Principle of All Free Governments
It is a principle of all free governments that the people rule. Each member of the community, in theory at least, is supposed to give assent to the constitution and laws to which he is subject — or at least it is supposed that these were made by a majority of the people. And this assent is given according to forms previously prescribed. The people vote directly upon the adoption of the constitution, and by their representatives in making the laws. And since all the people must be subject to the constitution and laws, so all the people should be consulted in their formation—that is, all who are of sufficient age and discretion to express an intelligent opinion on the subject. No one who claims to be a republican at heart will for a moment dispute the correctness of these positions.
And there are good and sufficient reasons by which the soundness of these positions may be sustained. They are founded on the great theory of Human Rights, whereby each human being who is born into the world, and endowed with an intelligent mind, is held to be capable of governing him or herself — subject only to such restraints as the common good of society demands. These rights have various forms of expansion, but they may all be summed up in this — a right to existence and a right to the pursuit of happiness: and those who enjoy these to the fullest extent may be said to enjoy true liberty — for liberty itself springs out of the pursuit of happiness.
And not only may those particulars which I have mentioned, be classed as human rights, but they may and must be held to be natural rights, that is, rights inseparably connected with our existence. No human legislature has power to abridge or destroy them. Both God and nature unite in establishing them, and they need not the aid of human laws to effectually invest them in each human intelligence; nor do they receive any additional strength when declared by the municipal laws to be inviolable, but only a just recognition.
“All the laws of a just government,” says Judge [Elisha] Hurlbert, “will merely respond to the wants of humanity. They will emanate from the true wants and moral emotions of the human mind; they will prescribe such limit to human action as man’s nature prescribes for itself; they will deny no qualification which it denies not to itself; they will bear the express image of the human character, and have their foundation in the nature of man.” With such laws, it might then, as the same writer further remarks, be truly said, that “the citizen, though loyal, would still be free — obedient and yet be independent.”
The principles which I have thus briefly stated, underlie, as you will see, the whole theory of a republican or free government. They are, in substance, the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence, and they form the common basis upon which our national and state constitutions rest. When they shall cease to be recognized and respected by our people and our lawmakers, then free institutions will cease to exist.
But I presume their correctness, when applied to man, will be doubted by none, for man is willing enough to claim for himself the full recognition of all the high prerogatives I have shown him to be entitled to. But I hold more than this to be true. I claim that these rights belong not to man alone, but to the race — and to each individual member of it, without regard to sex. I hold that woman has as good and rightful a claim to them as man, and I intend to show that the man who denies this claim is not only no good democrat, and much less a good republican, but that in being guilty of this denial, he commits an act of injustice and oppression. And in further elucidation of this subject, it will also be my object to show, as fully as my time will permit, not only that woman is entitled to the enjoyment of all those rights which God and Nature have bestowed upon the race, but that she is entitled to enjoy the same means of enforcing those rights as man, and that therefore she has a right to be heard in the formation of constitutions, in the making of the laws, and in the selection of those by whom the laws are administered.
You may think this strong ground for me to assume, but it is nevertheless no more than the full recognition of those principles of civil liberty which lie at the base of all our institutions, and which make us the freest people — at least those of us who are free — in all the world. It is but to carry out in practice what all admit, or must admit if they will deal honestly with the subject, to be true in theory. It is but to enforce the great doctrine of innate sovereignty of the people, of which we hear so much, but see so little of it practiced. It is but to vindicate the capacity and right of the people, and the whole people, to govern themselves.
In this country there is one great tribunal by which all theories must be tried — all principles tested — all measures settled — and that tribunal is the ballot box. Talk as we will about public opinion, its power is as nothing when brought to this test, for the ballot box is superior to. or at least it is the medium through which public opinion finally makes itself felt. Deny to public opinion this instrumentality of making itself heard, and it will be impotent indeed. Deny to any class in community the right to be heard at the ballot box, and that class sinks at once into a state of slavish dependence — of civil insignificance which nothing can save from subjugation, oppression and wrong. Witness the condition of the common people, the serfs, of Europe. Witness the condition of the women of this country. Woman is denied her right of suffrage, and what is her condition? It is one of civil inferiority to man, and civil inferiority too surely begets mental inferiority because it shuts out from her study and contemplation the very subjects and questions which, above all others, tend to elevate and dignify man, and make him the self-styled lord of creation — although, as we shall presently see, he has no more than a joint rightwith woman to the temporal government of the earth.
You will of course understand that I hold not only that this exclusion is grossly unjust, but that woman has the same right to go to the ballot box and vote as man; and further, that it is her duty to do this; and that we never can expect to have a perfectly just and upright government until this right is both accorded to and exercised by her. Hear me patiently while I offer my reasons for this opinion.
I suppose it will not be regarded as claiming too much to assume that women are human beings. A different opinion would seem to have been sometimes held, and I believe it has at times been seriously debated whether women have souls. In 1850 the legislature of Tennessee (so said the newspapers) considered this question and gravely decided it in the negative. If I mistake not, Mahomet, in his system of religious imposture, has excluded women altogether from his heaven, and in Pagan countries the idea seems to be held that women are altogether an inferior race — unworthy the attention of their popular deities. But all such ideas are clearly refuted in the pages of inspiration. Christianity elevates woman to an equality with man. It opens to her the door of the same heaven, and it explicitly declares that “there is neither male or female in Christ Jesus, but all are one.” And again that “God is no respecter of persons.”
