To Plead the Cause
March 7, 1883 — Sixteenth Annual National Woman Suffrage Convention, Washington DC
Since Miss Anthony has honored me with an invitation to say a few words during the Convention, I dare not decline, as I feel bound to do all that lies within my power for the advancement of this cause. We are met here to plead the cause of universal Suffrage, and I think I cannot do better than to begin with a quotation from an address delivered upon this subject at Portland, Oregon, by Wm. Lloyd Garrison, Jr., — the authority will be acknowledged, the style good, the sense secure, and it will open up promptly one of the greatest difficulties under which this Association labors — he says: “I see before me the familiar, time-honored, Woman Suffrage Convention; how well I know it! Year in and year out, through discouragement, ridicule and apathy, doomed to repeat the old arguments, to answer for the thousandth time the objections raised by timidity and prejudice, the weary, yet unwearied advocates of simple justice compel the attention of the public! How many times, with exhaustive eloquence and unanswerable reasons, have these stale objections been demolished! There was a time that when the brains were out, the man would die, and there end — but now they rise again, and we are forced again and again to slay the slain; but tiresome as it is to continually repeat line upon line and precept upon precept, and to labor to prove that two and two make four, such is and always must be the work of the reformer.
Thus, with somewhat of the seer
Must the moral pioneer
From the future borrow!
Clothe the waste with dreams of grain
And on midnight’s sky of rain
Paint the golden morrow.”
So said Mr. Garrison, and I add, that, with the long array of earnest thinkers and brilliant speakers that have been striving in this cause for years, the utmost that we can hope to do in this day is to stir up older minds by way of remembrance and to inspire younger ones with energy and zeal. Of the objection that the franchise is already too broadly exercised and should be limited, Mr. Garrison again says: “This objection is not only irrelevant, but it is also impertinent unless these same restrictions be applied to men and women alike, and it does not in any wise touch the question at issue. Another favorite argument with our opponents is this, that no woman has as yet shone exceptionally, that is, head and shoulders above the entire race in any branch of science, art, literature, music, or invention. I reply to this, let us wait awhile, woman has had but slight chance, but small opportunity. Each generation of men has had the benefit of the combined wisdom and experience of every generation that has preceded it since the race first appeared upon the earth. Man’s powers have been permitted, nay, obliged to expand and to express themselves in all possible directions, he has had as it were infinite training, and the effects of training are, as we know, incalculable: we see this in the learned pig, the dancing elephant, the dog, the horse, in man; why not the same results in woman?” But how has it been with our sex? Why, for us there has been made by man and not by God, a procrustean bed upon which we have been forced to lie; and, if perchance we grow too large for this poor and narrow pallet, we must be clipped and trimmed to suit it. And yet, with all the wasted ages back of us, moving in fetters rather than in freedom, breathing still the stifling atmosphere of restriction and repression, we are nevertheless steadily advancing towards a beckoning future — rich not only in glorious promise, but teeming with grand realities!
I think now of two prominent English women who are lecturing; the one before the National Secular Society of that country upon “Mind Physiologically Considered,” the other upon “English Land Tenures,” giving, the journals say, a very clear and interesting exposition of the basis of that law, while a third is engaged in a course of lectures upon “The French Revolution,” which belong, it is said, to the very best that literature has produced on this theme, to say nothing of the scores of women of our own land, whom, were I a betting character, I would pit against an equal number of picked men to do the same amount and the same grade of good and faithful work! — And yet it is said that women are not fit for self-government, that we are too frivolous, too weak; you may rest assured that the responsibility alone of self-government will best and most certainly check frivolity, impart strength to character and itself create this very fitness that is so much harped upon. What but the strictest government of self constitutes the charm and the inestimable worth of the tender, loving and loyal women, whose lives still bless or whose memories consecrate every true home throughout the world?
