(After she was arrested on charges of voting illegally in the
1872 federal election, Susan B. Anthony embarked on a speaking
tour of all twenty-nine towns and villages in Monroe County and
twenty-one towns in Ontario County, to deliver her speech:
"Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote?")
Friends and Fellow-citizens: I stand before you to-night,
under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the
last Presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote.
It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus
voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply
exercised my citizen's right, guaranteed to me and all United
States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power
of any State to deny.
Our democratic-republican government is based on the idea
of the natural right of every individual member thereof to a voice
and a vote in making and executing the laws. We assert the
province of government to be to secure the people in the
enjoyment of their unalienable rights. We throw to the winds the
old dogma that governments can give rights. Before governments
were organized, no one denies that each individual possessed
the right to protect his own life, liberty and property. And when
100 or 1,000,000 people enter into a free government, they do
not barter away their natural rights; they simply pledge
themselves to protect each other in the enjoyment of them,
through prescribed judicial and legislative tribunals. They agree to
abandon the methods of brute force in the adjustment of their
differences, and adopt those of civilization.
Nor can you find a word in any of the grand documents left us
by the fathers that assumes for government the power to create
or to confer rights. The Declaration of Independence, the United States
Constitution, the constitutions of the several states and the organic
laws of the territories, all alike propose to protect the people in the
exercise of their God-given rights. Not one of them pretends to bestow
"All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness. That to secure these, governments are instituted among
men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Here is no shadow of government authority over rights, nor exclusion
of any from their full and equal enjoyment. Here is pronounced the right
of all men, and "consequently," as the Quaker preacher said, "of all
women," to a voice in the government. And here, in this very first
paragraph of the declaration, is the assertion of the natural right of all
to the ballot; for, how can "the consent of the governed" be given, if the
right to vote be denied? Again:
"That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of
these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to
institute a new government, laying its foundations on such principles,
and organizing its powers in such forms as to them shall seem most
likely to effect their safety and happiness."
Surely, the right of the whole people to vote is here clearly implied.
For however destructive in their happiness this government might
become, a disfranchised class could neither alter nor abolish it, nor
institute a new one, except by the old brute force method of insurrection
and rebellion. One-half of the people of this nation to-day are utterly
powerless to blot from the statute books an unjust law, or to write there
a new and a just one. The women, dissatisfied as they are with this form
of government, that enforces taxation without representation, -- that
compels them to obey laws to which they have never given their consent,
-- that imprisons and hangs them without a trial by a jury of their peers,
that robs them, in marriage, of the custody of their own persons, wages
and children,-- are this half of the people left wholly at the mercy of the
other half, in direct violation of the spirit and letter of the declarations of
the framers of this government, every one of which was based on the
immutable principle of equal rights to all. By those declarations, kings,
priests, popes, aristocrats, were all alike dethroned, and placed on a
common level politically, with the lowliest born subject or serf. By the
practice of those declarations all class and caste distinction will be
abolished; and slave, serf, plebeian, wife, woman, all alike, bound
from their subject position to the proud platform of equality.
The preamble of the federal constitution says:
"We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect
union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the
common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings
of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this
constitution for the United States of America."
It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, nor yet we,
the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed this Union.
And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure
them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to
the whole people-- women as well as men. And it is downright mockery
to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while
they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided
by this democratic-republican government-- the ballot.
The early journals of Congress show that when the committee
reported to that body the original articles of confederation, the very first
article which became the subject of discussion was that respecting
equality of suffrage. Article 4th said: "The better to secure and perpetuate
mutual friendship and intercourse between the people of the different
States of this Union, the free inhabitants of each of the States, (paupers,
vagabonds and fugitives from justice excepted,) shall be entitled to all
the privileges and immunities of the free citizens of the several States."
Thus, at the very beginning, did the fathers see the necessity
of the universal application of the great principle of equal rights to all--
in order to produce the desired result-- a harmonious union and a
Luther Martin, attorney-general of Maryland, in his report to the
Legislature of that State of the convention that framed the United
States Constitution, said:
"Those who advocated the equality of suffrage took the matter up
on the original principles of government: that the reason why each
individual man in forming a State government should have an equal
vote, is because each individual, before he enters into government,
is equally free and equally independent."
James Madison said:
"Under every view of the subject, it seems indispensable that the
mass of the citizens should not be without a voice in making the laws
which they are to obey, and in choosing the magistrate who are to
administer them." Also, "Let it be remembered, finally, that it has ever
been the pride and the boast of America that the rights for which she
contended were the rights of human nature."