If then, it be admitted, or if it can be clearly shown, that women are human beings, then it must follow that they have human rights, and that those rights should be respected and vindicated. These rights consist, first, in a joint supremacy with man over the brute creation, and in the temporal government of the universe; and secondly, in the right to a voice in the making of laws to which she is subject. The first of these positions appears very plain from what we read in Genesis….
But secondly, I have said that woman, as a human being, has the right to a voice in the government under which she lives. Every society that has ever existed, or ever will exist, has certain rules and regulations commonly called laws, by which it is governed, and to which all its members must render obedience. In all free countries, as I have before said, these laws are made by the people themselves, or by their duly authorized representatives — or should be so made — for it is but reasonable, that since all must conform to the laws, the wishes of all should be consulted in their formation. Whenever any portion of society is denied this right, the doctrine of an equality of rights is violated, and the true principles of republicanism set aside. In a purely democratic government, all the people meet together in one vast assemblage, and give their personal assent to the laws, and aid in their enactment. In countries of limited extent, such for instance as Athens and Sparta, or even Rome in the early period of its history, such a system might answer, but in a country of such boundless extent as our own, it is altogether impracticable. In the place then, of a simple democracy, our fathers established a representative republic, and with us, therefore, the laws are made by the representatives of the people assembled either in the state legislatures, or in the national congress. The statutes made by these representatives, within the limits of the constitution, are obligatory upon all the members of the state or nation, and must be obeyed by all. Of course, then, if we would be true to the principles of popular sovereignty, upon which our institutions rest, the suffrages of all classes over whom these statutes exercise their binding force should be consulted. And to a certain extent, this idea of popular sovereignty has been recognized in our present constitutions — both state and national. Hence the poor man’s vote is as freely received and counts as many as his rich neighbor’s. Hence the illiterate man goes to the ballot box on a footing of entire equality, in the sight of the law, with the learned. Hence the young man and the old man meet at the polls and unite in the same high duty of selecting the rulers of the land. The foreigner, too, after serving a brief apprenticeship under our free forms of government, is admitted to the privilege of voting, and even the colored man, just freed from bondage though he be, is guaranteed the exercise of the elective franchise as securely as those who can trace their ancestry to the purest Saxon stock. One class only is denied this precious right — one class only is excluded from a voice in the government of the state — one class only is deemed unworthy of, or incompetent to, its exercise — and that class constitutes one half of the human family — and that class is woman. The intelligent women of America are, by our lawmakers, classed with lunatics, idiots and Indians, and denied the right of self-government. They must not approach within the charmed circle of the ballot box. They must stand aside, while the base, the ignoble, the low, the illiterate, the foreigner and the Negro select the legislators who are to make our laws, and elect the men by whom those laws are to be administered.
And yet, in the face of this exclusion, woman is compelled to obey the laws as implicitly as man. Notwithstanding the sentiment contained in the Declaration of Independence, that “all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” woman is governed without her consent being given or asked to such powers, and she is punished as severely for the violation of laws, as though she had a voice in their formation. What shadow of justice, I ask, is there in all this?
But in justification of this exclusion of woman from a voice in the government under which she lives, we are told that she is already represented through her fathers, brothers, husbands and sons, far more effectually than she could be by participating in public affairs herself. To this I might answer, so were our fathers represented in the parliament of King George, but were they satisfied with such representation? And why not? Because their interests were not well cared for; because justice was not done them. They found that they could not safely entrust their interests to the keeping of those who could not, or would not, understand them, and who legislated principally to promote their own selfish purposes. But I wholly deny the position of these objectors. It is not possible for one human being to fully represent the wants and wishes of another, and much less can one class understand fully the desires and meet the requirements of an entirely different class in society. And especially is this true as between man and woman. In the former, certain mental faculties, as a general thing, are said to predominate; while in the latter, the moral attain to at least an equal degree of perfection. Taken together, they make up what we understand by the generic term “man.” If we allow to the former only, a full degree of development of their common nature, one half only enjoys the freedom of action designed for both. We then have the man, or male element, fully brought out, while the woman, or female element, is excluded and crushed. In the management of the family, the female element is just as necessary as the male, and it is by mingling the two together that we have established the most perfect rule. So should it be in the government of the state, but when we pass to this, we find one of these elements is wanting, and hence we have so many jars, and breaks, and rugged points ever presenting themselves, to mar the peace of society and the happiness of individuals.
It should be remembered, too, that all rights have their origin in the oral nature of mankind, and that when woman is denied any guarantees which secure these rights to her, violence is done to a great moral law of our being. In assuming to vote and legislate for her, men commit a positive violation of the moral law, and do that which they would not that others should do unto them. And beside all these considerations, it is hard to understand the workings of this system of proxy voting and proxy representation. How it is to work when our self-constituted representative happens to hold different opinions from us. There are various questions, such as temperance, slavery and war — the allowing men [sic] to control our property, our persons, our earnings, etc. on which we would at times be likely to differ; and yet this representative of ours can cast but one vote for us both, however different our opinions may be. Whether that vote would be cast for his own interests, or for ours, all past legislation will show. Under this system, diversities of interests must, of necessity, arise, and the only way to remove all difficulty, and secure full and exact justice to woman, is to permit her to represent herself.
