The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. The U.S. Congress passed the legislation in March and sent it to the states. In less than four months, the requisite number of states had ratified it—the fastest ratification of any amendment to the Constitution.
Though this constitutional victory may seem relatively quick, it wasn't. The idea of lowering the voting age to 18 had been an almost perennial topic in Congress since World War II, nearly 30 years before the 26th Amendment's ratification. Only in the 1960s, with the confluence of the civil rights struggle, American involvement in the Vietnam War, and the coming of age of the baby boom generation, would lowering the voting age finally become a reality.
Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote
In 1942, the U.S. Congress amended the Selective Training and Service Act, lowering the military draft age to 18. With passage of this revision, several members of Congress also proposed lowering the voting age. They argued that if 18-year-old Americans could fight and die for their country, they should also be given the right to vote. Though nothing came of the proposal in Congress, numerous states debated the issue. In 1943, Georgia became the first state to lower the voting age, but no other states followed.
Ford Motor Company employees line up to register for the draft, April 1942. Soon after America declared war in 1941, Congress required all American men 18 to 64 years old to register for the draft—though men 18 and 19 years old were not liable for military service. That changed when Congress lowered the draft age to 18 in 1942. / THF624578
The debate continued after the war, though it was largely unsuccessful. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower advocated for the measure in his State of the Union speech, but little action came from his plea. Kentucky did lower its voting age to 18; Alaska and Hawaii, upon entering the union, established voting ages at 19 and 20, respectively. But again, the movement stalled, and no other states expanded the franchise to those 18 years to 21 years old.
The push to lower the voting age, however, gained momentum in the 1960s. Many in the baby boom generation—those born after the end of World War II and now of draft age—began to protest and voice their opposition to some of the country's social, political, and military policies.
This activism countered the prevailing argument that 18-year-olds were not mature enough to vote. Proponents also noted that America's educational system had more than prepared young Americans to enter the political sphere at 18. More importantly, supporters cited the inequity of many draft-age Americans being sent to fight in Vietnam who were unable to vote. Young Americans latched onto the phrase "Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote"—a popular slogan used during World War II. Songwriters also incorporated these injustices into the lyrics of protest songs.
By the late 1960s, youth and student-led organizations lobbied for an extension of voting rights. These grassroots groups found support from influential politicians, celebrities, veteran groups, and larger national organizations. In late 1968, the "Let Us Vote" (L.U.V.) campaign, headquartered at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, gained national recognition when its leader appeared on The Joey Bishop Show. The group expanded, and by March 1969, L.U.V. claimed to have chapters on 200 college campuses and in 1,500 high schools throughout the country. More recognition followed when the singer-songwriter duo "Tommy" Boyce and Bobby Hart (famed for writing songs for The Monkees) composed the song "L.U.V. (Let Us Vote)" in late 1969. The work became the official song for the L.U.V. campaign.
Voting Rights Act and the 26th Amendment
While America's youth continued to demand the vote, key congressional leaders passed legislation to make it a reality. In the spring of 1970, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came up for reauthorization. Senators Edward Kennedy, Warren Magnuson, and Majority Leader Mike Mansfield added a proposal to the reauthorization bill that would lower the voting age in all elections (local, state, and national). The Senate passed the bill and sent it to the House. There, members of the House faced a quandary. Some representatives believed Congress did not have the authority to lower the voting age but were concerned that by not passing the bill they would endanger the extension of the Voting Rights Act. Fearing to risk the loss of the landmark civil rights legislation, House members passed the bill with scattered dissent. President Richard M. Nixon, who supported lowering the voting age but was also uncomfortable with making the change through congressional decree, nevertheless signed the reauthorization.
It appeared a constitutional amendment was unnecessary. However, a court challenge to the section of the Voting Right Act lowering the voting age (something urged by President Nixon and others) put an amendment back into the mix. In the fall of 1970, Supreme Court justices ruled by a narrow margin that Congress did have the right to lower the voting age, but only for federal elections—Congress could not mandate it for state or local elections. States now faced an administrative nightmare. If state legislatures could not change their constitutions before the 1972 presidential election, they would need two voting lists—one including voters 18 to 21 years old for federal elections, and another excluding those voters for state and local elections. Two voting lists would also have an unwelcome economic impact. State elections officials would need to purchase new or additional voting equipment to deal with this logistical problem. Something needed to be done.
