That Which You Can No Longer Suppress in Women
May 12, 1869 — Annual Meeting, American Equal Rights Association Meeting, Steinway Hall, New York City
Mrs. President: Nearly two decades have passed since, in answer to a call from our co-workers, I stood before a large assembly, over which Mrs. [Lucretia] Mott presided, to utter, in the name of suffering and struggling womanhood, the cry of my old Fatherland for freedom and justice. At that time my voice was overwhelmed by the sound of sneers, scoffs, and hisses — the eloquence of tyranny, by which every outcry of the human heart is stifled. Then, through the support of our friends Mrs. [Ernestine] Rose and Wendell Phillips, who are ever ready in the cause of human rights, I was allowed, in my native tongue, to echo faintly the cry for justice and freedom. What a change has been wrought since then! To-day they greet us with deferential respect. Such giant steps are made by public opinion! What they then derided, and sought, through physical power and rough ignorance, to render wholly impossible, to-day they greet with the voice of welcome and jubilee. Such an expression of sentiment is to us the most certain and joyful token of a gigantic revolution in public opinion — still more gratifying is it, that the history of the last few years proves that under the force of an universal necessity, reason and freedom are being consistently developed. Such is the iron step of time, that it brings forward every event to meet its rare fulfillment. Under your protection I am once more permitted, in this dawning of a new epoch which is visible to all eyes that will see, and audible to all ears that will hear, to express my hopes, my longing, my striving, and my confidence. And now, permit me to do so in the language of my childhood’s play, as well as that of the earnest and free philosophy of German thinkers and workers. Not that I believe it is left to me to interest the children of my old Fatherland, here present, in the new era of truth and freedom, as if these glorious principles were not of yore implanted in their hearts — as if they could not take them up in a strange idiom — but because I am urged from my deepest soul to speak out loud and free, as I have ever felt myself constrained to do and as I can not do in the language of my beloved adopted land. The consciousness and the holy conviction of our inalienable human rights, which I have won in the struggle of my own strangely varied life, and in the wrestling for independence which has carried me through the terrors of bloody revolution, and brought me to this effulgent shore where Sanita Libertas is free to all who seek it — this sacred strand, of which our German poet says: Dich halte ich! (I have gained thee and will not leave thee.) So I turn to you, my dear compatriots, in the language of our Fatherland — to you who are accustomed to German ways of thinking — to you who have grown up in the light which flows from thinking brains — to you whose hearts warmly cherish human rights and human worth — who are not afraid of truth when it speaks of such deep, clear, and universally important subjects as human rights and human duties. He who fears truth will find hiding places, but he who combats for it is worthy of it. The method of its adversaries is to address themselves to thoughtless passion, and thus arouse mockery and abuse against those who search for scientific knowledge to appeal to easily moved feelings and kindle sentiments of hatred and contempt. They can do this only while truth is in the minority — only until right shall become might.
You will learn to judge of woman’s strength when you see that she persists strenuously in this purpose, and secures, by her energy, the rights which shall invest her with power. That which you can no longer suppress in woman — that which is free above all things — that which is pre-eminently important to mankind, and must have free play in every mind, is the natural thirst for scientific knowledge — that fountain of all peacefully progressing amelioration in human history. This longing, this effort of reason seeking knowledge of itself, of ideas, conclusions, and all higher things, has, as far as historical remembrance goes back, never been so violently suppressed in any human being as in woman. But, so far from its having been extinguished in her, it has, under the influence of this enlightened century, become a gigantic flame which shines most brightly under the protection of the star-spangled banner. There does not exist a man-made doctrine, fabricated expressly for us, and which we must learn by heart, that shall henceforth be our law. Nor shall the authority of old traditions be a standard for us — be this authority called Veda, Talmud, Koran, or Bible. No. Reason, which we recognize as our highest and only law-giver, commands us to be free. We have recognized our duty — we have heard the rustling of the golden wings of our guardian angel — we are inspired for the work!
We are no longer in the beginning of history — that age which was a constant struggle with nature, misery, ignorance, helplessness, and every kind of bondage. The moral idea of the State struggles for that fulfillment in which all individuals shall be brought into a union which shall augment a million-fold both its individual and collective force. Therefore, don’t exclude us — don’t exclude woman — don’t exclude the whole half of the human family. Receive us — begin the work in which a new era shall dawn. In all great events we find that woman has a guiding hand — let us stay near you now, when humanity is concerned. Man has the spirit of truth, but woman alone has passion for it. All creations need love — let us, therefore, celebrate a union from which shall spring the morning of freedom for humanity. Give us our rights in the State. Honor us as your equals, and allow us to use the rights which belong to us, and which reason commands us to use. Whether it be prudent to enfranchise woman, is not the question — only whether it be right. What is positively right, must be prudent, must be wise, and must, finally, be useful. Give the lie to the monarchically disposed statesman, who says the republic of the United States is only an experiment, which earlier or later will prove a failure. Give the lie to such hopes, I say, by carrying out the whole elevated idea of the republic — by calling the entire, excluded half of mankind and every being endowed with reason, to the ballot-box, which is the people’s holy palladium.
Source: The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. II, eds. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Mathilda Joslyn Gage, (Rochester, NY: Charles Mann Printing Co.) 1881, pp. 392-394.