There appeared lately in one of the daily papers an article entitled “Woman Suffrage in Wyoming,” which was extensively copied and enthusiastically read; it stated as its summary, that “corruption, trickery, fraud and vice had by the enfranchisement of women been reinforced by weakness, ignorance, indifference, cowardice and imbecility, that as a consequence public morals are laid low in Wyoming, and practicable plans of reform lack intelligent support.” Alas! alas! Now, my friends, in the first place I do not for a moment believe one word of this, and I only wish that there was here present from that distant Territory some one who could and would hotly refute the charge. If such a state of things can by any strange possibility be true, it speaks very badly for the men of that Territory; they are surely formed of far more plastic material than those of any region of which I have either personal experience or reliable information. We do not for a moment suppose that universal Suffrage will completely transform and purify politics; why should we? Does any one, any one man I mean, who is or should be posted in such things, pretend to say, that it is the mass of unwinnowed emigrant and negro votes that makes politics corrupt? Surely not. “Men follow their leaders in thought, in fashion and in affairs, and it requires far more than the average intelligence of the swarms just mentioned to manipulate votes and their returns, to insert treacherous planks into platforms, to incite those passions in men which run the whole gamut of cupidity from sheriff to president, from collector of the port of New York to contractor for a village mail-route in the far West, in fact to do the heavy mischief; we do claim however, that by the emancipation of our sex that fearful evil — from which I verily believe springs directly or indirectly all others, whose results are broken homes and ruined lives, bodies and souls shattered and degraded — the overwhelming curse of intemperance, will not only be greatly modified, but will be measurably eradicated; and this alone, it seems to me, should prove the “open sesame” to the enfranchisement of women! Lastly, all women know, whether in Wyoming or in Washington or wheresoever they may be, that no making or no repealing of any law or laws enacted by man can affect their womanhood; this grand heritage can only become more or less valuable through the keeping or the breaking of the eternal laws of the Universe. I was glad to hear such sentiments as the following, straight from the heart of an earnest, active and useful citizen of this metropolis, a native of Washington, a young man over whose utterances I rejoice since I believe they will assist in moulding [sic] the opinions of our honored but rather tardy State of Maryland — he said to a class of graduates of the Hannah Moore Academy: “True modesty is not made from without but from within, and it throws an atmosphere of purity around its possessor that bows the head of vice. No honest labor can unsex or degrade any one — if the most menial labor could do the last, there would be but one sex among the peasantry of Europe; but it is not true ‘The bravest are the tenderest, and are yet men; the loving are the most daring, and are yet women!’ I have faith enough in women to believe that they would lift us up, and not that we would drag them down!” I regard such sentiments as these as a bright sign of the better times, though, like little Oliver, I feel like asking for more, and I earnestly trust that this same gentleman and lawyer will soon be eloquently advocating the cause that we are pleading to-day.
There are a great many excellent people in the world who are strongly prejudiced against what they designate “isms,” but who are always glad of any opportunity of serving God, as they express it. I ask, what can finite beings do to serve omnipotence, unless it be to exert all their powers for the good of humanity, for the uplifting of man, which, if ought of ours could do so, must rejoice our creator. When we see more than one-half of the adult human family —reasonably industrious and intelligent, if we make for them no larger claim, and certainly the raison d’etre of the other half called to account by the laws of the land, and held in strict obedience to them without the slightest voice in their making with neither form nor shadow of representation before state or country, do we not see that there rests upon the entire race a stigma and a stain, that materialist and idealist, churchman and agnostic should each and all hasten to remove? “Behold, the fields are white unto harvest, but the laborers are few!” How can it be longer tolerated that the wives and mothers, the sisters and daughters of a land claiming the highest degree of civilization and boasting of freedom as its watchword, should still rank (and rankle) before the law with criminals, idiots and slaves. I feel as confident as I do of my existence, that the apathy which we are now fighting against, especially among our own sex, springs mainly from want of thought: the women of culture and refinement throughout the country placidly accept, as well they may, the comfortable conditions in which they find themselves. They receive without question the formulated theories of woman’s sphere as they accept the formulated theories of the orthodox religions into which they may chance to have been born; occasionally an original thinker steps out of the ranks and finds herself after a while with a few followers — they remain but few however, for it is too much trouble to think—and so the sorrow and the loss fall heaviest upon the thousands of weary, wretched women, who are scarcely conscious of the tie of father or of brother, and to whom the name of husband, even be it legal, is, alas, too often but the synonym of tyrant! poor, oppressed, overburdened women, whose voices, whether rising into a wail of agony, or sinking into despairing sighs, reach no sympathetic ear, no heart that represents them in the land. “‘Tis true ’tis pity, and pity ’tis ’tis true!” My friends, we are often sorrowful, but we are never discouraged nor dismayed; we will work on, work ever!
“We will work!
And pure slumber shall wait on our pillow;
Work and we’ll ride over care’s coming billow.
Lie down undaunted ‘neath woe’s weeping willow,
Nor heed the world cynics that point but to ill!
“We will pause not!
Tho’ shame, scorn and hardship surround us,
We’ll bravely fling back the cold chain that hath bound us,
Well look to yon pure heaven smiling beyond us —
We’ll work with a stout heart and a resolute will!”
I have come upon the stage too late! The victory is almost won!
Would that I had been accounted worthy to share the glorious warfare of these scarred and toil-worn veterans — alas, I can but join the paean of all honor and all praise to them, now and forevermore!
Source: National Woman Suffrage Association, Report of the Sixteenth Annual Washington Convention, March 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th, 1884, With Reports of the Forty-Eighth Congress, ed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (Rochester, NY: Charles Mann) 1884, pp. 67-70.