Taxation Without Representation
February 8, 1858 — Small Hall, Orange NJ
One would suppose that the principle which we advocate — the inseparability of taxation and representation — is broached for the first time. People regard it as very new and very curious, and wonder what kind of men and women these are who are telling us that taxation and representation are inseparable. Such people forget or have never read history; they have surely forgotten those stories which their mothers told them at their knees of the struggles of our revolutionary fathers for this great principle. This is no new thing, bursting from some fanciful brain, but a principle which American men and women have been proud to profess and repeat. Those who quarrel with this principle should understand that their quarrel is with men of a former day — men of a time which I sometimes believe was better than our own — with men who said, “we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,” to the principle that the House of Commons shall not tax us without giving us representation. They told the world that governments are just only so far as they rest upon the consent of the governed. We now ask that this may not be held up merely as a beautiful theory, but shall be realized as a practical fact. We say the same thing which they claimed. They spoke better things than they knew. Standing up as they did in the dim light of a time when the divine right of kings was not questioned, they put forth the principle that man was stronger than institutions. They said “We the people.” And who did thy mean by the people? Just we the men. There you have the old Puritans, who came to the wilderness to get the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences and then burned Baptists and hung Quakers because they dd not believe the same creed with them; and as for the rights of woman, they treated them as if they were nothing at all. And though we hear the cry of equality of institutions and free suffrage, half the adult population are deprived of the right to vote; and this is true even in New York and New Jersey.
We are told that all political power is vested in the people. Who are the people of New Jersey? See whom your statute describes as such: “Every white male citizen,” etc. Who are those not allowed to participate in the government? They are paupers, criminals, idiots, insane person — and who else are excepted? Why, all your wives, children and negroes! You group these together — you class women with idiots, paupers and insane persons, and call us all nobody.
I do not see how men who remember their mothers — who love their wives and daughters — can look into their faces, and consent to such enactments as these. You have made to yourselves an aristocracy of sex, and call yourselves the people; and the women take the insult thus offered, and call it a compliment.
I say the principle, that taxation and representation are inseparable is not a new one, but that it was the basic principle of the Revolution. Better words never came from human lips than they uttered, as they spake them worthily; and we their daughters, aided by some of their noblest sons, mean to make them a living fact.
I know there are some who ask: What can you do — a few women fighting against mankind? It is not me — it is not you; it is God — the principle of justice, God on one side, and the America people on the other. Which will triumph?
In this matter, the battle is not to the strong, nor the race to the swift; but here is a principle of omnipotent justice, which must at last draw all men to it, and it is not in human power to keep them away.
In the revolution, Mrs. Adams sad to her husband, “It seems to me that while you are struggling for your own liberty, you are not applying the principle universally” — the women and the slaves had been left out. The principle was not applied then, and has not been applied since.
Go to the wisest man you know – the one most capable of answering — and ask him: Why are you not willing that women should have the right of suffrage? I have sought for years for reasons why, and have found none; and simply because there is no reason against it. And yet something floats in the popular mind; and what is it? One man said to me once, “There is no escaping the force of your position, if we admit the truths of the Declaration of Independence; and yet I should be sorry to see my daughter at an election.” “Why?” I asked him. “Because, he replied, “men behave so badly there.” I told him that those men who take part in elections, meet us in the parlor and in the street, and are respectful; and if the men act so badly by themselves, it is the best argument in the world that they need the women there to keep them in order.
Now, if this is the reason why we should not have our rights — if it is actually a reverence for us — then let me say to you, as I said to him: It is not necessary that you and I vote at the same place. You may have your places to vote, and we will have ours. We will invite all the decent men to vote with us, and all that are not decent may vote by themselves.
Another man said to me, “You see that if women vote, it will make trouble at home. Suppose a man belongs to one party, and his wife to another. Suppose the wife will vote her party, and the husband will vote his. Suppose the wife were a Republican, as she would very likely to be, and the husband were a know-nothing, as he would be likely to be, what, said he, will become of domestic harmony?” It happened that I had been in his house, and knew the kind of domestic harmony there was in it, and I reminded him that domestic harmony was not always attendant upon the political subjugation of woman — that order once reigned in Warsaw; and that this was the species of order that reigned in thousands of households. If women are allowed to vote, I would advise all suitors wishing wives without opinions, to state to them very frankly in advance, that they are so small and narrow-minded, they can never allow the wife to differ; and then if she is stupid enough to marry him, let her take the consequences.
