection, as "all
persons," and if females are included in the last, they must be in
the first. That they are included in the last is not denied. In
fact, the whole argument of the plaintiffs proceeds upon that
Under the power to adopt a uniform system of naturalization,
Congress, as early as 1790, provided "that any alien, being a free
white person," might be admitted as a citizen of the United States,
and that the children of such persons so naturalized, dwelling
within the United States, being under twenty-one years of age at
the time of such naturalization, should also be considered citizens
of the United States, and that the children of citizens of the
United States that might be born beyond the sea, or out of the
limits of the United States, should be considered as natural-born
citizens. [Footnote 8
provisions thus enacted have in substance been retained in all the
naturalization laws adopted since. In 1855, however, the last
provision was somewhat extended, and all persons theretofore born
or thereafter to be born out of the limits of the jurisdiction of
the United States, whose fathers were or should be at the time of
their birth citizens of the United States were declared to be
citizens also. [Footnote 9
As early as 1804 it was enacted by Congress that when any alien
who had declared his intention to become a citizen in the manner
provided by law died before he was actually naturalized, his widow
and children should be considered as citizens of the United States
and entitled to all rights and privileges as such upon taking the
necessary oath; [Footnote
] and in 1855 it was further provided that any woman who
might lawfully be naturalized under the existing laws, married,
Page 88 U. S. 169
who should be married to a citizen of the United States should
be deemed and taken to be a citizen. [Footnote 11
From this it is apparent that from the commencement of the
legislation upon this subject, alien women and alien minors could
be made citizens by naturalization, and we think it will not be
contended that this would have been done if it had not been
supposed that native women and native minors were already citizens
But if more is necessary to show that women have always been
considered as citizens the same as men, abundant proof is to be
found in the legislative and judicial history of the country. Thus,
by the Constitution, the judicial power of the United States is
made to extend to controversies between citizens of different
states. Under this, it has been uniformly held that the citizenship
necessary to give the courts of the United States jurisdiction of a
cause must be affirmatively shown on the record. Its existence as a
fact may be put in issue and tried. If found not to exist, the case
must be dismissed. Notwithstanding this, the records of the courts
are full of cases in which the jurisdiction depends upon the
citizenship of women, and not one can be found, we think, in which
objection was made on that account. Certainly none can be found in
which it has been held that women could not sue or be sued in the
courts of the United States. Again, at the time of the adoption of
the Constitution, in many of the states (and in some probably now)
aliens could not inherit or transmit inheritance. There are a
multitude of cases to be found in which the question has been
presented whether a woman was or was not an alien, and as such
capable or incapable of inheritance, but in no one has it been
insisted that she was not a citizen because she was a woman. On the
contrary, her right to citizenship has been in all cases assumed.
The only question has been whether, in the particular case under
consideration, she had availed herself of the right.
In the legislative department of the government, similar
Page 88 U. S. 170
proof will be found. Thus, in the preemption laws, [Footnote 12
] a widow, "being a
citizen of the United States," is allowed to make settlement on the
public lands and purchase upon the terms specified, and women,
"being citizens of the United States," are permitted to avail
themselves of the benefit of the homestead law. [Footnote 13
Other proof of like character might be found, but certainly more
cannot be necessary to establish the fact that sex has never been
made one of the elements of citizenship in the United States. In
this respect, men have never had an advantage over women. The same
laws precisely apply to both. The Fourteenth Amendment did not
affect the citizenship of women any more than it did of men. In
this particular, therefore, the rights of Mrs. Minor do not depend
upon the amendment. She has always been a citizen from her birth
and entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizenship.
The amendment prohibited the state, of which she is a citizen, from
abridging any of her privileges and immunities as a citizen of the
United States, but it did not confer citizenship on her. That she
had before its adoption.
If the right of suffrage is one of the necessary privileges of a
citizen of the United States, then the Constitution and laws of
Missouri confining it to men are in violation of the Constitution
of the United States, as amended, and consequently void. The direct
question is therefore presented whether all citizens are
The Constitution does not define the privileges and immunities
of citizens. For that definition we must look elsewhere. In this
case, we need not determine what they are, but only whether
suffrage is necessarily one of them.
