Select Page

Suffrage for Women

August 25, 1909 — Chautauqua Assembly, Chautauqua NY


If a democracy is a government by the people, and if a republic is a representative democracy, then there is no such thing in our country except in the four states where both men and women elect their representatives. In all the other states government is by an aristocracy of sex, for there can be neither republic nor democracy where one fraction of the people governs another fraction.
The anti-suffragists assert that woman is virtually represented, but I believe with Adams and Otis that there can be no such thing as virtual representation in government; the people actually voting must be authorized to represent the others.
The opponents of suffrage urge that suffrage never will come because it has already been voted down many times. So it has been voted down, but so also would the ten commandments be voted won in the state of New York! The value of the movement does not depend upon whether it is voted up or voted down; its importance depends on whether it is fundamentally right or not, and the heart of the human race is bound to be ultimately fundamentally right.
To the frequent objection that women are not fitted for the suffrage, I answer that they are better fitted for it than any class of men in this country have been at the time that the suffrage was given to them. The negro, the laboring man, the Revolutionary soldiers at the time of their enfranchisement showed only a small proportion who could read and write.
It is often insisted that the reason why men vote is because they fight, yet the only men who are prohibited from voting are the men in the regular army!
Why should a feeble man vote because some other man can fight? The right should be given to the mother of the fighting man. A democracy does not rest on force. It never did and it never will. Rather does it rest on the education of its people for righteousness, which Carlyle declared was a democracy’s only hope.
Democracy stands for three things: the right of every human being to earn an honest living, the right of the individual to reach his highest development, and the right of the individual to serve the community in citizenship. Woman should have her chance at each one of these aspects of democracy, and the ballot will gain the chance for her. If a thousand years without the ballot has made her only the “lovely, incapable” creature that she is declared to be, then by all means let us see what the ballot can do for her. Doing creates fitness.
Men and women have their respective duties of fatherhood and motherhood, but between the extremes they may meet in education, in social service, and in government for the help of both men and women.
The ideals of democracy of to-morrow will apply the principles of democracy of to-day, and to-morrow there is bound to come the true representative democracy wherein every member of society has his and her part.



Source: American Oratory of To-Day, ed. Edwin DuBois Shurter (Austin: South-West Publishing Company) 1910, pp. 270-272.