But again it is said to be no part of woman’s sphere to take part in the selection of her rulers or the enactment of laws. This is mere matter of opinion. Woman’s sphere, like man’s sphere, varies according to the aspect under which we view it, or the circumstances in which she may be placed. A vast majority of the British nation would stoutly deny the assumption that Queen Victoria is out of her sphere in reigning over an empire of an hundred and fifty millions of souls! And if she is not out of her sphere in presiding over the destinies of a vast empire, why should any woman in this republic be denied her place among a nation of sovereigns? There is no positive rule by which to fix woman’s sphere, except that of capacity. It is to be found, I should say, wherever duty or interest may call her — whether to the field, the kitchen, the parlor, the nursery, the workshop, or the public assembly. And most certainly, no narrow contracted view of her sphere can suffice to deprive her of any of those rights which she has inherited with her being.
Again, it is objected, that women should not be voters and legislators because it would be unladylike, and immodest, for them to go to the ballot box to vote or to the halls of the capitol to legislate. This, too, is but a mere matter of opinion, and depends for its correctness upon the particular fashions or customs of the people. In deciding upon what is appropriate, or inappropriate, for individuals, or classes of individuals, the community is exceedingly capricious. In one country, or in one age of the world, a particular act may be considered as entirely proper, which in another age, or country, may be wholly condemned.
But a few years ago it was thought unladylike for women to study medicine, and when Elizabeth Blackwell forced her way into the Geneva Medical College, people were amazed and scandalized by her presumption. But she graduated with high honors, went to Europe to perfect her studies, and today stands high in her profession. She has amassed a fortune, is a noble woman, courted and respected by the highest and best. She let down the bars for others to follow, and now we have several colleges for the medical education of women, and women physicians, without number, and the world applauds rather than condemns.
But a few years ago women sculptors were unknown because their talent was not encouraged. When a match girl of Boston fashioned a bust of Rufus Choate in plaster and placed it in the window of a bookstore, hoping some benevolent lover of art might be so attracted by it as to aid her in her desire to educate herself in the profession of sculpture, a gentleman who saw great merit in it enquired who was the artist; and when told that it was a young girl, exclaimed, “What a pity she is not a boy!” He saw that such talent in a boy would make him famous and enrich the world, but a girl had no right to such gifts — it would be an unladylike profession for her — and so she must bury her God-given talent and keep to matchselling and dishwashing.
But a few years later Harriet Hosmer overleaped the obstacles that stood in her way and went to Rome to undertake the work of a sculptor. The world now rings with her praises and is enriched by her genius. She, too, removed the barriers to a hitherto prescribed sphere and proved that the All Father in committing a talent to woman’s trust gave along with it a right to its use. Vinnie Ream and others have followed in the way thus opened, and no one now questions the propriety of women working in plaster or marble.
And so of many other departments of trade, profession, and labor that within my recollection were not thought proper for woman simply because she had not entered them. The objection that woman cannot share in the affairs of government without endangering her modesty amounts to nothing when we consider the array of noble women in other countries who have been elevated to responsible public stations and yet have preserved their dignity and virtuous characters above reproach. In this country, women are debarred from voting and legislating, and therefore it is unfashionable for them to do either, but let their right to do so be once established, and all objections of that kind will vanish away.
And I must say I can conceive of nothing so terrible within the precincts of the ballot box as to exclude women therefrom. Who go there now? Our fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons. And do they act so bad while there that they dare not suffer us to go with them? If it is really so bad a place, surely they should themselves keep away from it, for I hold that any place that is too corrupt for woman to go is also too corrupt for man to go. “An atmosphere that is too impure for woman to breathe, cannot but be dangerous to her sires and sons.” We mingle with our gentlemen friends elsewhere, with safety and pleasure, and I can hardly think it possible that the exercise of the right of franchise turns them at once into ruffians. Yet we are gravely told that woman would be treated with rudeness and insult should she go to the polls in the exercise of a right secured to her by the laws of her country. And would you, sir objector, be the one to do this? Would you insult the wife, or mother, or sister, of your neighbor? I think not. Then judge other men by yourself, and believe that as each man would have some female relative or friend with him there, each would be equally careful for the safety of those belonging to him, and careful also for his own language and deportment. And should one dare to offer insult, would there not, think you, be a score of stout arms raised to fell the insulter to the earth? Man will behave as well, I verily believe, at the polls, as at other public assemblies, if he will permit woman to go there with him, and if he has behaved badly heretofore, which from his continual asservations we must believe to be the case, it is because woman has not always been there with him.
The idea advanced that woman would become debased by participating in so important and sacred a duty as the selection of those who are to be placed in power, and to whom are to be committed the interests and happiness of the whole people, comes with a bad grace from men, who are ever claiming for her superior natural virtues. They should remember that God made her woman, and endowed her with high moral faculties, keen perceptions of right, and a love of virtue and justice, and it is impossible for her to change her nature. Her delicacy and sensitiveness will take care of themselves in any exposure, and she will be as safe at the polls, as at political and other conventions — at state, county, and church fairs — at railroad and Fourth of July celebrations — and the various other crowds in which she mingles freely with men. That virtue is little worth, which cannot bear itself unharmed through a crowd, or awe and frown down impudence wherever it meets with it. The true woman will be woman still, in whatever situation you place her, and man will become elevated just so far as he mingles in her society in the various relations of life.
