Reports from the Efforts to Save the Right to Vote
On January 20, 1838, the Pennsylvania Legislature met at Musical Fund Hall (pictured here) at 8th and Locust in Philadelphia, in a neighborhood surrounded by free Black people and businesses and schools, and voted to remove the right to vote - to essentially remove citizenship rights - from all Black people in Pennsylvania.
Up to that point, Black leaders and white allies had worked tirelessly to convince the legislature to maintain the right to vote. After the January decision, which inserted the word to 'white' to the constitution, they turned to efforts to convince the people of Pennsylvania not to ratify the constitution with this new language. Their strategy was to prove the industriousness, morality and financial stability of the free Black population.
The Pennsylvania Abolition Society funded a census taken by Charles Gardner, pastor of the First African Presbyterian Church and PAS Member Benjamin Bacon. This census provided the data that you see in our visualizations and maps on this site. It counted all the free Black people in the city, gathering tax and wealth data to prove the financial stability and impact of Black citizens. As such it is the only known full statistical snapshot of free Black people in that period.
They developed a listing of Black business and tradespeople . This is the source for the 'Black Business' layer on our maps.
Finally, an appeal was written by Robert Purvis to fellow citizens in Pennsylvania to not disenfranchise their own neighbors.
The Report from the Census, the Register of Trades and the Appeal of the 40,000 are here for you on this page to read and understand.
Despite these efforts, the constitutional change was ratified by the people of Pennsylvania in October, 1838. Ironically, free Black people had to continue to pay taxes. This was a true taxation without representation.
For the full detail on this period see Eric Ledell Smith's The End of Black Voting Rights in Pennsylvania
1838 Register of Trades of the Colored People in the City of Philadelphia
The Present State and Condition of the Free People of Color of Philadelphia
The Appeal of the Forty Thousand