It Is Always Safe to Do Right
May 10, 1860 — Tenth National Woman’s Rights Convention, Cooper Institute, New York City
Friends, we are about to separate. This convention was called for the consideration of one of the most important questions before the American people. The press may ridicule your movement, the pulpit denounce it, but, as time rolls on, it will be seen — the press and pulpit will see — that it is one of the most important questions that has ever agitated the community. It is well that those who are engaged in this movement should go forth deeply impressed with the importance of the work that is before them. It is well that you who have assembled from curiosity, to listen to what these “fanatics” have to say, should take home with you to your souls one thought which is sufficient to settle this whole question. All the arguments that have been adduced against us, and against granting to woman all her rights, come to us in one form or another of prejudice or expediency. Talk with whom you will about it, — the priest, politician, merchant, farmer, mechanic, and one after another says, (you have heard them, I have heard them, we all hear them,) to every right which woman claims, “I grant you that, in the abstract, you are right; but it is not expedient, nor wise, nor safe for woman nor man, nor good for the world.” Let me tell you, that the man who grants that the position we assume is, in the abstract, right, has granted all we want; and if he is not ready to take that step of abstract right, he only assumes to be wiser than He who made the world.
Mrs. President, I hear every day of my life, almost, the assertion that it is fanaticism to say that it is always safe and right to follow abstract right. This principle does not belong to any one belief; it is the living soul of God’s universe, that the absolute right is safe. If woman has the same right as man to read, to vote, to rule, to learn, to teach, there is nothing further to be said about it; and I never care to argue with the man who says it is right, but for some reason or other, it ought not to be granted, for he has granted everything, and has no ground left to stand upon.
Is it fanaticism to believe that God is wiser than man; that He, “who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth,” who “commanded the morning, and caused the day-spring to know its place,” is wise enough to give laws to the universe which it shall be safe for you and me to obey? Into this fanaticism this world is to be educated, if it is to be saved from going down to moral ruin and death. Remember, then, O man! father, husband, brother, clergyman, and politician — remember, when these words slip so easily from your tongues, as they often do, “I grant you have the same abstract right to do this that man has,” you grant all that woman claims; and remember, as you stand reverently in the presence of God, that if you assert that that is not safe which He has pronounced to be right, you claim to be wiser, not than these women or these men who stand on the platform of the “Woman’s Rights Convention,” but you claim to be wiser than the Creator of man and woman.
Allusion was made here this morning — well and wisely made — to the charge that when woman walks out into the avenues of public life, there to gain a living for herself and her children, or to help guide the nation, she ceases to be domestic, and faithful to the cares and shrine of home. We heard something well said this morning on the sphere of woman being the home, and we are told that this objection to our movement was altogether dishonest, contemptible, and ridiculous. It is not always such. Good men and true, and sometimes wise men, also, really in their souls believe that if a woman touches a ballot, her hand will be unfit for domestic duties; that if she teaches in the public congregation, she can not act well her part in the family circle. As I listened to what was said here, the words called to my mind the image of a woman of America, known as a religious and moral teacher, who bears a name of which this nation will one day be proud, but now slandered by a venal press, scorned by an arrogant pulpit, little appreciated by the mass of men and women, for whom the bearer of it is laboring night and day. The image of that woman rose before me. The world regards her as a public woman, as out of her sphere, and infers that she is neglectful of the cares and insensible to the loveliness of domestic life; and as I remembered her, I felt as I ever feel, that there is not a woman who, as a representative of my own sex, I would sooner show to the world as the embodiment of all domestic beauty and wifely care and motherly fidelity. I only wish that they and you might know her as I know her. I only wish that you might see in her, as I see in her, the very best possible illustration of the power of guiding and guarding all the sanctity of home, of blessing husband and children and grandchildren, and exerting in the guidance of her household an intellectual power which would be the glory of this or any other platform. Not only do husband and children “rise up and call her blessed,” but in the time to come, the children and children’s children of those who now scorn her name — of priests who have despised it, editors who have ridiculed and slandered it, and heaped upon it all of the ignominy of their souls—will thank God, as they reap the benefit of her exertions and her beautiful life, for the name of Lucretia Mott.
The word I would impress upon you all, as you go hence, is this — it is always safe to do right. Carry away with you from this Convention, my friends, this one thought — God is wiser than man. What He has made right, He has also made safe. His paths are paths of pleasantness, and all His ways are peace. And to those who go forward, bearing this great cause in their hands, to work for themselves, for their sisters, for their mothers — to them I would say, “Be not discouraged at any obstacles that may lie in your way! Forget, for a little while, the sneers of the press and the pulpit, the laugh of the fashionable lady, who calls you unladylike, and the scorn of arrogant men, who appreciate not your labors! You need not pay back the laughter and the scorn with scorn. Your work is too great, too high, too holy. Forgive them, and pass on! Rejoice to think that, in a few years, they, too, will rise up and thank you for it. Those who work for mankind must be content not to receive their reward in the appreciation of their services as they pass through life. It is of little consequence. The only thing is to be sure we are doing right, and living for some great purpose; for, of all the afflictions that can befall a man or woman, there is none so great as to pass through life without effecting anything — to die and leave the world no better than we found it, never being missed in consequence of any useful work we have done. No good cause can go backward. No good cause declines. Nothing can put us down if we are right. All that we need to sustain and strengthen us in any great work is to be quite satisfied with the smile of God, and to have faith and hope that man shall at last be wholly and utterly redeemed and saved.”
Source: History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 1, ed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, (Rochester NY: Charles Mann) 1889, pp. 735-737.