I had heard this argument so often repeated that I began to think there might be something in it. So I went to an old woman, and asked her if a difference of political opinion would make husband and wife quarrel. She cast upon me a look which evidently said, “You are verdant,” and replied “Don’t you know that when a man wants another to vote with him, he don’t quarrel? He is never so pleasant at when he wants to get his vote; and so if he want to get his wife’s vote, he will be very affable to her.” I think the old woman’s words were the words of wisdom; and whenever I hear this argument used by women, I cannot but think it an impressive lesson of the power which the husband possesses over the wife — a power so strong she fears she cannot act form her own convictions, without quarreling with her husband. If the husband has yet to learn that a woman has a right to think for herself, and to act form her own convictions of duty, let him learn it as he can. And when he learns this lesson, when he sees his wife an independent, thinking, reasoning being, competent to guide herself and help to guide him, he will learn how much he lost by claiming that she should be subjected to him, and quarrelling with her if she would not consent to it.
Then, we are told that the women do not want to to vote. If they do not want to, why do you think it needful to go and hedge up the way by statues? Is there a necessity for making laws and preventing people doing what they do not want to do?
It is said that women have the children to take care of; that the baby will be left to cry, if the woman goes to vote — just as if every woman had a baby! There is nothing this side of heaven so sacred as the relations of a mother. Its duties must all be attended to. But who that remember remembers the love that never slept — the hand that never grew weary — his own mother’s love — ever once finds it in his heart to believe that one to whom God has given this great duty, will leave her child when it needs her care? The women who have babies cannot go to Congress, and therefore no woman should be allowed to vote or go to Congress. Such is the argument; and the logic of it is the same as if you should say, some men are in the army, and cannot vote; therefore, no men shall vote. A man who is more attached to his business than to public life, would not be induced to go to Congress; and so a woman, with the sacred duties of a mother to perform, would not go to Congress. But there are many women who do not have children, and are free; and shall these be denied the right of being selected, simply because others cannot attend to the duties of public life?
It does not take long to vote, and the right of franchise could not interfere with domestic duties.
There is not a man, no matter how ignorant he may be, if he never saw the inside of a school-house, if he is so drunk that he goes wallowing from your corner to the ballot-box, and for the price of his soul cannot tell what the vote in his hand is — I saw there is not a man, no matter how debased, how ignorant or how drunk, but imply because he is a man, has a right to vote. And, woman, remember that politically the drunkard is higher than you are, and that the ignoramus is more competent as a citizen. When women remember this, my only wonder is, that they have said so long that they do not care for the elective franchise. I blush for woman when she says she has all the rights she wants.
I have said there are no reasons why woman should not exercise the elective franchise; but there are many real reasons why woman should exercise it.
One set of persons has never yet legislated well for another set of persons.
There are many reasons why women must legislate for themselves. The Statute books of every State are covered with enactments that disgrace them — laws made against every wife and daughter, so that injustice is written upon every code, so far as women are concerned. In the first place, women suffer taxation without representation. Remember the time when the tea went overboard in Boston harbor — when the tax-gatherer fled for his life — and learn what must be the result when great truths are felt as such.
Taxation and representation are made separable always in the case of woman. It taunts one so that, but for faith in God and the ultimate triumph of truth, one would be tempted to suppose that in the heart of man there is no reverence for truth. There it is blazoned forth in letters of light, that the consent of the governed must be obtained, or the government is not just. But let us ask the privilege of giving our consent, and eyes and hands are thrown up in horror. “Your consent! who ever heard of such a thing?” It is a cup of Tantalus which escapes as we grasp for it. We are taxed, and can have no possible voice in the matter. Said the men of Revolutionary times, “If we are taxed without representation, we are slaves.” Lord Chatham declared that taxation and representation were inseparable, and this was the eternal law of nature. You teach your boys to speak that in school as a fine piece of declamation; but when we come and ask you for the same thing as a practical fact, you say it don’t mean women.
