Grandfather Clause

Posted by Bookworm on December 21, 2004


A grandfather clause is one that allows someone who previously had the right to do something to continue doing it even though the law
forbids it to others. For example, when I turned nineteen, the state of New Jersey allowed me to drink alcohol. Later than year, they raised
the drinking age to twenty-one, but since I was already of legal drinking age, I was grandfathered and could continue to legally consume
alcoholic beverages. But why grandfather?

The term comes from discriminatory practices of certain Southern states against blacks. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some
Southern states had laws requiring payment of a poll tax or taking of a literacy test before one could vote. The poor and illiterate were
denied the right to vote. This was race-neutral except for clauses in the state constitutions that exempted someone from poll taxes or
literacy tests if their grandfather had had the right to vote. This meant that virtually all whites, whose grandfathers could vote before the
imposition of these laws, were allowed to vote, while most blacks were denied the right to vote. Over the years, the term has lost the racial
stigma and no longer connotes racial bias.

The term grandfather clause dates to 1900. The verb form, to grandfather, is more recent, dating to 1972