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Dear Ms. Renick,
Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!
The question on the 1870 census was created to fulfill the requirements of Amendment XIV - Section 2, of the US Constitution, passed by Congress on June 13, 1866 and ratified July 9, 1868. This section states that “...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 rebellion, or other crime, 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.”
Because the decennial census was the means of determining the population of a state for the purpose of representation, it was necessary to add the question about whether an individual had been denied voting rights. The 1870 Census Instructions to Enumerators addresses the question on page 11 and 12 and among other things that it applies to “all who come within the scope of any State law denying or abridging suffrage to any class or individual on any other ground than participation in rebellion, or legal conviction of crime. Assistant Marshals, therefore, will be required carefully to study the laws of their own States in these respects, and to satisfy themselves, in the case of each male citizen of the United States above the age of twenty-one years, whether he does or does not come within one of these classes.”
Because the basis for denial of voting rights was state rather than federal laws, the answer to your question will be different for each state. You may wish to contact state archives, state historical societies and museums, and state libraries for information on the history of voting rights in their respective states.
We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your research!
This is the "handbook" for census takers in 1870. Go to page 9-10 for information about voting rights/costitutional relations. According to this if a man over age 21 was a US citizen he could vote, unless there was a state law preventing that right. So you may have to look at state laws at the time.