It certainly is nowhere made so in express terms. The United
States has no voters in the states of its own creation. The
elective officers of the United States are all elected directly or
indirectly by state voters. The members of the House of
Representatives are to be chosen by the people of
Page 88 U. S. 171
the states, and the electors in each state must have the
qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch
of the state legislature. [Footnote 14
] Senators are to be chosen by the
legislatures of the states, and necessarily the members of the
legislature required to make the choice are elected by the voters
of the state. [Footnote 15
Each state must appoint in such manner, as the legislature thereof
may direct, the electors to elect the President and Vice-President.
] The times,
places, and manner of holding elections for Senators and
Representatives are to be prescribed in each state by the
legislature thereof, but Congress may at any time, by law, make or
alter such regulations, except as to the place of choosing
Senators. [Footnote 17
is not necessary to inquire whether this power of supervision thus
given to Congress is sufficient to authorize any interference with
the state laws prescribing the qualifications of voters, for no
such interference has ever been attempted. The power of the state
in this particular is certainly supreme until Congress acts.
The amendment did not add to the privileges and immunities of a
citizen. It simply furnished an additional guaranty for the
protection of such as he already had. No new voters were
necessarily made by it. Indirectly it may have had that effect
because it may have increased the number of citizens entitled to
suffrage under the constitution and laws of the states, but it
operates for this purpose, if at all, through the states and the
state laws, and not directly upon the citizen.
It is clear, therefore, we think, that the Constitution has not
added the right of suffrage to the privileges and immunities of
citizenship as they existed at the time it was adopted. This makes
it proper to inquire whether suffrage was coextensive with the
citizenship of the states at the time of its adoption. If it was,
then it may with force be argued that suffrage was one of the
rights which belonged to citizenship, and in the enjoyment of which
every citizen must be protected.
Page 88 U. S. 172
But if it was not, the contrary may with propriety be
When the federal Constitution was adopted, all the states with
the exception of Rhode Island and Connecticut had constitutions of
their own. These two continued to act under their charters from the
Crown. Upon an examination of those constitutions, we find that in
no state were all citizens permitted to vote. Each state determined
for itself who should have that power. Thus, in New Hampshire,
"Every male inhabitant of each town and parish with town
privileges and places unincorporated in the state of twenty-one
years of age and upwards, excepting paupers and persons excused
from paying taxes at their own request,"
were its voters; in Massachusetts,
"every male inhabitant of twenty-one years of age and upwards
having a freehold estate within the commonwealth of the annual
income of three pounds or any estate of the value of sixty
in Rhode Island, "such as are admitted free of the company and
society" of the colony; in Connecticut, such persons as had
"maturity in years, quiet and peaceable behavior, a civil
conversation, and forty shillings freehold or forty pounds personal
estate," if so certified by the selectmen; in New York,
"every male inhabitant of full age who shall have personally
resided within one of the counties of the state for six months
immediately preceding the day of election . . . if during the time
aforesaid he shall have been a freeholder, possessing a freehold of
the value of twenty pounds within the county, or have rented a
tenement therein of the yearly value of forty shillings, and been
rated and actually paid taxes to the state;"
in New Jersey,
"all inhabitants . . . of full age who are worth fifty pounds,
proclamation money, clear estate in the same, and have resided in
the county in which they claim a vote for twelve months immediately
preceding the election;"
"every freeman of the age of twenty-one years, having resided in
the state two years next before the election, and within that time
paid a state or county tax which shall have been assessed at least
six months before the election;"
Page 88 U. S. 173
Delaware and Virginia, "as exercised by law at present;" in
"all freemen above twenty-one years of age having a freehold of
fifty acres of land in the county in which they offer to vote and
residing therein, and all freemen having property in the state
above the value of thirty pounds current money, and having resided
in the county in which they offer to vote one whole year next
preceding the election;"
in North Carolina, for senators,
"all freemen of the age of twenty-one years who have been
inhabitants of anyone county within the state twelve months
immediately preceding the day of election and possessed of a
freehold within the same county of fifty acres of land for six
months next before and at the day of election,"
and for members of the house of commons,
"all freemen of the age of twenty-one years who have been
inhabitants in any one county within the state twelve months
immediately preceding the day of any election, and shall have paid
in South Carolina,
"every free white man of the age of twenty-one years, being a
citizen of the state and having resided therein two years previous
to the day of election, and who hath a freehold of fifty acres of
land, or a town lot of which he hath been legally seized and
possessed at least six months before such election, or (not having
such freehold or town lot) hath been a resident within the election
district in which he offers to give his vote six months before said
election, and hath paid a tax the preceding year of three shillings
sterling towards the support of the government,"
and in Georgia such
"citizens and inhabitants of the state as shall have attained to
the age of twenty-one years and shall have paid tax for the year
next preceding the election, and shall have resided six months
within the county."
