The Religious Persecution of the Ages
1896 — Defending Elizabeth Cady Stanton against a motion to repudiate her Woman’s Bible, National-American Woman Suffrage Association, Washington DC
The one distinct feature of our Association has been the right of the individual opinion for every member. We have been beset at every step with the cry that somebody was injuring the cause by the expression of some sentiments that differed with those held by the majority of mankind. The religious persecution of the ages has been done under what was claimed to be the command of God. I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do to their fellows, because it always coincides with their own desires.
All the way along the history of our movement there been this same contest on account of religious theories. Forty years ago one of our noblest men said to me: “You would be never hold another convention than let Ernestine L. Rose stand your platform,” because that talented and eloquent Polish woman who ever stood for justice and freedom, did not believe in the plenary inspiration of the Bible. Did we banish Mrs. Rose? No, indeed!
Every new generation of converts threshes over the same old straw. Twenty-five years ago a prominent woman, who stood on our platform for the first time, wanted us to pass a resolution that we were not free lovers; and I was not more shocked that am today at this attempt. The question is whether you will sit in judgment on one who has questioned the Divine inspiration of certain passages in the Bible derogatory to women. If she had written approvingly of these passages, you would not have brought this resolution because you thought the cause might be injured among the liberals in religion. In other words, if she had written your views, you would not have considered a resolution necessary. To pass this one is to set back the hands on the dial of reform. It is the reviving of the old time censorship, which I hoped we outgrown.
What you should do is to say to outsiders that a Christian has neither more nor less rights in our Association than an atheist. When our platform becomes too narrow for people of all creeds and of no creeds, I myself shall not stand upon it. Many things have been said and done by our orthodox friends that I have felt to be extremely harmful to our cause; but I should no more consent to a resolution denouncing them than I shall consent to this.
Who is to draw the line? Who can tell now whether Mrs. Stanton’s commentaries may not prove a great help to woman’s emancipation from old superstitions that have barred her way? Lucretia Mott at first thought Mrs. Stanton had injured the cause of all woman’s other rights by insisting upon the demand for suffrage, but she had sense enough not to bring in a resolution against it. In I860, when Mrs. Stanton made a speech before the New York Legislature in favor of a bill making drunkenness a cause for divorce, there was a general cry among the friends that she had killed the woman’s cause. I shall be pained beyond expression if the delegates here are so narrow and illiberal as to adopt this resolution. You would better not begin resolving against individual action or you will find no limit. This year it is Mrs. Stanton; next year it may be me or one of yourselves who will be the victim.
Are you going to cater to the whims and prejudices of people who have no intelligent knowledge of what they condemn? If we do not inspire in woman a broad and catholic spirit, they will fail, when enfranchised, to constitute that power for better government which we have always claimed for them. You would better educate ten women into the practice of liberal principles than to organize a thousand on a platform of intolerance and bigotry. I pray you, this solution, adopted, will be a vote of censure upon a woman who without a peer in intellectual and statesmanlike ability; one who as stood for half a century the acknowledged leader of progressive thought and demand in regard to all matters pertaining to the absolute freedom of women.
Source: Proceedings of the Twenty-eighth Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, held in Washington, D.C., January 23d to 28th, 1896, ed. Rachel Foster Avery (Washington DC, NAWSA) 1896.