“Equal Rights” – Within the United States, it is easy to think the struggle for equality based on race, gender and/or socioeconomic status was, and in certain areas continues to be, one placed on the shoulders of only Blacks and Women. However, it doesn’t take too much digging to see this was not the case. I was reminded of this reality when I recently came across a December 19, 1818 issue of the Niles’ Weekly Register . Therein I found a heading titled “Maryland legislature,” which included in part, “…A committee was appointed to bring in a bill to extend the same civil privileges to persons professing the Jewish religion as are enjoyed by those of any other religious sect…”.
As a bit of history, In 1776 Maryland’s constitution safely protected “…all persons professing the Christian religion…” yet said nothing at all for those of other beliefs. It was a fact not widely known among other Americans that in the State of Maryland, and in Maryland alone, a citizen professing the Jewish religion could not hold any office, civil or military. In 1797 Solomon Etting, Baltimore leader and representative Jewish figure, along with other prominent Jews petitioned the Maryland Assembly to address this prejudicial issue and secure equal rights for Jews. The petition was well received but ultimately rejected. Year after year as it was presented and turned down new advocates were enlisted including influential Gentiles. In 1818 Judge H. M. Brackenridge and others began a vigorous battle to right this wrong. The legislation ultimately to be known as “The Jew Bill” was enfranchised in 1825 and confirmed the following year. This change, along with a series of others, helped motivate many Jewish citizens to participate , from a position of privilege, in the early suffrage movement .
Regarding State and National Constitutions… Our fore(parents) may not have gotten everything right, but thankfully, in most cases, they had the foresight to created peaceful paths for change. Peaceful progress, using the proper channels the framers built within these founding documents, may take entirely too long, but staying within the given bounds has served us well over time. There is, and will likely always be much to be done, but we live in a marvelous land of progress. Let’s never let the need for pruning and continued growth ever cause us to hack away at the roots.