In fact this argument, that it would be unsafe for woman to go to the polls, is one which man, at least, should be ashamed to bring forward, inasmuch as it impeaches his own gallantry and instinctive regard for woman. One further remark and I leave this point, if it would really be so unsafe for us to go to the polls with our husbands and fathers, all danger could be avoided by our having separate places for voting.
This arguing that all women would go to the bad if allowed to vote because there are some bad women now, when none of them vote, is the most absurd logic ever invented by the brain of man, and if such could see their silly reasoning in the light that sensible men and women see it, there would be less of it. If the ballot makes people bad — if it is corrupting in its tendencies and destructive of all virtue and goodness — then the sooner men are deprived of it the better. But men do not so see it in their own case.
All men, good and bad, black and white, corrupt, debased, treacherous, fiendish, criminal, may vote, may make our laws, and we hear not one word against it, but if one woman does, or says, aught that does not square with some men’s ideas of what she should say and do, then she is not fit to vote, and all women everywhere must on that account be disfranchised and kept in subjection! Such reasoning might have answered once, but the intelligence of the present day rejects it, and woman will not long be compelled to submit to its insults.
But I hear it answered, that it is not men whom we have to fear but the bad of our own sex, who will rush to the polls while the good women will stay away. To this I have to say that I have never yet seen a woman that I was afraid of, or from whom I feared contamination. In the theatre, the concert room, the festival hall, the Fourth of July gatherings, on the fairgrounds, and any day upon the street, we meet and pass by the coarse, the frail, the fallen of our sex. They have the same right to God’s pure air and sunshine as we, and we could not deprive them of it if we would and would not if we could. I see not how these are going to harm us any more at the polls, than at all these other places. The good women will vote, as soon as the right is granted them, and they will outnumber the bad a hundred to one. Instead then of the pure woman being contaminated, the vile woman will be awed and silenced by her presence, and led by her example into right paths. Even those called low and vile have hearts that can be touched, and they will gladly seize the aid which the ballot, and good women, will bestow, to raise themselves from the degraded condition into which bad laws and bad men have plunged them.
This objection then, which assumes such proportions in the minds of many, looks very small when viewed in the light of truth and Christian charity. I think no man would consider it a good reason for depriving him of rights, because bad men also enjoyed the same rights.
There are still other objections raised against granting to woman her right of suffrage, but they are mostly so trivial I should not think them worthy of notice did they not assume so serious importance in the minds of those who bring them forward. We will merely glance at some of these.
One says, votes would be unnecessarily multiplied — that women would vote just as the men did; therefore, one vote will answer for both. Sound logic, truly! But let us apply this rule to men. Votes are unnecessarily multiplied now, by so many men voting; a few could do it all, just as well as to take the mass of men from their business and their families to vote. My husband votes the Republican ticket, and a score of other men vote just as he does — then why not let my husband’s vote suffice for all who think as be does, and send the rest about their business? What need of so many voting when all vote just alike?
Again, another says, “it has always been as now — women never have had equal rights, and that is proof that they should not have.” Sound logic, again! Worthy emanation from man’s superior brain! True, women never have had equal rights, because men have ever acted on the principle of oppressors, that might makes right, and have kept them in subjection, just as weaker nations are kept in subjection to the stronger. But must they ever continue to act on such principles? Must we continue to cling to old customs because they are old? Why, then, did not our people remain subject to kings? How have they dared to do what was not thought of in the time of our father Abraham? How dared they set aside the commands of the Bible, and the customs of all past ages and set up a government of their own? It is the boast of Americans that they know and do many things which their fathers neither knew or did. Progress is the law of our nation, and progress is written upon all its works. And while all else is progressing to perfection — while the lowest serf may attain to the position of the highest and noblest in the land, shall woman, alone, remain stationary? Shall she be kept in a state of barbarism and vassalage because such was the condition of her sex six thousand years ago? Clearly, my friends, when the prejudice of custom is on the side of injustice, in any matter, we are not to be governed by it.
But again, it is objected, that if woman should be enfranchised, it would lead to discord and strife in families. In other words, to come down to the simple meaning of this objection, if women would not vote just as their husbands wanted them to, the husbands would make a fuss, and quarrel with them about it. And who are the men who would do this? Not those, surely, who consider and treat their wives as equals. Not those who recognize the individuality of the wife, and accord her the right to her own opinions — the right to think for herself and to act as her own sense and judgment may dictate. With such there would be no cause for strife — nothing to contend about. In such families all is harmony. It would be only those who desire to rule — only those who regard and treat their wives as subjects, bound to do their bidding—only those who wish to play the tyrant in their families, who would get up contentions and discord; and it is only these who bring forward such objections. No man who honors woman as he should do would ever offer so flimsy a pretext for depriving her of rights and enslaving her thoughts.