And these assertions of the framers of the United States
Constitution of the equal and natural rights of all the people to a voice
in the government, have been affirmed and reaffirmed by the leading
statesmen of the nation, throughout the entire history of our
Thaddeus Stevens, of Pennsylvania, said in 1866:
"I have made up my mind that elective franchise is one of the
inalienable rights meant to be secured by the declaration of
B. Gratz Brown, of Missouri, in the three day's discussion in the
United States Senate in 1866, on Senator Cowan's motion to strike
"male" from the District of Columbia suffrage bill, said:
"Mr. President, I say here on the floor of the American Senate, I
stand for universal suffrage; and as a matter of fundamental principle,
do not recognize the right of society to limit on any ground of race or
sex. I will go farther and say, that I recognize the right of franchise as
being intrinsically a natural right. I do not believe that society is
authorized to impose any limitation upon it that do not spring out of
the necessities of the social state itself. Sir, I have been shocked, in
the course of this debate, to hear Senators declare this right only a
conventional and political arrangement, a privilege yielded to you
and me and others; not a right in any sense, only a concession!
Mr. President, I do not hold my liberties by any such tenure. On the
contrary, I believe that whenever you establish that doctrine,
whenever you crystalize that idea in the public mind of this country,
you ring the death-knell of American liberties."
Charles Summer, in his brave protests against the fourteenth
and fifteenth amendments, insisted that, so soon as by the
thirteenth amendment the slaves became free men, the original
powers of the United States Constitution guaranteed to them equal
rights-- the right to vote and to be voted for. In closing one of his
great speeches he said:
"I do not hesitate to say that when the slaves of our country
became citizens they took their place in the body politic as a
component part of the people, entitled to equal rights, and under
the protection of these two guardian principles: First-- That all just
government stand on the consent of the governed; and second,
that taxation without representation is tyranny; and these rights
it is the duty of Congress to guarantee as essential to the ideal
of a Republic."
The preamble of the Constitution of the State of New York
declares the same purpose. It says: "We, the people of the State
of New York, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to
secure its blessings, do establish this Constitution."
Here is not the slightest intimation either of receiving freedom
from the United States Constitution, or of the State conferring the
blessings of liberty upon the people; and the same is true of every
one of the thirty-six State Constitutions. Each and all, alike declare
rights God-given, and that to secure the people in the enjoyment
of their inalienable rights, is their one and only object in ordaining
and establishing government. And all of the State Constitutions
are equally emphatic in their recognition of the ballot as the means
of securing the people in the enjoyment of these rights.
Article 1 of the New York State Constitution says: "No member
of this State shall be disfranchised or deprived of the rights or
privileges secured to any citizen thereof, unless by the law of the
land, or the judgement of his peers."
And so carefully guarded is the citizen's right to vote, that the
Constitution makes special mention of all who may be excluded.
It says: "Laws may be passed excluding from the right of suffrage
all persons who have been or may be convicted of bribery, larceny
or any infamous crime."
In naming the various employments that shall not affect the
residence of voters-- the 3d section of article 2d says "that being
kept at any alms house, or other asylum, at public expense, nor
being confined at any public prison, shall deprive a person of his
residence," and hence his vote. Thus is the right of voting most
sacredly hedged about. The only seeming permission in the New
York State Constitution for the disfranchisement of women is in
section 1st of article 2d, which says: "Every male citizen of the
age of twenty-one years shall be entitled to vote."
But I submit that in view of the explicit assertions of the equal
right of the whole people, both in the preamble and previous
article of the constitution, this omission of the adjective "female"
in the second, should not be construed into a denial; but, instead,
counted as of no effect. Mark the direct prohibition: "No member
of this State shall be disfranchised, unless by the law of the land,
or the judgment of his peers." "The law of the land," is the United
States Constitution: and there is no provision in that document
that can be fairly construed into a permission to the States to
deprive any class of their citizens of their right to vote. Hence New
York can get no power from that source to disfranchise one entire
half of her members. Nor has "the judgment of their peers" been
pronounced against women exercising their right to vote; no
disfranchised person is allowed to be judge or juror-- and none but
disfranchised persons can be women's peers; nor has the legislature
passed laws excluding them on account of idiocy of lunacy; nor yet
the courts convicted them of bribery, larceny, or any infamous crime.
Clearly, then, there is no constitutional ground for the exclusion of
women from the ballot-box in the State of New York. No barriers
whatever stand to-day between women and the exercise of their
right to vote save those of precedent and prejudice.
The clauses of the United States Constitution, cited by our
opponents as giving power to the States to disfranchise any classes
of citizens they shall please, are contained in sections 2d and 4th of
article 1st. The second says: "The House of Representatives shall
be composed of members chosen every second year by the people
of the several States; and the electors in each State shall have the
qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of
the State Legislature."
