Let Woman Have the Franchise
Address to the First Anniversary
of the American Equal Rights Association
May 9, 1867 — Church of the Puritans, New York City
After all, we come down to the root of all evil — to money. It is rather humiliating, after the discourse that we have just heard, that told us of the rise and progress and destruction of nations, of empires and of republics, that we have to come down to dollars and cents. We live in an entirely practical age. I can show you in a few words that if we only had sufficient of that root of all evil in our hands, there would be no need of holding these meetings. We could obtain the elective franchise without making a single speech. Give us one million of dollars, and we will have the elective franchise at the very next session of our Legislature. But as we have not got a million of dollars, we want a million of voices. There are always two ways of obtaining an object. If we had had the money, we could have bought the Legislature and the elective franchise long before now. But as we have not, we must create a public opinion, and for that we must have voices.
I have always thought I was convinced not only of the necessity but of the great importance of obtaining the elective franchise for woman; but recently I have become convinced that I never felt sufficiently that importance until now. Just read your public papers and see how our Senators and our members of the House are running round through the Southern States to hold meetings, and to deliver public addresses. To whom? To the freedmen. And why now, and why not ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago? Why do they get up meetings for the colored men, and call them fellow-men, brothers, and gentlemen? Because the freedman has that talisman in his hands which the politician is looking after. Don’t you perceive, then, the importance of the elective franchise? Perhaps when we have the elective franchise in our hands, these great senators will condescend to inform us too of the importance of obtaining our rights.
You need not be afraid that when woman has the franchise, men will ever disturb her. I presume there are present, as there always are such people, those of timid minds, chicken-hearted, who so admire and respect woman that they are dreadfully afraid lest, when she comes to the ballot-box, rude, uncouth and vulgar men will say something to disturb her. You may set your hearts all at rest. If we once have the elective franchise, upon the first indication that any man will endeavor to disturb a woman in her duty at the polls, Congress will enact another Freedman’s Bureau — I beg pardon, a Freedwoman’s Bureau — to protect women against men, and to guard the purity of the ballot-box at the same time.
I have sometimes been asked, even by sensible men, “If woman had the elective franchise, would she got to the polls to mix with rude men?” Well, would I go to the church to mix with rude men? And should not the ballot-box be as respectable, and as respected, and as sacred as the church? Aye, infinitely more so, because it is of greater importance. Men can pray in secret, but must vote in public. Hence the ballot, of the two, ought to be the most respected; and it would be if women were once there; but it never will be until they are there.
We have been told this evening that it is not good for man to be alone. No; if it was not well for him to be alone in the garden of Eden, it surely cannot be well for him to be alone at the ballot-box.
Our rights are so old as humanity itself. Yet we are obliged to ask man to give us the ballot, because he has it in his own hands. It is ours, and at the same time we ask for it; and we have sent on petitions to Congress. We have been told that the Republic is not destroyed. It has been destroyed, root and branch, because, if it were not destroyed, there would be no need to reconstruct it. And we have asked Congress, in the reconstruction of the Republic, to place it upon a sound foundation. Why have all former republics vanished out of existence? Simply because they were built upon the sand. In the erection of a building, in proportion to the height of the walls must be the depth and soundness of the foundation. If the foundation is shallow or unsound, the higher you raise your superstructure the surer its downfall. That is the reason a republic has not existed as long as a monarchy, because it embraced principles of human rights in its superstructure which it denied in its foundation. Hence, before this Republic could count a hundred years, it has had one of the mightiest revolutions that ever occurred in any country or in any period of human existence. Its foundation was laid wrong. It made a republic for white men alone. It discriminated against color; it discriminated against woman; and at the same time it pronounced that all men are created free and equal, and endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It raised its superstructure to the clouds; and it has fallen as low as any empire could fall. It is divided. A house divided against itself cannot stand. A wrong always operates against itself, and falls back on the wrong-doer. We have proclaimed to the world universal suffrage; but it is universal suffrage with a vengeance attached to it—universal suffrage excluding the negro and the woman, who are by far the largest majority in this country. It is not the majority that rules here, but the minority. White men are in the minority in this nation. White women, black men, and black women con.pose the large majority of the nation. Yet, in spite of this fact, in spite of common sense, in spite of justice, while our members of Congress can prate so long about justice, and human rights, and the rights of the negro, they have not the moral courage to say anything for the rights of woman.