Another objection, of which we hear much in these days and to which men invariably resort when answered on every other point, is that women do not want to vote. They say when all the women ask for the right it will be given them. Did these objectors take the same ground in regard to the Negro? Did the colored men very generally petition for the right of franchise? No such petition, to my knowledge, was ever heard of, and yet these our opponents forced the ballot unasked into their hands. Why then must woman sue and petition for the restoration of her God-given right of self-government? If one human being, only, claims that rights are unjustly denied and withheld, such claim should receive the careful attention and consideration of this government and people. Yet tens of thousands of women, subjects of this government, have made such claims — have set forth their grievances, and from time to time during the last thirty years come as suppliants before the people asking for rights withheld; and they have been met with sneers and ridicule, and told that they must wait until all the women of the nation humbly sue for the same right. Would such excuse ever be offered for withholding rights from men? Should fifty thousand men then be passed by unheeded because they were not signed by a hundred thousand?
Again it is said that no considerable number of the women will exercise the right, if granted. This, if true — and men do not know it to be so — has nothing to do with the question. Give them the right and they can exercise it or not, as they choose. If they do not want to vote, and will not vote, then surely there is no need of placing obstacles in the way of their doing what they don’t want to do, and no harm can come from removing the obstacles now obstructing their path.
Men are not required to give pledges that they will vote. There is no compulsion about the matter in their case. On the contrary, all are left free to act as they please. The right is accorded them and there the matter rests. There is no justice in requiring of woman pledges that would not be asked of men. That thousands of women would vote is certain. If all do not avail themselves of such privileges it will be of their own choice and right, and not because of its denial. The ballot is the symbol of freedom — of equality — and because the right to use it would lift woman from a state of inferiority — of subjection — of powerlessness, to one of equality, and freedom, and power, we demand it for her. If properly educated, she will use it for the best interests of herself and of humanity. As slavery was not deemed the best condition for the Negro, even though he was content in it, so slavery, or subordination, is not the best condition for woman, even though she choose to remain in it. As the Negro has been raised up out of that condition, so woman should be helped to rise to that position she is so eminently qualified to fill, and which of right belongs to her.
That I may leave no point of opposition unanswered I must notice one other objection. “If women vote, they must also fight,” say our opponents. I reply that all men have not earned their right to the ballot by the bullet, and if only those who fight should vote, there are many sick men, many weak, little men, many deformed men, and many strong able-bodied, but cowardly, men who should be disfranchised.
These all vote, but they do not fight, and fighting is not made a condition precedent to their right to the ballot. The law only requires that those of sufficient physical strength and endurance shall take up arms in their country’s defense, and I think not many women could be found to fill the law requirements. So they would have to be excused with the weak little men, the big cowardly men, and the men who are physically disqualified. If there are any great, strong women, who want to fight for their country, I contend that they have the right to do so, and men have no business to dismiss and send them home against their will. But as there are other duties to be discharged, other interests to be cared for, in time of war, besides fighting, women generally will find enough to do to look after these, in the absence of their fighting men. They may enter the hospitals or the battle fields as nurses, or they may care for the crops and the young soldiers at home. They may also do the voting and look after the affairs of government, the same as do all the weak men who vote, but do not fight.
And further, as men do not think it right for woman to fight, and fear it will be forced upon her with the ballot, they can easily make a law to excuse her—and doubtless, with her help, they will do so. There is great injustice, so long as the ballot is given to all men without conditions — the weak as well as the strong — in denying to woman a voice in matters deeply affecting her happiness and welfare, and through her the happiness and welfare of mankind, because, perchance, there may come a time again in the history of our country, when we shall be plunged into war, and she not be qualified to shoulder a musket. This objection, like many others we hear, is too absurd to emanate from the brains of intelligent men, and I cannot think they honestly entertain the views they express. But, gentlemen, give us a voice in the matter, and we will not only save ourselves from being sent to the battlefield, but we will, if possible, keep you at home with us, by averting the threatened difficulties and dangers, and so compromising matters with other powers that peace shall be maintained, and bloodshed avoided.
But not to dwell longer on these things, I will pass to the consideration of my next position, which is, that so far as education and general intelligence are concerned, women are as well-qualified to exercise the elective franchise as many who now enjoy that right. Can there be any doubt on this point? Who among men vote? The answer is all vote except Indians, idiots and lunatics. The ignorant foreigner, who knows nothing of our laws; the illiterate native, who cannot read the name printed on his ballot; the degraded drunkard, picked up out of the gutter; the ignorant Negro, just freed from bondage; and the abandoned wretch who sets all laws at defiance are all placed on a level with the virtuous and intelligent, when they approach the ballot box. Who can doubt that there are thousands — aye, millions — of women in these United States who are better qualified to discharge this important duty then the men I have just alluded to —many of whom are each year bought up by designing demagogues like cattle in the market.
There can be no excuse for woman’s exclusion on the ground of mental inferiority, for woman has the same mental and moral faculties as man. Whatever difference there may be between them exists only in degree, and not in kind. The phrenologist tells us that both have faith, hope, fear, love, pride, firmness, combativeness, and destructiveness. In woman the first four of these are said to predominate, and in man the last four. But this rule is not universal. There are some women who have more firmness and combativeness than some men, and again there are some men who have more faith, hope, or love than some women. It will not do, then, to make the possession or non-possession of either particular of these faculties a rule of exclusion, for to do so we should have to make the inspectors of elections all phrenologists; and then we should certainly admit some women to vote, and as certainly exclude some men.