This cannot be construed into a concession to the States of the
power to destroy the right to become an elector, but simply to prescribe
what shall be the qualification, such as competency of intellect, maturity
of age, length of residence, that shall be deemed necessary to enable
them to make an intelligent choice of candidates. If, as our opponents
assert, the last clause of this section makes it the duty of the United
States to protect citizens in the several States against higher or different
qualifications for electors for representatives in Congress, than for
members of Assembly, then must the first clause make it equally
imperative for the national government to interfere with the States,
and forbid them from arbitrarily cutting off the right of one-half of the
people to become electors altogether. Section 4th says:
"The time, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and
Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislative
thereof; but Congress may at any time, by law, make or alter such
regulations, except as to the places by choosing Senators."
Here is conceded the power only to prescribed times, places and
manner of holding the elections; and even with these Congress may
interfere, with all excepting the mere place of choosing Senators.
Thus you see, there is not the slightest permission in either section
for the States to discriminate against the right of any class of citizens
to vote. Surely, to regulate cannot be to annihilate! nor to qualify to
wholly deprive. And to this principle every true Democrat and Republican
said amen, when applied to black men by Senator Sumner in his great
speeches for EQUAL RIGHTS TO ALL from 1865 to 1869; and when, in
1871, I asked that Senator to declare the power of the United States
Constitution to protect women in their right to vote-- as he had done
for black men-- he handed me a copy of all his speeches during
that reconstruction period, and said:
"Miss Anthony, put sex where I have race or color, and you have
here the best and strongest argument I can make for woman. There
is not a doubt but women have the constitutional right to vote, and
I will never vote for a sixteenth amendment to guarantee it to them.
I voted for both the fourteenth and fifteenth under protest; would
never have done it but for the pressing emergency of that hour; would
have insisted that the power of the original Constitution to protect all
citizens in the equal enjoyment of their rights should have been
vindicated through the courts. But the newly made freedmen had
neither the intelligence, wealth nor time to wait that slow process.
Women possess all these in an eminent degree, and I insist that they
shall appeal to the courts, and through them establish the power of
our American magna charta, to protect every citizen of the Republic."
But, friends, when in accordance with Senator Sumner's counsel, I
went to the ballot-box, last November, and exercised my citizen's right
to vote, the courts did not wait for me to appeal to them-- they
appealed to me, and indicted me on the charge of having voted illegally.
Senator Sumner, putting sex where he did color, said:
"Qualifications cannot be in their nature permanent or
insurmountable. Sex cannot be a qualification any more than
size, race, color, or previous condition of servitude. A permanent
or insurmountable qualification is equivalent to a de-privation of
the suffrage. In other words, it is the tyranny of taxation without
representation, against which our revolutionary mothers, as well
as fathers, rebelled."
For any State to make sex a qualification that must ever result
in the disfranchisement of one entire half of the people, is to pass
a bill of attainder, or an ex post facto law, and is therefore a
violation of the supreme law of the land. By it, the blessings of liberty
are forever withheld from women and their female posterity. To them,
this government has no just powers derived from the consent of the
governed. To them this government is not a democracy. It is not a
republic. It is an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy of sex. The
most hateful aristocracy ever established on the face of the globe.
An oligarchy of wealth, where the rich govern the poor; an oligarchy
of learning, where the educated govern the ignorant; or even an
oligarchy of race, where the Saxon rules the African, might be endured;
but this oligarchy of sex, which makes father, brothers, husband, sons,
the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters of
every household; which ordains all men sovereigns, all women subjects,
carries dissension, discord and rebellion into every home of the nation.
And this most odious aristocracy exists, too, in the face of Section 4, of
Article 4, which says: "The United States shall guarantee to every
State in the Union a republican form of government."
What, I ask you, is the distinctive difference between the inhabitants
of a monarchical and those of a republican form of government, save
that in the monarchical the people are subjects, helpless, powerless,
bound to obey laws made by superiors-- while in the republican, the
people are citizens, individual sovereigns, all clothed with equal power,
to make and unmake both their laws and law makers, and the moment
you deprive a person of his right to a voice in the government, you
degrade him from the status of a citizen of the republic, to that of a
subject, and it matters very little to him whether his monarch be an
individual tyrant, as is the Czar of Russia, or a 15,000,000 headed
monster, as here in the United States; he is a powerless subject,
serf or slave; not a free and independent citizen in any sense.
But it's urged, the use of the masculine pronouns he, his and him,
in all the constitutions and laws, is proof that only men were meant
to be included in their provisions. If you insist on this version of the
letter of the law, we shall insist that you be consistent, and accept
the other horn of the dilemna, which would compel you to exempt
women from taxation for the support of the government, and from
penalties for the violation of laws.