In proportion to power is responsibility. Our Republican senators and members of Congress have taken unto themselves great power. They have made great professions. There is a very good maxim, “Of him to whom much is given, much shall be required.” In proportion to their claims to be friends of human freedom, lovers of human rights, do we demand of them our rights and justice. When Chase, Summer, Stevens, and Wilson talk to the negro of the importance of having the franchise, and stop short of giving the franchise to woman, I proclaim them hypocrites—I proclaim them politicians. They speak so to the newly freed slave, because he has already the ballot in his hands, and they want him to vote for them. We have not that right, and hence they do not speak one word in favor of our attaining the elective franchise. I make no difference between one party and another. All parties are alike to me so far as they are right; and all parties are alike to me so far as they are wrong. For one, I would not be bound by party if I had the franchise in my hand to-day. I would go for my own highest convictions of right, irrespective of party. Perhaps our Senators know that woman would not be such a docile tool in their hands as the newly freed slave, and hence they will not give the ballot to us. If they do think so, they do us justice, because we would not be, you may depend on that.
There are a great many objections urged against the enfranchisement of women; and one that I have recently heard is that women would not go to war. Perhaps, if women had the franchise, men would not need to go to war neither. And this is one great reason why I demand the franchise. War is only a relic of the old barbarisms. So long as woman is deprived of her right, man is only next door to a barbarian. If he were not, he never would go to war. When woman has the franchise she will not want to go to war, and she will not want her husband to go to war; she will not want to have her son or her brother go to war; and none of them will need to go to war. Is war necessary? Are rowdies necessary? Is it necessary for man to be vulgar and corrupt? Is it necessary to disgrace the ballot-box by rows and fightings, so that a woman dare not go within its precincts? Are these things inalienable rights in a republic? Do they belong to the ballot-box? Do they belong to this country? Do they belong to the nineteenth century? For my part, I say, No!
The ballot is a teacher. Henry Ward Beecher, in a discourse on the subject last winter, said, in regard to woman’s franchise, that the ballot is a teacher. I am glad to be able to agree with a minister, which is not often the case. Yes, it is a teacher. Yet, when a man alone has the ballot, it fails to be his teacher. It has not taught him the great lesson that the ballot is useless, that it becomes perverted and corrupt, when woman is kept from it.
One of the greatest Grecian philosophers has proclaimed that no one ought to be amenable to the laws of the land that has not voice in enacting the laws. Woman is amenable to our laws. She is punished; she is imprisoned; she is hung; but she has no voice in making the law that imprisons her or hangs her. She is taxed, but she has no voice in the laws that levy the tax. She is judged, but she has no voice in the laws, or in saying who shall judge her. Woman ought to be wherever her duty calls her — at the ballot-box, on the judge’s bench, in the jury-box; the lawyer at the bar to plead her own case. Millions of money have been spent, many thousand lives have been lost, to obtain for man the great boon of being judged by his peers. Who are our peers? Are we the same that man is? Then we have the same rights that he has. Are we not the same that he is? Then what right has he to judge us? How can be plead for us? How can be understand the motives of a being so entirely different from himself? There is no justice in it. But it is an old error, and it is very difficult to eradicate it; it cannot be done except by money or by voices.
We have lately read in the papers, to the shame and disgrace of this civilized Republic in the nineteenth century, that the Legislature of New York took into consideration the enactment of laws against a “social evil.” For my part, I never knew a social evil to be removed by force of law. Is there only one kind of social evil? Are there not many kinds? Is there not defalcation, deception, intrigue, swindling, defrauding—the government defrauding the people, and the people defrauding the government and each other? Why, then, not enact laws against these kinds of “social evil?” After you have stopped them, then you may talk about enacting laws to prevent another social evil. The prevention of that social evil must commence in the nursery. If you will bring up woman as you ought to bring up men — not as you do bring up men —acknowledging her right to live the same as men, giving her the same advantages and the same rights that men have, there will be no need to enact laws against a “social evil.” It is a shame to talk about licensing a social evil. It is a shame to this Republic. It is a violation of woman’s nature. It is an insult to womanhood; and if woman has one drop of pure blood stirring in her heart, she must revolt against it. At the same time, I say to the Legislature that, if you enact laws against social evils, whatever those laws are, let them be alike for man and for woman. If you want to derive a revenue from the corruption of the community, let it be drawn alike from both sexes. The social evil belongs to both; the social remedy must belong to both. Do not degrade woman more than she is already degraded. Perchance she is driven, through your injustice, to that step to maintain her wretched existence, because every avenue of emolument is barred against her; and yet that commits the injustice and takes advantage of her feebleness, her confiding nature, her helpless poverty, and her ignorance, enacts laws against woman and against the social evil! I would rather give the stray lamb into the power of the wolf for protection. Let woman have the franchise; let all the avenues of society be thrown open before her, according to her powers and her capacities, and there will be no need to talk about social evils. Depend upon it that she will not only take care of herself, but will help to take care of man, which is more than he has ever done for himself.