The man who says his wife don’t [sic] know enough to vote should blush to make the acknowledgment, for it is but to say that he has allied himself for life to a woman of inferior capacities, and that his children are to spring from a being many degrees lower in the scale of intelligence than himself. What man is there among you who will assume so degrading a position — degrading not alone to woman but to yourselves.
It is very true that there are ignorant women, and so too, are there ignorant men. But taken together, I think the women of the country are as well qualified to discharge the duties of citizenship as are the men of the country. If there is any deficiency on the part of woman — which I am not ready to admit — it is not a natural one, but is the effect of the cramping and restraining influence to which she is subjected. Accord to her her rights, and she will soon fit herself for the discharge of any duties they may impose. “She will study more carefully the laws of her country, take a keener interest in public affairs, and thus be led to think and act intelligently in reference to them.”
Again, women are as well qualified to participate in the affairs of government as most men to whom those affairs are now committed. The standard of official qualification is certainly not very high. Many men are elected to office who are but illy fitted for the discharge of its duties. Look at our legislative halls — how many really able men are found? Indeed the great mass of legislators, and public officers, are men of inferior talents — men who follow blindly the lead of skillful managers and who vote aye, or nay, as others may dictate! Woman could at least do this. She could, and would, do more than this. Her love of justice, her regard for morality, her keen perceptions of right, would forbid her giving her assent to bad laws or unjust acts of legislation, while her sense of decency, her regard for decorum, her respect for the opinion of others, would exclude all possibility of our legislative halls being turned into theatres for the display of the worst passions and the most brutal instincts.
Another on this point has well said that if there is any one function for which woman has shown a decided vocation, it is that of governing—for in no country but republican America has she been entirely excluded from politics. Not to go back to ancient history, we look in vain for abler or firmer rulers than Elizabeth, of England; than Isabella, of Castile; than Maria Theresa, of Austria; than Catherine, of Russia; than Blanche, mother of Louis IX of France; than Jeanne de Albret, mother of Henry the IV. There are few kings on record who contended with greater difficulties, or overcame them more triumphantly, than these. In the middle ages, numbers of heroic women, like Jeanne de Montfort, or the Countess of Derby, as late as Charles I, distinguished themselves not only by their political but their military capacity. In the centuries immediately before, and after, the Reformation, ladies of royal houses, as diplomats, as governors of provinces, or as the confidential advisors of kings, equalled the first statesmen of their time; and the Treaty of Cambrai, which gave peace to Europe, was negotiated in conferences where no other person was present, by two women — Margaret, aunt of the Emperor Charles V; and Louisa, mother of Francis. Concerning the fitness, then, of woman for politics, there can be no question. When she has done such great deeds in the old world, amid a thousand disadvantages, and almost insurmountable obstacles, it cannot be denied that the women of intelligent America are capable of guiding successfully the affairs of this nation. Woman has ever shown fitness for the highest social functions, just in proportion as she has been admitted to them.
Again, I claim that there is nothing in woman’s peculiar position, or appropriate duties, to prevent her taking part in political affairs. I know that in assuming this position, I come in direct conflict with the views of many, who hold that woman cannot vote, legislate, or bold office, without neglecting her family. And if she did, the proper answer would be that it is nobody’s business but her own. Who would dare urge a similar objection to man’s voting, legislating or holding office, that he would neglect his family or his business? And yet the objection would be as reasonable in one case as the other. In settling a question of natural and inherent right, we should not, and must not, stop to consider conveniences or inconveniences. The right must be accorded — the field left clear, and the consequences will take care of themselves.
Men argue as though if women are granted an equal voice in the government, all our nurseries would be abandoned, the little ones left to take care of themselves, and the country become depopulated. They have frightened themselves with the belief that kitchens would be deserted, and dinners left uncooked, and that men would have to turn housekeepers and nurses. When the truth is, mothers have about as much regard for the home and the welfare of their children as have the fathers; and understand what their own duties are as well as men do; and they are generally as careful for the interests of the one, and as faithful in the discharge of the other, as are these watchful guardians of theirs, who tremble lest they should get out of their sphere. God and nature have implanted in woman’s heart a love of her offspring and an instinctive knowledge of what is proper and what improper for her to do, and it needs no laws of man’s making to compel the one, or teach the other. Give her freedom, and her own good sense will direct her how to use it.
Were the prohibition removed tomorrow, not more than one mother in a thousand would be required to leave her family to serve the state, and not one without her own consent. And even though all the offices in the country were filled by women — which would never be likely to happen — it would take but a very small proportion of the whole away from their families; not more than now leave home each year for a stay of months at Saratoga, or Newport, or elsewhere — not more than now crowd the galleries of our halls of legislation, dispensing smiles on the members below. There would, then, be little danger of the terrible consequences so feelingly depicted, by those who fear that the babies, and their own stomachs, would suffer.
But I have no desire, nor does any advocate of the enfranchisement of woman desire, that mothers should neglect their duties to their children. Indeed no greater sticklers for the faithful discharge of such duties can be found than among the prominent advocates of this cause, and no more exemplary mothers can be found than those who have taken the lead as earnest pleaders for woman’s emancipation.