A year and a half ago I was at Walla, Walla, Washington Territory.
I saw there a theatrical company, called the "Pixley Sisters," playing
before crowded houses, every night of the whole week of the
territorial fair. The eldest of those three fatherless girls was scarce
eighteen. Yet every night a United States officer stretched out his
long fingers, and clutched six dollars of the proceeds of the exhibition
of those orphan girls, who, but a few years before, were half
starvelings in the streets of Olympia, the capital of the far-off
northwest territory. So the poor widow, who keeps a boarding
house, manufactures shirts, or sells apples and peanuts on the
street corners of our cities, is compelled to pay taxes from her
scanty pittance. I would that the women of this republic, at once,
resolve, never again to submit of taxation, until their right to vote
be recognized. Amen.
Miss Sarah E. Wall, of Worcester, Mass., twenty years ago,
took this position. For several years, the officers of the law distrained
her property, and sold it to meet the necessary amount; still she
persisted, and would not yield an iota, though every foot of her lands
should be struck off under the hammer. And now, for several years,
the assessor has left her name off the tax list, and the collector
passed her by without a call.
Mrs. J. S. Weeden, of Viroqua, Wis., for the past six years, has
refused to pay her taxes, though the annual assessment is $75.
Mrs. Ellen Van Valkenburg, of Santa Cruz, Cal., who sued the
County Clerk for refusing to register her name, declares she will
never pay another dollar of tax until allowed to vote; and all over
the country, women property holders are waking up to the injustice
of taxation without representation, and ere long will refuse, en
masse, to submit to the imposition.
There is no she, or her, or hers, in the tax laws.
The statute of New York reads:
"Every person shall be assessed in the town or ward where
he resides when the assessment is made, or the lands owned by
him." "Every collector shall call at least once on the person taxed,
or at his usual place of residence, and shall demand payment of
the taxes charged on him. If any one shall refues to pay the tax
imposed on him, the collector shall levy the same by distress and
sale of his property"
The same is true of all the criminal laws: "No person shall be
compelled to be a witness against himself. "
The same with the law of May 31st, 1870, the 19th section of
which I am charged with having violated; not only are all the
pronouns in it masculine, but everybody knows that that particular
section was intended expressly to hinder the rebels from voting.
It reads "If any person shall knowingly vote without his having a
lawful right." Precisely so with all the papers served on me-- the
U.S. Marshal's warrant, the bail-bond, the petition for habeas corpus,
the bill of indictment-- not one of them had a feminine pronoun
printed in it; but, to make them applicable to me, the Clerk of the
Court made a little carat at the left of "he" and placed an "s" over it,
thus making she out of he. Then the letters "is" were scratched out,
the little carat under and "er" over, to make her out of his, and I
insist if government officials may thus manipulate the pronouns to
tax, fine, imprison and hang women, women may take the same
liberty with them to secure to themselves their right to a voice in
So long as any classes of men were denied their right to vote,
the government made a show of consistency, by exempting them
from taxation. When a property qualification of $250 was required
of black men in New York, they were not compelled to pay taxes,
so long as they were content to report themselves worth less than
that sum; but the moment the black man died, and his property fell
to his widow or daughter, the black woman's name would be put on
the assessor's list, and she be compelled to pay taxes on the same
property exempted to her husband. The same is true of ministers in
New York. So long as the minister lives, he is exempted from taxation
on $1,500 of property, but the moment the breath goes out of his
body, his widow's name will go down on the assessor's list, and she
will have to pay taxes on the $1,500. So much for the special
legislation in favor of women.
In all the penalties and burdens of the government, (except the
military,) women are reckoned as citizens, equally with men. Also, in
all privileges and immunities, save those of the jury box and ballot
box, the two fundamental privileges on which rest all the others.
The United States government not only taxes, fines, imprisons and
hangs women, but it allows them to pre-empt lands, register ships,
and take out passport and naturalization papers. Not only does the
law permit single women and widows to the right of naturalization,
but Section 2 says: "A married woman may be naturalized without
the concurrence of her husband." (I wonder the fathers were not
afraid of creating discord in the families of foreigners); and again:
"When an alien, having complied with the law, and declared his
intention to become a citizen, dies before he is actually naturalized,
his widow and children shall be considered citizens, entitled to all
rights and privileges as such, on taking the required oath." If a
foreign born woman by becoming a naturalized citizen, is entitled
to all the rights and privileges of citizenship, is not a native born
woman, by her national citizenship, possessed of equal rights and
The question of the masculine pronouns, yes and nouns, too,
has been settled by the United States Supreme Court, in the Case
of Silver versus Ladd, December, 1868, in a decision as to whether
a woman was entitled to lands, under the Oregon donation law of
1850. Elizabeth Cruthers, a widow, settled upon a claim, received
patents. She died, and her son was heir. He died. Then Messrs.