The solution became the 26th Amendment. In March 1971, Congress quickly passed the amendment and sent it to the states. Less than four months later, by July 1, the requisite 38 states had ratified it—the fastest ratification of any amendment to the Constitution. On July 5, 1971, in a White House signing ceremony, the 26th Amendment was certified. An estimated eleven million new voters were added to the rolls, ensuring their voices would be heard when they showed up at the polls.
Lantern slide based on one of Joseph Boggs Beale's drawings. / THF622550
Joseph Boggs Beale produced illustrations used to create slides for magic lantern shows from the 1880s until about 1920. He was both artistic and prolific. During his career, Beale sketched over 2,000 images used in over 250 lantern slide sets. Beale's education and background led him to create illustrations that demonstrated a high level of cinematic quality for screen-projected images at a time before motion pictures. Ironically, it would be motion pictures that would end his career as a lantern slide illustrator.
Beale before Lantern Slides
Joseph Boggs Beale was born in 1841 to a well-connected Philadelphia family. His father was a prominent dentist, his late great-aunt was Betsy Ross (the seamstress whose family claimed she sewed the first United States flag), and his uncle Edmund Beale was a professional panorama showman. Entertainment opportunities abounded in one of the largest cities in the U.S.—and the Beale family took advantage of them. The Beales enjoyed theatrical productions and concerts, watched animal menageries pass by on the street, went to minstrel shows and panorama displays, and, of course, they saw magic lantern shows.
Magic lanterns use optical lenses and a light source to project images from glass slides onto a screen. / THF160397
Beale was an artistic child, and his family encouraged his talent. He attended Philadelphia's Central High School, where his artistic skills flourished. Later, he took classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Upon graduation from Central High School in 1862, the 21-year-old Beale became the school's professor of drawing and writing.
During the Civil War in 1863, as the Southern army invaded the quiet Pennsylvania farmlands west of Philadelphia, Beale joined the 33rd Pennsylvania Volunteers as the regimental artist. After a short stint with the military, he returned to teaching.
In 1865, Beale submitted a drawing of a baseball game to the editors of Harper's Weekly. The editors published it in the November issue. It was the beginning of his professional artistic career. Beale began submitting drawings to other major national periodicals, and soon his illustrations appeared in Frank Leslie's Weekly and Daily Graphic.
"Base-Ball Match" illustration in 1865 Harper's Weekly by J.B. Beale. / THF621986
Beale married Marie Taffard of Philadelphia in 1868. The couple moved to Chicago, Illinois, where Beale worked for Baker and Company, a firm that provided wood engraving to its clients. After his wife died, Beale returned to Philadelphia. There he met Caspar Briggs, owner of C.W. Briggs & Company, one of the country's premier lantern slide firms. Briggs originally hired Beale on a freelance basis. It was the beginning of a nearly 40-year career creating lantern slide illustrations.
Caspar Briggs's father, Daniel, started a lantern slide business in Massachusetts in the 1850s and transferred the company to his son in 1868. Caspar moved the company to Philadelphia in 1872—the city was rapidly becoming a hub for lantern slide production. Two years after the move, Briggs bought out Langenheim Brothers, a company noted for developing the process for photographic lantern slides.
One of the drawings created by Beale for a set of slides illustrating the hymn "Tell Me the Old, Old Story." / THF124495
Instead of using photographic images for his slides, Briggs decided to photograph illustrated works—wash drawings or paintings—made by his company’s artists to create lantern slides. Photographed onto glass, then usually hand-colored, these images recounted well-known stories and poems, chronicled history, and illustrated songs. Briggs's vision built an impressive body of work, making his company one of the leading producers of lantern slides in the country. Presentations using slides purchased from Briggs's company thrilled audiences and inspired political, religious, and fraternal organizations throughout America. The artistic and creative works of Joseph Beale would be central to Briggs's production of lantern slides.
Beale as a Lantern Slide Artist
Briggs first hired Beale on a freelance basis around 1880, one of several artists that Briggs employed. But Beale's artistic hand outshone the other illustrators at Briggs's company—or any other lantern slide company. Beale understood the storytelling power his illustrations could convey when projected onto a screen in a darkened room or theater.