Undoubtedly the highest — and holiest — duty of both father and mother is to their children, and neither the one or the other from any false ideas of patriotism, any love of display or ambition, any desire for fame and distinction, should leave a young family to engage in governmental affairs. A mother who is bringing up a family has her work at home, and she should stay at home with it, and care well for their education and physical wants. Her children should not be neglected for either fame or pleasure. But having discharged her duty at home, having reared a well developed and wisely governed family, then Jet the state profit by her experience, and let the father and the mother sit down together in the councils of the nation.
But all women are not mothers — all women have not home duties to attend to, so we shall never lack for enough to look after our interests at the ballot box and in legislative halls. There are thousands of unmarried women, childless wives, widows and matrons, and it would be easy at all times to find enough to represent our sex, without taking a mother with a baby in her arms.
Because some women, at some time of their lives, may be prevented from taking upon themselves a part of the burthens of government, shall we therefore disqualify all the women in the nation from having a voice in political affairs? Because soldiers, and sailors, on account of their profession, and some other men on account of business engagements, or sickness, are prevented from voting occasionally, would you for that reason disfranchise all the men of the nation? And yet the cases are precisely the same, and it would be as reasonable for you to exclude the latter from voting, as it is to continue to exclude the former. All women may vote, without neglecting any duty — for the mere act of voting would occupy but little time — not more than shopping, or making calls; and enough could be found to fill all the offices in the country, if they were wanted, without taking one mother from her children. We should be sorry, however, to see all the offices in the hands of women, as then things might not be managed with more equal justice than now. We do not wish to monopolize the affairs of government, by any means, or to deprive men of any rights or honors. All we ask is to share these things with him, and to be recognized by him as a part of the people, having rights and interests in common with himself.
Instead of woman being excluded from the elective franchise because she is a mother, that is the strongest reason that can be urged in favor of granting her that right. If she is responsible to society and to God for the moral and physical welfare of her son — she is to bring him up as the future wise legislator, lawyer and jurist — if she is to keep him pure, and prepare him to appear before the bar of the Most High —then she should have unlimited control over his actions and the circumstances which surround him. She should have every facility for guarding his interests, and for suppressing and removing all temptations and dangers that beset his path. If God has committed to her so sacred a charge, He has along with it given the power, and the right, of protecting it from evil, and for accomplishing the work He has given her to do; and no false modesty, no dread of ridicule, no fear of contamination, will excuse her for shrinking from its discharge.
Again, woman needs the elective franchise “to destroy the prevalent sentiment of female inferiority, which now pervades society like an atmosphere.” She needs it to make her the equal of her own sons, that they may not in a few years assume the power to rule over her, and make laws for her observance without her consent. The fact that she is the mother of mankind “the living providence under God who gives to every human being its mental, moral, and physical organism — he stamps upon every human heart her seal for good or for evil” is reason why she should occupy no inferior position in the world. “That woman who has no higher object of thought than the cooking a good dinner, compounding a good pudding, mending old clothes, or hemming dish towels — or a little more refined, whose thoughts centre on nothing more important than an elegant dress, beautiful embroidery, parties, dances and genteel gossip concerning the domestic affairs of the Smiths and Browns, can never give to the world either a Bacon or a Newton, a Milton or a Howard, a Bonaparte or a Washington. If we would have great men, we must first have great women. If we would have great statesmen, and great philanthropists, we must have mothers whose thoughts soar above the trifling objects which now engage the attention of the mass of women, and who are capable of impressing those thoughts upon the minds of their offspring.”
But not to dwell longer on this point, let us pass to the consideration of other reasons why woman should be recognized as a citizen and entitled to an equality of rights with the most favored class in society.
Woman is taxed. Her property must bear an equal proportion of the expenses of the government. She must pay her money to support public officers, to secure the administration of justice, to suppress crime, to construct canals, to build railroads, to erect public buildings, to sustain schools, to build school houses and to repair roads. And in states where women are allowed to hold property independent of their husbands, the amount of taxes which women pay is by no means inconsiderable. Now it is a well-understood principle of republicanism that taxation and representation should go together — or in other words, that all who pay taxes should have a voice in their imposition. It was, in fact, to vindicate this principle that our revolutionary fathers began the war of independence; and it to this day forms the leading idea, not only in our government, but in all governments, where the people have even a semblance of constitutional rights secured to them. And yet woman is taxed, although not represented. Her money is taken from her year after year, without even a pretence of asking her consent for so doing. Men meet together in school district meetings, for instance, and vote hundreds or thousands of dollars to build a school house, when perhaps a large proportion of this very money is to be levied upon the property of women. Why then, I ask, should they not be consulted in levying this tax? So, too, the men of an incorporated village or city assemble and vote hundreds of dollars for village and city improvements, when the tax list shows that a large proportion of this money is to be paid by women — and yet women are not consulted. And so, too, in state and national taxes — they are all considered, voted, assessed and collected by men, without ever consulting woman on the subject, although her property pays its full proportion. Though she possess $50,000, she is denied a vote, and yet she is truced. And if she own but a few feet of ground and a miserable hovel to shelter herself and little ones, it is all the same. Still she is taxed and a share of the hard earnings of her own hands must go, she knows not where, after placing it in the hands of the tax gatherer.
