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My Rights as an Elector


April 3-4, 1878 — Argued before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia PA



Have women citizens the right of suffrage under the Constitution of the United States and of this particular State of Pennsylvania? This is the direct question before your Honors to-day for consideration and decision.

To state the proposition more generally, shall the State and National Constitutions be so interpreted as to secure a republican, an aristocratic or a monarchical form of govt? — Having discussed this question before his Honor Mr. Justice Sharswood and Nisi Prius, and having received an adverse decision, I should be daunted in my purpose, were I not painfully impressed with the magnitude of the issues involved in this cause. Were it a question involving the rights of only one individual, it might well challenge the learning and the conscience of this Court to remedy the wrong and vindicate the right. But it is not simply whether I shall be protected in the exercise of my inalienable right and duty of self-government, but whether a government, the mere agent of the people, based upon the equality of all mankind, and which “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed,” can deny to any portion of its intelligent, adult citizens participation therein and still hold them amenable to its laws; and, if so, what shall be the proportion and qualification of rulers and ruled, and by what tribunal shall these be determined?

Upon the 16th day of September, A.D. 1871, I was duly assessed by the canvassers of the Fourteenth Ward, of the city of Philadelphia, as a resident of the eleventh division of said ward, and two days thereafter paid to the Receiver of Taxes the amount of county tax assessed upon me for that year. Upon the 10th day of October following, being the second Tuesday of October, 1871, at the general election, I presented to these defendants, at the proper time and place of voting, my ballot in legal form, which ballot these defendants refused.

Being a citizen of the United States and of the State of Pennsylvania, and having complied with all the requirements of the law in this Commonwealth for the regulation of the elective franchise, including assessment, registration, (my name being upon the canvassers’ printed list of voters in the above-named precinct,) and taxation, I claim I was legally entitled to exercise my rights as an elector, under both the State and National Constitutions, wherefore I have brought this suit.

To this claim theses defendants demur, alleging,

First. That I am “not a freeman in the sense in which that word is used in the Constitution of Pennsylvania in relation to the qualification of voters.” This allegation is sustained by his Honor Judge Sharswood, from whose decision I have appealed. . . . 




Source: Woman Suffrage: The Argument of Carrie S. Burnham before Chief Justice Reed, and Associate Justices Agnew, Sharswood and Mercur, of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in Blanc, on the Third and Fourth of April, 1873 (Philadelphia: Citizens’s Suffrage Association).