Ladd Nott took possession, under the general pre-emption law,
December, 1861. The administrator, E. P. Silver, applied for a writ
of ejectment at the land office in Oregon City. Both the Register
and Receiver decided that an unmarried woman could not hold
land under that law. The Commissioner of the General Land Office,
at Washington, and the Secretary of the Interior, also gave adverse
opinions. Here patents were issued to Ladd Nott, and duly recorded.
Then a suit was brought to set aside Ladd's patent, and it was
carried through all the State Courts and the Supreme Court of
Oregon, each, in turn, giving adverse decisions. At last, in the
United States Supreme Court, Associate Justice Miller reversed the
decisions of all the lower tribunals, and ordered the land back to
the heirs of Mrs. Cruthers. The Court said:
"In construing a benevolent statute of the government, made
for the benefit of its own citizens, inviting and encouraging them to
settle on its distant public lands, the words a single man, and
unmarried man may, especially if aided by the context and other
parts of the statute, be taken in a generic sense. Held, accordingly,
that the Fourth Section of the Act of Congress, of September 27th,
1850, granting by way of donation, lands in Oregon Territory, to
every white settler or occupant, American half-breed Indians included,
embraced within the term single man an unmarried woman."
And the attorney, who carried this question to its final success,
is now the United States senator elect from Oregon, Hon. J. H. Mitchell,
in whom the cause of equal rights to women has an added power
on the floor of the United States Senate.
Though the words persons, people, inhabitants, electors, citizens,
are all used indiscriminately in the national and state constitutions,
there was always a conflict of opinion, prior to the war, as to whether
they were synonymous terms, as for instance:
"No person shall be a representative who shall not have been
seven years a citizen, and who shall not, when elected, be an
inhabitant of that state in which he is chosen. No person shall be
a senator who shall not have been a citizen of the United States,
and an inhabitant of that state in which he is chosen."
But, whatever there was for a doubt, under the old regime,
the adoption of the fourteenth amendment settled that question
forever, in its first sentence: "All persons born or naturalized in
the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are
citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside."
And the second settles the equal status of all persons-- all
"No states shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge
the privileges or immunities of citizens; nor shall any state
deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process
of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal
protection of the laws."
The only question left to be settled, now, is: Are women
persons? And I hardly believe any of our opponents will have the
hardihood to say they are not. Being persons, then, women are
citizens, and no state has a right to make any new law, or to
enforce any old law, that shall abridge their privileges or immunities.
Hence, every discrimination against women in the constitutions
and laws of the several states, is to-day null and void, precisely
as is every one against negroes.
Is the right to vote one of the privileges or immunities of
citizens? I think the disfranchised ex-rebels, and the ex-state
prisoners will agree with me, that it is not only one of the them,
but the one without which all the others are nothing. Seek the
first kingdom of the ballot, and all things else shall be given
thee, is the political injunction.
Webster, Worcester and Bouvier all define citizen to be a
person, in the United States, entitled to vote and hold office.
Prior to the adoption of the thirteenth amendment, by
which slavery was forever abolished, and black men transformed
from property to persons, the judicial opinions of the country
had always been in harmony with these definitions. To be a
person was to be a citizen, and to be a citizen was to be a voter.
Associate Justice Washington, in defining the privileges and
immunities of the citizen, more than fifty years ago, said: "they
included all such privileges as were fundamental in their nature.
And among them is the right to exercise the elective franchise,
and to hold office."
Even the "Dred Scott" decision, pronounced by the
abolitionists and republicans infamous, because it virtually
declared "black men had no rights white men were bound to
respect," gave this true and logical conclusion, that to be one
of the people was to be a citizen and a voter.
Chief Judge Daniels said:
"There is not, it is believed, to be found in the theories of
writers on government, or in any actual experiment heretofore
tried, an exposition of the term citizen, which has not been
considered as conferring the actual possession and enjoyment of
the perfect right of acquisition and enjoyment of an entire
equality of privileges, civil and political."
Associate Justice Taney said:
"The words people of the United States, and citizens, are
synonymous terms, and mean the same thing. They both describe
the political body, who, according to our republican institutions,
form the sovereignty, and who hold the power and conduct the
government, through their representatives. They are what we
familiarly call the sovereign people, and every citizen is one of this
people, and a constituent member of this sovereignty."