A pivotal moment depicted by Beale from one of his illustrations for the "Life of Benjamin Franklin" series. / THF289382
Drawing on his childhood experiences, education, and early work, Beale created lantern slides that have been described as cinematic. He brought an artistic and dramatic continuity to the story and song sets he created. His detailed illustrations depicted defining moments of a story—moments that had to be conveyed in one slide, rather than in multiple moving images. And while his works are detailed, they are not distracting—organized images focus the viewer's gaze on important action. His illustrations are highlighted and shaded to provide a tonal range that, when transferred to glass and hand-painted by Briggs's colorists, imparted a quality rarely produced by other lantern slide artists. Beale knew how to tell a story using projected images and is considered one of the first great screen artists.
Portrait of Joseph Boggs Beale late in life. / THF289386
Magic lantern slide shows were in decline by 1900. The invention of motion pictures in the 1890s slowly began to displace lantern slide entertainment. Beale continued to work for Briggs but was laid off in 1909. He freelanced for Briggs until about 1920. By then, motion pictures dominated the screen entertainment industry. Beale died in 1926 and his illustrations were dispersed. Many found a home in museums and educational institutions across the United States, including The Henry Ford.
You can view original illustrations by Beale, and lantern slides based on his drawings, in The Henry Ford's Digital Collections.
Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States / THF118582
March 4, 1861: Inauguration Day. Abraham Lincoln, the President-elect, takes the oath of office to become the 16th President of the United States. It was an uncertain time. The country was torn over the issue of slavery. For years, a tenuous arrangement had been maintained between free and slaveholding states, but now many Americans—on both sides—seemed unwilling to compromise. The Democratic Party had fractured over the issue. Two Democrats and a former Whig, each with differing views, vied to become president in 1860. This left the Republican Party, which wanted to limit slavery, with an opportunity for an electoral victory.
Lincoln, the Republican Party candidate, was elected by a minority of eligible voters, winning mainly Northern and Western states—enough for an electoral majority—but receiving little or no support from the slaveholding South. Since Lincoln's election in November 1860, seven Southern states had seceded from the Union, and many Americans feared the other eight slave states would follow. Americans anxiously waited to hear from their new president.
In his inaugural address, Lincoln tried to allay the fears and apprehensions of those who perceived him as a radical and those who sought to break the bonds of the Union. More immediately, his address responded to the crisis at hand. Lincoln, a practiced circuit lawyer, laid out his case to dismantle the theory of secession. He believed that the Constitution provided clear options to change government through scheduled elections and amendments. Lincoln considered the more violent option of revolution as a right held by the people, but only if other means of change did not exist. Secession, Lincoln argued, was not a possibility granted by the founders of the nation or the Constitution. Logically, it would only lead to ever-smaller seceding groups. And governing sovereignty devolved from the Union—not the states, as secessionists argued. Finally, if the Constitution was a compact between sovereign states, then all parties would have to agree to unmake it. Clearly, President Lincoln did not.
Lincoln did not want conflict. His administration had yet to govern, and even so, he believed that as president he would have "little power for mischief," as he would be constrained by the checks and balances framed in the Constitution. Lincoln implored all his countrymen to stop and think before taking rash steps. But if conflict came, he would be bound by his presidential oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” the government.
Lincoln concluded his case with the most famous passages in the speech—a call to remember the bonds that unify the country, and his vision of hope:
"I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
Lincoln's appeal, however, avoided the cause of the onrushing war—slavery. Failing to take this divisive issue head-on only added to its polarizing effect. Many Americans in the North found Lincoln's speech too conciliatory. Southerners thought it threatened war. And the nation had little time to stop and think. Immediately after his inauguration, Lincoln had to decide whether to resupply Fort Sumter, the U.S. military post in Charleston harbor, the heart of secession. In April, the "bonds of affection" broke.
Lincoln had hoped that time and thoughtful deliberation would resolve this issue—and in a way it did. The tragedies of war empowered Lincoln to reconsider his views. His views on slavery and freedom evolved. No longer bound, Lincoln moved toward emancipation, toward freeing enslaved Americans, and toward his "better angels."
Engraving, "The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet" / THF6763
To read Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, click here.
Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
The Henry Ford reached a digitization milestone recently, adding the 100,000th artifact to its Digital Collections website. The digitization team at The Henry Ford began a little over ten years ago to update and add to this site. Early on, we developed data standards that guided our progress. Certain required information -- a title, an object name, dimensions, creator, and searchable keywords, to name a few -- accompanies each object record. And every object that goes online must have an image that meets our standards.