In this condition of the law in respect to suffrage in the
several states, it cannot for a moment be doubted that if it had
been intended to make all citizens of the United States voters, the
framers of the Constitution would not have left it to implication.
So important a change in the condition of citizenship as it
actually existed, if intended, would have been expressly
Page 88 U. S. 174
But if further proof is necessary to show that no such change
was intended, it can easily be found both in and out of the
Constitution. By Article IV, Section 2, it is provided that "The
citizens of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges and
immunities of citizens in the several states." If suffrage is
necessarily a part of citizenship, then the citizens of each state
must be entitled to vote in the several states precisely as their
citizens are. This is more than asserting that they may change
their residence and become citizens of the state and thus be
voters. It goes to the extent of insisting that, while retaining
their original citizenship, they may vote in any state. This, we
think, has never been claimed. And again, by the very terms of the
amendment we have been considering (the fourteenth),
"Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states
according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of
persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the
right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for
President and Vice-President of the United States, representatives
in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the
members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male
inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age and
citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for
participation in the rebellion, or other crimes, the basis of
representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the
number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male
citizens twenty-one years of age in such state."
Why this if it was not in the power of the legislature to deny
the right of suffrage to some male inhabitants? And if suffrage was
necessarily one of the absolute rights of citizenship, why confine
the operation of the limitation to male inhabitants? Women and
children are, as we have seen, "persons." They are counted in the
enumeration upon which the apportionment is to be made, but if they
were necessarily voters because of their citizenship unless clearly
excluded, why inflict the penalty for the exclusion of males alone?
Clearly no such form of words would have been
Page 88 U. S. 175
selected to express the idea here indicated if suffrage was the
absolute right of all citizens.
And still again, after the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment,
it was deemed necessary to adopt a fifteenth, as follows:
"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be
denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account
of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
The Fourteenth Amendment had already provided that no state
should make or enforce any law which should abridge the privileges
or immunities of citizens of the United States. If suffrage was one
of these privileges or immunities, why amend the Constitution to
prevent its being denied on account of race &c.? Nothing is
more evident than that the greater must include the less, and if
all were already protected, why go through with the form of
amending the Constitution to protect a part?
It is true that the United States guarantees to every state a
republican form of government. [Footnote 18
] It is also true that no state can pass a
bill of attainder, [Footnote
] and that no person can be deprived of life, liberty, or
property without due process of law. [Footnote 20
] All these several provisions of the
Constitution must be construed in connection with the other parts
of the instrument and in the light of the surrounding
The guaranty is of a republican form of government. No
particular government is designated as republican; neither is the
exact form to be guaranteed in any manner especially designated.
Here, as in other parts of the instrument, we are compelled to
resort elsewhere to ascertain what was intended.
The guaranty necessarily implies a duty on the part of the
states themselves to provide such a government. All the states had
governments when the Constitution was adopted. In all, the people
participated to some extent, through their representatives elected
in the manner specially provided.
Page 88 U. S. 176
These governments the Constitution did not change. They were
accepted precisely as they were, and it is therefore to be presumed
that they were such as it was the duty of the states to provide.
Thus we have unmistakable evidence of what was republican in form,
within the meaning of that term as employed in the Constitution. As
has been seen, all the citizens of the states were not invested
with the right of suffrage. In all save perhaps New Jersey, this
right was only bestowed upon men, and not upon all of them. Under
these circumstances, it is certainly now too late to contend that a
government is not republican, within the meaning of this guaranty
in the Constitution, because women are not made voters.