Thus does Judge Taney's decision, which was such a terrible
ban to the black man, while he was a slave, now, that he is a
person, no longer property, pronounce him a citizen possessed
of an entire equality of privileges, civil and political. And not only
the black man, but the black woman, and all women as well.
And it was not until after the abolition of slavery, by which the
negroes became free men, hence citizens, that the United States
Attorney, General Bates, rendered a contrary opinion. He said:
"The constitution uses the word citizen only to express the
political quality, (not equality mark,) of the individual in his relation
to the nation; to declare that he is a member of the body politic,
and bound to it by the reciprocal obligations of allegiance on the
one side, and protection on the other. The phrase, a citizen of the
United States, without addition or qualification, means neither
more nor less than a member of the nation."
Then, to be a citizen of this republic, is no more than to be a
subject of an empire. You and I, and all true and patriotic citizens
must repudiate this base conclusion. We all know that American
citizenship, without addition or qualification, means the possession
of equal rights, civil and political. We all know that the crowing glory
of every citizen of the United States is, that he can either give or
withhold his vote from every law and every legislator under the
Did "I am a Roman citizen," mean nothing more than that I am
a "member" of the body politic of the republic of Rome, bound to it
by the reciprocal obligations of allegiance on the one side, and
protection on the other? Ridiculously absurd question, you say.
When you, young man, shall travel abroad, among the monarchies of
the old world, and there proudly boast yourself an "American citizen,"
will you thereby declare yourself neither more nor less than a
"member" of the American nation?
And this opinion of Attorney General Bates, that a black citizen
was not a voter, made merely to suit the political exigency of the
republican party, in that transition hour between emancipation
and enfranchisement, was no less in-famous, in spirit or purpose,
than was the decision of Judge Taney, that a black man was not
one of the people, rendered in the interest and the behest of the
old democratic party, in its darkest hour of subjection to the slave
power. Nevertheless, all of the adverse arguments, adverse
congressional reports and judicial opinions, thus far, have been
based on this purely partisan, time-serving opinion of General
Bates, that the normal condition of the citizen of the United States
is that of disfranchisement. That only such classes of citizens as
have had special legislative guarantee have a legal right to vote.
And if this decision of Attorney General Bates was infamous,
as against black men, but yesterday plantation slaves, what shall
we pronounce upon Judge Bingham, in the house of Representatives,
and Carpenter, in the Senate of the United States, for citing it against
the women of the entire nation, vast numbers of whom are the peers
of those honorable gentlemen, themselves, in moral!! intellect, culture,
wealth, family-paying taxes on large estates, and contributing equally
with them and their sex, in every direction, to the growth, prosperity
and well-being of the republic? And what shall be said of the judicial
opinions of Judges Carter, Jameson, McKay and Sharswood, all based
upon this aristocratic, monarchial idea, of the right of one class to
I am proud to mention the names of the two United States
Judges who have given opinions honorable to our republican idea,
and honorable to themselves-Judge Howe, of Wyoming Territory,
and Judge Underwood, of Virginia.
The former gave it as his opinion a year ago, when the
Legislature seemed likely to revoke the law enfranchising the women
of that territory, that, in case they succeeded, the women would still
possess the right to vote under the fourteenth amendment.
Judge Underwood, of Virginia, in nothing the recent decision of
Judge Carter, of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia to
women the right to vote, under the fourteenth and fifteenth
"If the people of the United States, by amendment of their
constitution, could expunge, without any explanatory or assisting
legislation, an adjective of five letters from all state and local
constitutions, and thereby raise millions of our most ignorant
fellow-citizens to all of the rights and privileges of electors, why
should not the same people, by the same amendment, expunge
an adjective of four letters from the same state and local constitutions,
and thereby raise other millions of more educated and better informed
citizens to equal rights and privileges, without explanatory or assisting
If the fourteenth amendment does not secure to all citizens the
right to vote, for what purpose was the grand old charter of the
fathers lumbered with its unwieldy proportions? The republican party,
and Judges Howard and Bingham, who drafted the document,
pretended it was to do something for black men; and if that something
was not to secure them in their right to vote and hold office, what
could it have been? For, by the thirteenth amendment, black men had
become people, and hence were entitled to all the privileges and
immunities of the government, precisely as were the women of the
country, and foreign men not naturalized. According to Associate
Justice Washington, they already had the:
"Protection of the government, the enjoyment of life and liberty,
with the right to acquire and possess property of every kind, and to
pursue and obtain happiness and safety, subject to such restraints
as the government may justly prescribe for the general welfare of the
whole; the right of a citizen of one state to pass through or to reside
in any other state for the purpose of trade, agriculture, professional
pursuit, or otherwise; to claim the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus,
to institute and maintain actions of any kind in the courts of the state;
to take, hold, and dispose of property, either real or personal, and an
exemption from higher taxes or impositions than are paid by the
other citizens of the state."