This graphic shows the various tasks in The Henry Ford's digitization workflow, and where writing a summary fits in.
But have you noticed that many of The Henry Ford’s online collections records have a small label-like paragraph -- something called "Summary"? As staff at The Henry Ford looked at other institutions' collections webpages, we noticed many contained standard descriptive information, but few explained the importance of the object. Some collections webpages added a detailed (sometimes dry) physical description, or maybe text from an old exhibit label, or sometimes long academic articles. The digital collections staff at The Henry Ford wanted something more reader-friendly, something informative, and perhaps even enjoyable. After a series of discussions, we decided that a short 60-word paragraph -- a Summary -- was the solution. A Summary would answer the question, “So what?” -- why is this object important for The Henry Ford to collect and preserve? -- and hopefully spur viewers to explore our digital collections more deeply.
A Summary is one of the first things you see when you go to a Digital Collections record page. This GIF shows the Summary for Mustang serial number one, along with much other information about the car.
When staff originally conceived of the idea, a Summary was viewed as a vital part of the online data, but not a requirement. Finding the right words for some object Summaries takes time, and the 60-word limit is constricting -- though we do allow a few more words when needed. An object usually can tell multiple “So what?” stories, and curators -- the primary authors of a Summary -- would like to share them all. What one “So what?” story would you choose to tell if you were writing a Summary about the rocking chair used by President Lincoln on the night of his assassination, a Ford Model T, or the home (or cycle shop) of Orville and Wilbur Wright?
Even seemingly mundane objects offer interesting insights. Curators thoroughly research these objects then carefully choose words that will convey a coherent idea--while at the same time working within the prescribed word limits. Our research into an object's history and use provides viewers with a deeper understanding of our online collections.
What could be more mundane than a wattmeter -- a device used to measure electricity usage? Learn more about how electric companies found ways to measure electricity usage and charge customers appropriately in the Summary for this c.1907 Type C Wattmeter. / THF168572
The man in this carte-de-visite was originally identified as an acrobat in our collection records. But while researching the image to write the Summary, the curator discovered that this "acrobat" was Henry Brown, a well-known long-distance walker. / THF210533
Though a Summary may not be perfect, we hope that it gives viewers an insight into our collections that will spark an "a-ha" moment. And staff at The Henry Ford have created well-researched blog posts, Expert Sets, What If stories, and Connect 3 and other videos for those viewers who want more in-depth stories about our collection.
So, how are we doing? Currently, more than 65,000 of the 100,000 Digital Collections objects have a Summary, and curators continue to add more. We have plenty of work in the future.
Do you want to give it a try?
Find an object in your home (or go to our Digital Collections website and find an object without a Summary) and write a 60-word Summary to answer the question, "So what?" -- why is this object important? Some objects may be easy to write about; others, not so much. Remember that readers should understand the concept you are trying to convey, and perhaps be inspired to want to know more.
The Henry Ford is facing unprecedented financial challenges due to the impact of our 16-week closure and reduced operations. We need your help in securing our future. Love the Henry Ford? Please support all that we treasure—including our digitization program. Longtime supporters of The Henry Ford will match your donation dollar for dollar, so your contribution will have double the impact.
A crowd gathers outside the news office of the San Francisco Examiner to await the outcome of the 1920 presidential election. Reporters used loudspeakers to announce the results to the throng of voters and spectators. / THF610502
On Election Day, November 2, 1920, Americans waited anxiously for news of who would be the next President of the United States. In the evening, many voters milled around newspaper and government offices waiting to hear from election officials and reporters the latest results that were streaming across telephone and telegraph wires; others waited to read about the outcome in the next day's newspaper. But in 1920, a growing number of Americans could stay at home and listen to election returns announced over the expanding wireless media -- radio. During the next decades, radio would become an essential link in the political life of Americans -- not only for Election Day results, but for news of campaigns, conventions, and inaugurations; reports on the life of the President; and for the calm reassurance of leadership articulated in fireside chats.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, radio station KDKA broadcast the election returns in between musical interludes to hundreds of listeners on Election Day. The station was the first federally licensed commercial radio station in America. This photograph shows the studio in 1920. / THF120670
Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.