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A Historical Perspective On Universal Adult Suffrage And It's Importance

Universal adult franchise ensures that all adult citizens have the right to vote and elect their representative irrespective of their gender, wealth, caste, or any other basis. The word franchise derives from the French word franc meaning free. Adult franchise provides citizens free right to choose their representative. This is based on the right to equality.

To deny the right to vote is to deny the right to equality, it is to deny one the right to take part in democracy and let their voice be heard. The concept of democracy rests on Universal Adult Franchise. It helps in the governance of their states.

Universal adult suffrage provides every citizen above a particular age the right to vote in election. This age differs from country to country. In countries like Japan and Denmark the age for voting is 25, while in India, Russia, US it is 18 and in Norway it is 21. In India, the age for voting changed from 21 to 18 as per the 61st Constitutional Amendment.

Universal Adult Franchise has been implemented in different stages and time in different countries. These depended upon the then economic and political situation of the country. This article goes over the evolution of Universal Adult Suffrage in countries like France, US, UK and India and then it proceeds to analyse the influence the principle has on democracy.

French Revolution And Universal Adult Suffrage

During the French Revolution, Louis XIV formally recognized the National Assembly and thus, in 1791, France became a constitutional monarchy made with the aim of limiting the powers of monarch and avoiding the concentration of powers in the hands of one. As per the 1791 Constitution, the National Assembly was indirectly elected with the general population electing a group of electors who then proceeds to elect the members of the National Assembly.

But this election did not follow the universal adult suffrage, rather they only recognized men who paid tax worth three days of labour as a citizen and only allowed them to vote. The rest of the people in France were identified as passive citizens. Their Constitution started with the Declaration of Right of Citizens and Man which promised to treat all citizens equal.

Women were also active participants in French Revolution. Women began joining newspapers and clubs to discuss their issues and voice them. The Society of Revolutionary and Republican Women were one of the most famous women's club started at this time, and one of their strongest issues was the lack of right to vote for women in France. Women weren't allowed to vote in elections until 200 years later when the fight for women's suffrage was aligned with other international protests. The law for this was enacted in 1944, and the first such elections were conducted in 1945.

Universal Adult Suffrage In USA

The Universal Adult Suffrage began in USA with the Reynolds V Sims judgement where the decision was based on the one man, one vote principle. It was mentioned in the judgement that the denial to right to vote freely to one's candidate of one's choice violates the idea of representative government. In the 17th century, there were some qualifications required to vote in elections � it could be property qualification or a religious test. Property qualification involving allowing those with property only to vote, while in the latter, religious test involves swearing faith to a particular religion or a sect.

The US Constitution was formed on March 9, 1789. In the beginning it wasn't mentioned who all can vote. Each state could determine who could vote in that particular state's elections. In some states, Blacks who were not enslaved and had property were allowed to vote, while in others this right was denied. Some states only allowed white males to vote, while other states allowed men of all races to vote.

The Woman Suffrage movement in US started in the 19th century with women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone leading the movements. Wyoming was the first state to provide women the right to vote. The 19th Amendment was passed on 1920 realizing that a Constitutional Amendment was required.

Universal Adult Suffrage In India

In the pre-independence period only 13% of the Indians were allowed to vote. The Motilal Nehru Report was one of the first to demand for universal adult suffrage along with equal rights for women. Dr.B.R.Ambedkar also asked for universal adult suffrage to the Simon Commission. India finally adopted Universal Adult Suffrage when the Constitution was enacted in 1949 and implemented on January 26th, 1949.

India after obtaining independence from British in 1947 formed a Constituent Assembly, which formed the Indian Constitution. It was agreed that India would follow the principle of Universal Adult Suffrage in April 1947. Though India had electoral institutions earlier, it only catered to the rich men. The 61st Amendment of the Indian Constitution changed the voting age from 21 to 18 by amending the Article 326. India had an instant suffrage movement where all the citizens above the age were allowed to vote instantly, while in other countries the principle broadened over time.

Universal Adult Suffrage And Democracy

The Indian Constitution promises India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic in its preamble. The principle of Universal Suffrage helps India to fulfil these promises. In India, the citizens are considered as sovereign as they are the supreme authority, and they are the supreme authority because they have the right to choose or remove the government. The term republic refers to the supreme power being held in the hands of the citizens and the representatives chosen by the citizens. These rights are provided by this principle and exercised through voting.

Socialism in India refers to absence of discrimination based on caste, creed, gender or race and secularism refers to absence of discrimination based on religion and state allowing everyone to practice, profess, propagate their religion. Universal Adult Suffrage allows every citizen to be the sovereign by providing each and every sane adult to vote without any discrimination.

As mentioned earlier, this principle is the essence of democracy where the citizens are given the right to choose their representatives through elections and this right is not denied to anyone. Thus Universal Suffrage concedes India to fulfil all the promises made in the Preamble, and shaping it into a democracy.

However, this principle does not guarantee the extant of democracy. For instance, the Constitution of China promised Universal Suffrage in 1947 and women began voting only in 1953, but China is an authoritarian state or as the Constitution of People's Republic of China calls it, people's democratic dictatorship.

The main reason China cannot be termed as a democracy is that, only one major party and other parties allied to it are allowed to contest elections, that is, China follows a single party system. Hence, even though elections are held in China, people are not given any real choice. Freedom of speech and expression is also deeply curtailed in China, that is, Universal Adult Suffrage is a requirement for a healthy democracy, but not the only essential of a democracy.

Universal Adult Suffrage is the foundation of a representative democracy. Equality is necessary for running a nation peacefully as well as maintaining the welfare of people. Universal Adult Suffrage is a reflection of equality. It upholds equality by providing all citizens the right to vote in elections thereby ensuring their needs and interests are met. It holds a country together.
Universal franchise has evolved over many years in countries like France and US which have been termed as incremental suffrage.

The impact the principle had on these countries are also different. In many countries the fight for it, brought them together, while in others it brought them all to a position of equality. Many countries are left to enact this principle, and there are also countries who has this principle, but it is not followed. For the healthy running of the day to day matters of a country Universal Suffrage is vital. Universal adult suffrage is not just the heart of democracy, it is also the core of a peaceful country.

  1. Universal Suffrage, April 13, 2022, available at,reduced%20to%2018%20in%202016 , (Last visited on April 14, 2022).
  2. Universal Adult Suffrage in India, March 27,2016, available at, (Last visited on April 14,2022).
  3. National Assembly (French Revolution) , March 27, 2022, available at, (Last visited on April 14,2022).
  4. Voting Rights in the United States, April 9,2022, available at, (Last visited on April 14,2022).
  5. Voting in the USA, available at , (Last visited on April 14,2022).
  6. The Print, Universal Adult Franchise was the Greatest experiment in India's Democratic History, March 8 2018, available at, (Last visited on 14th April, 2022)
  7. The Constitution of India, 1950, Preamble (Justice, social, economic and political).
  8. Democracy in China, March 10 2022, available at, (Last visited on April 14,2022).

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