Thus, you see, those newly freed men were in possession of every
possible right, privilege and immunity of the government, except that
of suffrage, and hence, needed no constitutional amendment for any
other purpose. What right, I ask you, has the Irishman the day after
he receives his naturalization papers that he did not possess the day
before, save the right to vote and hold office? And the Chinamen, now
crowding our Pacific coast, are in precisely the same position. What
privilege or immunity has California or Oregon the constitutional right
to deny them, save that of the ballot? Clearly, then if the fourteenth
amendment was not to secure to black men their right to vote, it did
nothing for them, since they possessed everything else before. But,
if it was meant to be a prohibition of the states, to deny or abridge
their right to vote-which I fully believe-then it did the same for all
persons, white women included, born or naturalized in the United
States; for the amendment does not say all male persons of African
descent, but all persons are citizens.
The second section is simply a threat to punish the states, by
reducing their representation on the floor of Congress, should they
disfranchise any of their male citizens, on account of color, and does
not allow of the inference that the states may disfranchise from any,
or all other causes, nor in any wise weaken or invalidate the universal
guarantee of the first section. What rule of law or logic would allow the
conclusion, that the prohibition of a crime to one person, on severe
pains and penalties, was a sanction of that crime to any and all other
persons save that one?
But, however much the doctors of the law may disagree, as to
whether people and citizens, in the original constitution, were once and
the same, or whether the privileges and immunities in the fourteenth
amendment include the right of suffrage, the question of the citizen's
right to vote is settled forever by the fifteenth amendment. "The citizen's
right to vote shall not be denied by the United States, nor any state
thereof; on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
How can the state deny or abridge the right of the citizen, if the citizen
does not possess it? There is no escape from the conclusion, that to
vote is the citizen's right, and the specifications of race, color, or
previous condition of servitude can, in no way, impair the force of the
emphatic assertion, that the citizen's right to vote shall not be denied
The political strategy of the second section of the fourteenth
amendment, failing to coerce the rebel states into enfranchising their
negroes, and the necessities of the republican party demanding their
votes throughout the South, to ensure the re-election of Grant in 1872,
that party was compelled to place this positive prohibition of the
fifteenth amendment upon the United States and all the states thereof.
If we once establish he false principle, that United States citizenship
does not carry with it the right to vote in every state in this Union,
there is no end to the petty freaks and cunning devices, that will be
resorted to, to exclude one and another class of citizens from the
right of suffrage.
It will not always be men combining to disfranchise all women;
native born men combining to abridge the rights of all naturalized
citizens, as in Rhode Island. It will not always be the rich and educated
who may combine to cut off the poor and ignorant; but we may live to
see the poor, hardworking, uncultivated day laborers, foreign and native
born, learning the power of the ballot and their vast majority of numbers,
combine and amend state constitutions so as to disfranchise the
Vanderbilts and A. T Stewarts, the Conklings and Fentons. It is poor rule
that won't work more ways than one. Establish this precedent, admit
the right to deny suffrage to the states, and there is no power to
foresee the confusion, discord and disruption that may await us.
There is, and can be, but one safe principle of government-equal
rights to all. And any and every discrimination against any class,
whether on account of color, race, nativity, sex, property, culture,
can but imbitter and disaffect that class, and thereby endanger the
safety of the whole people.
Clearly, then, the national government must not only define the
rights of citizens, but it must stretch out its powerful hand and protect
them in every state in this Union.
But if you will insist that the fifteenth amendment's emphatic
interdiction against robbing United States citizens of their right to
vote, "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,"
is a recognition of the right, either of the United States, or any state,
to rob citizens of that right, for any or all other reason, I will prove to
you that the class of citizens for which I now plead, and to which I
belong, may be, and sure, by all the principles of our government,
and many of the laws of the states, included under the term
"previous condition of servitude."
First.-- The married women and their legal status. What is
servitude? "The condition of a slave." What is a slave? "A person
who is robbed of the proceeds of his labor; a person who is
subject to the will of another."
By the law of Georgia, South Carolina, and all the states of the
South, the negro had no right to the custody and control of his
person. He belonged to his master. If he was disobedient, the
master had the right to use correction. If the negro didn't like the
correction, and attempted to run away, the master had a right to
use coercion to bring him back.