And who will justify this? Who dare affirm it to be right? Who will say that woman should not be heard in the imposition of truces? Indeed the very statement of my position on this subject is all the argument needed to prove her right. Taxation and representation should go together. All good democrats and good republicans agree in this. None can say otherwise without casting reproach upon the patriots of the revolution, those brave and gallant men who poured out their blood to sustain this very principle. Give woman, then, a share in the government; let her vote for your and her rulers, or else exempt her from taxation. One or the other must be done, if you would deal justly, and since it is pretty certain that you will not so exempt her, you are in duty bound to secure to her a right to be heard in the formation of laws.
Again, woman should enjoy the right of self-government in its fullest extent, because she has interests, and rights, which are not in fact, and never will be sufficiently guarded in governments in which she is not allowed any political influence. The full consideration of this position would open a wide field for discussion — enough of itself to occupy a whole lecture, and I have therefore only time to glance at it briefly. I have already partially examined it, in discussing the question how far man can be the representative of woman. I have shown that it is inconsistent in the very nature of things that one class can fully represent the wants and wishes of another class, and that therefore in a perfect government, where the rights of all would be protected, the female element should be just as fully represented as the male. The interests of both should be blended, and the feelings and wants of both should be consulted in the formation of laws. It is because this great principle of equal rights and just government has been overlooked that laws have been made and enforced from the earliest ages which are grossly unjust to woman.
At the commencement of the agitation of the Woman Suffrage question in this country, the Common Law of England in all its odiousness was in full force in all the states of the union. What the peculiar features of that law are, and how unjustly and cruelly they bear upon woman, is known to every reader of Blackstone. I have not time to examine them now. These barbarous laws are still in force in many states, while in others they have been in some respects changed and modified Iowa boasts of the liberality of her laws relating to woman, and in this respect she has progressed as far, or farther, than any of her older sisters. But there is still much that needs correcting. The law relating to joint property of husband and wife or property accumulated during marriage is one-sided and unjust and especially calls for further and impartial legislation.
Though woman has not yet gained her right of franchise, she has accomplished a great work by the agitation of the question, in exposing barbarous laws deeply affecting her own interests, by demanding a redress of her grievances, and compelling attention to her demands. Little do those women who sit at ease and say they have all the rights they want realize what has been gained for them by the untiring efforts of the pioneers in this great reform.
But however much she may have gained, woman can never enjoy true liberty until she is recognized as a citizen, and the rights and privileges of citizenship fully guaranteed to her. Until she is raised from her subordinate position in the marriage, in the family, and in the state. Until all political distinctions on account of sex are removed.
There are other wrongs to which woman has been, and is, subjected, which I wish briefly to notice, and which I believe would never have existed had woman had a full and free voice in the government.
Men cursed this fair land with slavery — put shackles upon millions of women — separated them from their husbands — tore their children from their arms — sold them like beasts in the market — and subjected them to the brutal passions and the cruel whips of their inhuman masters. But recently this curse was wiped out with tears and blood, yet its evil effects still remain, and will long remain a blighting curse upon our country, and a sad commentary upon man’s legislation.
Men have plunged the country into war, and torn from woman her nearest and dearest friends to slay them upon the battlefield — desolating her home and bringing her in sorrow to the grave. They have subjected her to the insults of a brutal soldiery, laid her home in ashes and her honor in the dust. How soon the evil may be repeated — how soon the tocsin of war may again be sounded, and the land deluged in blood, none can say. But woman is powerless to avert the evil.
Men have deluged the land with drunkenness, which yearly sends tens of thousands of the fathers, brothers, husbands and sons of woman to prison, to the gallows, to the grave — and pours out upon her defenseless bead all the accumulated sorrows which it is possible to inflict. Hundreds of thousands of licenses are granted each year for the carrying on of this work, yet no woman’s name was ever given to such a license, and in the granting of them no woman’s wishes were ever consulted. This is proxy representation!
Men have established and sustain gambling houses and brothels, through whose dark gates the husbands and sons, and daughters of women go down the dark way to sin and crime, and are ruined in body and soul forever!
Has woman no interest in staying this work? And would she withhold her vote from wiping out this inequity, so blasting to her every interest and happiness, so destructive of all that is pure and noble and good in man?
All these are further arguments in proof of the necessity of woman having a voice in the legislation of the country, that she may secure justice to herself, and save the land from oppression and misrule. She cannot hope that man unaided will ever work out a better state of things, since all the accumulated wisdom of ages has failed to so enlighten his path, or clear his vision, that he may see and do the things which right and justice demand. For ages he has had the entire legislation in his own hands, and we have seen the things he has wrought.
“It is evident to the most casual observer, that some essential element is wanting in the political organization of the republic. And that element, we believe, woman only can supply. Her voice has been silenced, but man cannot fulfill his destiny alone — he cannot redeem his race unaided. There must be a great national heart as well as head; and there are deep and tender chords of sympathy and love, that woman can touch more skillfully than man.” “For the well being of the human race, we need the joint action of man and woman in the family, the community, the church and the state.”
In conclusion, the enfranchisement of woman will be attended with the happiest results, not for her only, but for the whole race. It will place society upon a higher moral and social elevation than it has ever yet attained . . . …. [The final paragraphs of this speech are identical to those found at the end of “Equality in Rights and Privileges.”]
Source: Copyright 2019. Seneca Falls Historical Society, Seneca Falls, NY. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Source: Hear Me Patiently: The Reform Speeches of Amelia Jenks Bloomer, ed. Anne C. Coon, (Westport: Greenwood Press), 1994.