The same may be said of the other provisions just quoted. Women
were excluded from suffrage in nearly all the states by the express
provision of their constitutions and laws. If that had been
equivalent to a bill of attainder, certainly its abrogation would
not have been left to implication. Nothing less than express
language would have been employed to effect so radical a change. So
also of the amendment which declares that no person shall be
deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law,
adopted as it was as early as 1791. If suffrage was intended to be
included within its obligations, language better adapted to express
that intent would most certainly have been employed. The right of
suffrage, when granted, will be protected. He who has it can only
be deprived of it by due process of law, but in order to claim
protection, he must first show that he has the right.
But we have already sufficiently considered the proof found upon
the inside of the Constitution. That upon the outside is equally
The Constitution was submitted to the states for adoption in
1787, and was ratified by nine states in 1788, and finally by the
thirteen original states in 1790. Vermont was the first new state
admitted to the Union, and it came in under a constitution which
conferred the right of suffrage only upon men of the full age of
twenty-one years, having resided
Page 88 U. S. 177
in the state for the space of one whole year next before the
election, and who were of quiet and peaceable behavior. This was in
1791. The next year, 1792, Kentucky followed with a constitution
confining the right of suffrage to free male citizens of the age of
twenty-one years who had resided in the state two years or in the
county in which they offered to vote one year next before the
election. Then followed Tennessee, in 1796, with voters of freemen
of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, possessing a freehold
in the county wherein they may vote, and being inhabitants of the
state or freemen being inhabitants of anyone county in the state
six months immediately preceding the day of election. But we need
not particularize further. No new state has ever been admitted to
the Union which has conferred the right of suffrage upon women, and
this has never been considered a valid objection to her admission.
On the contrary, as is claimed in the argument, the right of
suffrage was withdrawn from women as early as 1807 in the State of
New Jersey without any attempt to obtain the interference of the
United States to prevent it. Since then, the governments of the
insurgent states have been reorganized under a requirement that
before their representatives could be admitted to seats in
Congress, they must have adopted new constitutions, republican in
form. In no one of these constitutions was suffrage conferred upon
women, and yet the states have all been restored to their original
position as states in the Union.
Besides this, citizenship has not in all cases been made a
condition precedent to the enjoyment of the right of suffrage.
Thus, in Missouri, persons of foreign birth, who have declared
their intention to become citizens of the United States, may under
certain circumstances vote. The same provision is to be found in
the Constitutions of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana,
Kansas, Minnesota, and Texas.
Certainly if the courts can consider any question settled, this
is one. For nearly ninety years, the people have acted upon the
idea that the Constitution, when it conferred citizenship, did not
necessarily confer the right of suffrage. If
Page 88 U. S. 178
uniform practice long continued can settle the construction of
so important an instrument as the Constitution of the United States
confessedly is, most certainly it has been done here. Our province
is to decide what the law is, not to declare what it should be.
We have given this case the careful consideration its importance
demands. If the law is wrong, it ought to be changed; but the power
for that is not with us. The arguments addressed to us bearing upon
such a view of the subject may perhaps be sufficient to induce
those having the power to make the alteration, but they ought not
to be permitted to influence our judgment in determining the
present rights of the parties now litigating before us. No argument
as to woman's need of suffrage can be considered. We can only act
upon her rights as they exist. It is not for us to look at the
hardship of withholding. Our duty is at an end if we find it is
within the power of a state to withhold.
Being unanimously of the opinion that the Constitution of the
United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon anyone,
and that the constitutions and laws of the several states which
commit that important trust to men alone are not necessarily void,
Affirm the judgment.
other sections, infra,
p. 88 U. S.
Article 2, § 18.
Preamble, 1 Stat. at Large 10.
Declaration of Independence, ib.
Articles of Confederation, § 3, 1 Stat. at Large 4.
Article 2, § 1.
Article I, § 8.
1 Stat. at Large 103.
10 Stat. at Large 604.
5 Stat. at Large 455, § 10.
Constitution, Article I, § 2.
Article I, § 3.
Article II, § 2.
Article I, § 4.
Constitution, Article IV, § 4.
Article I, § 10.