Pray, men of New Jersey, don’t be so inconsistent! Either give us the right to vote, or blot out the word “people” from your statutes, or else declare openly that women and negroes are nobody. Your theory and practice will then coincide.
It requires patience to stand up and argue with people who admit a principle in theory, in its widest application, and yet, utterly deny it practically. Yet have I faith that this good cause will triumph. Though now there be those who should and hoot us when we say we ought to vote, we will teach the children at our knees, who are growing every year stronger and taller, and when they are old enough and strong enough, they will shout and hoot for us, and against those who shall say women ought not to vote.
There are thousands of women who have been paying their taxes under protest for years, and the number is growing larger — women who will not pay taxes, though the very cradle in which they rock their babe should be taken and sold.
The common law says that the husband and the wife are one person in law, and Judge walker says the husband is that one. The common law says the very existence of the wife is merged — mark you, ladies, merged is the word — into that of her husband. And it is so literally merged that it follows her to her very grave, and on her tombstone writes that she is the relic of somebody — a piece of the man in whom she was merged. Her legal existence is suspended, so that she can neither sue nor be sued.
(The speaker referred to the recent habeas corpus case in New York, in which a wife was permitted to go home with her parents, from her husband, and said it was the first time a wife was allowed by a court to leave her husband without some criminal conduct on his part to justify her. She thanked God that it was the result of the woman’s rights movement which says that a wife has the same right to her person that a husband has to his. Even at the altar, the bride is made to promise obedience to the husband. She wished they would in this matter follow the example of the mother of George Bancroft, the historian, who, when the minister pronounced this part of the service — “You promise to obey” — replied, “No! I wont!” The minister felt insulted, and stopped the ceremony, but the bridegroom, a man of sense, said, inasmuch as he did not promise to obey, he required no such promise from the bride; the minister was finally reconciled, and the marriage was consummated. The bride loses all right to her own name. She is Mrs. Souzer, Mrs. Prof. Dingo, and Mrs. Bayham Badger, changing names with each husband, just as a negro who belongs to Brooks, would be called Cuffee Brooks, and one who belonged to Douglas, would be called Cuffee Douglas. He gets cuffed as much by one as the other.
The speaker next referred to the fact that the personal property of a wife in most States passes to the husband. The statues of New Jersey gave the husband complete control over the earnings of the wife. So great a wrong inflected upon any considerable body of men would create a revolution.)
The wife has no legal claim to her children. The father may give away even a child unborn. There was an instance of this in New Jersey. A ma died, and his wife discovered before his burial, that he had, before his death, disposed of their child yet to be born. Who could blame her for saying — I cease to weep beside the grave of one who has done me this great wrong?
You tell us there is not need that we legislate; but don’t you see we cannot trust you to take care of us? You take away our rights, and the very babies we gather in our bosoms — our earnings are wrenched from our needy hands by drunken and brutal husbands; and yet you tell us we have no need to legislate.
(The speaker referred to the wrongs of Kansas as light in comparison with the wrongs of woman. She referred to the progress of the Woman’s Rights movement, and said that in Massachusetts the women have gained everything they asked, except the right of suffrage. Their children and their property cannot be taken away from them. The world must learn that the golden rule was the highest policy, and not till woman was the equal of man could the morning stars shout together for joy.
In conclusion, she presented a petition to the New Jersey legislature, in favor of free suffrage to women, which she invited those present to sign. About sixty went forward and attached their names.
It was announced that, on Monday evening next, Lucy will speak upon the Bible View of Woman’s Rights. It was supposed by some, she said, that the Bible was opposed to woman’s rights, but she had a better opinion than that.)
Source: The Liberator, 19 February, 1858, p. 32.
Also: We Shall Be Heard: Women Speakers in America, ed. Patricia Scileppi Kennedy, Gloria Hartmann O’Shields (Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company) 1983, pp. 47-52.