By the law of every state in this Union to-day, North as well as
South, the married woman has no right to the custody and control
of her person. The wife belongs to her husband; and if the refuses
obedience to his will, he may use moderate correction, and if she
doesn't like his moderate correction, and attempts to leave his
"bed and board," the husband may use moderate coercion to bring
her back. The little word "moderate," you see, is the saving clause
for the wife, and would doubtless be overstepped should offended
husband administer his correction with the "cat-o'-nine-tails," or
accomplish his coercion with blood-hounds.
Again, the slave had no right to the earnings of his hands, they
belonged to his master; no right to the custody of his children, they
belonged to his master; no right to sue or be sued, or testify in the
courts. If he committed a crime, it was the master who must sue or
In many of the states there has been special legislation, giving
to married women the right to property inherited, or received by
bequest, or earned by the pursuit of any avocation outside of the
home; also, giving her the right to sue and be sued in matters
pertaining to such separate property; but not a single state of this
Union has eve secured the wife in the enjoyment of her right to the
joint ownership of the joint earnings of the marriage copartnership.
And since, in the nature of things, the vast majority of married
women never earn a dollar, by work outside of their families, nor
inherit a dollar from their fathers, it follows that from the day of
their marriage to the day of the death of their husbands, not one
of them ever has a dollar, except it shall please her husband to
let her have it.
In some of the states, also, there have been laws passed giving
to the mother a joint right with the father in the guardianship of the
children. But twenty years ago, when our woman's rights movement
commenced, by the laws of the State of New York, and all the states,
the father had the sole custody and control of the children. No matter
if he were a brutal, drunken libertine, he had the legal right, without
the mother's consent, to apprentice her sons to rumsellers, or her
daughters to brothel keepers. He could even will away an unborn
child, to some other person than the mother. And in many of the
states the law still prevails, and the mothers are still utterly
powerless under the common law.
I doubt if there is, to-day, a State in this Union where a married
woman can sue or be sued for slander of character, and until quite
recently there was not one in which she could sue or be sued for
injury of person. However damaging to the wife's reputation any
slander may be, she is wholly powerless to institute legal proceedings
against her accuser, unless her husband shall join with her; and how
often have we hard of the husband conspiring with some outside
barbarian to blast the good name of his wife? A married woman
cannot testify in courts in cases of joint interest with her husband.
A good farmer's wife near Earlville, Ill., who had all the rights she
wanted, went to a dentist of the village and had a full set of false
teeth, both upper and under. The dentist pronounced them an
admirable fit, and the wife declared they gave her fits to wear them;
that she could neither chew nor talk with them in her mouth. The
dentist sued the husband; his counsel brought the wife as witness;
the judge ruled her off the stand; saying "a married woman cannot
be a witness in matters of joint interest between herself and her
husband." Think of it, ye good wives, the false teeth in your mouths
are joint interest with your husbands, about which you are legally
incompetent to speak!! If in our frequent and shocking railroad
accidents a married woman is injured in her person, in nearly all of
the States, it is her husband who must sue the company, and it is to
her husband that the damages, if there are any, will be awarded. In
Ashfield, Mass., supposed to be the most advanced of any State in
the Union in all things, humanitarian as well as intellectual, a married
woman was severely injured by a defective sidewalk. Her husband
sued the corporation and recovered $13,000 damages. And those
$13,000 belong to him bona fide; and whenever that unfortunate
wife wishes a dollar of it to supply her needs she must ask her
husband for it; and if the man be of a narrow, selfish, niggardly
nature, she will have to hear him say, every time, "What have you
done, my dear, with the twenty-five cents I gave you yesterday?"
Isn't such a position, ask you, humiliating enough to be called
"servitude?" That husband, as would any other husband, in nearly
every State of this Union, sued and obtained damages for the loss
of the services of his wife, precisely as the master, under the old
slave regime, would have done, had his slave been thus injured,
and precisely as he himself would have done had it been his ox,
cow or horse instead of his wife.
There is an old saying that "a rose by any other name would
smell as sweet," and I submit it the deprivation by law of the
ownership of one's own person, wages, property, children, the
denial of the right as an individual, to sue and be sued, and to
testify in the courts, is not a condition of servitude most bitter and
absolute, though under the sacred name of marriage?
Does any lawyer doubt my statement of the legal status of
married women? I will remind him of the fact that the old common
law of England prevails in every State in this Union, except where
the Legislature has enacted special laws annulling it. And I am
ashamed that not one State has yet blotted from its statue books
the old common law of marriage, by which blackstone, summed up
in the fewest words possible, is made to say, "husband and wife
are one, and that one is the husband."
Thus may all married women, wives and widows, by the laws
of the several States, be technically included in the fifteenth
amendment's specification of "condition of servitude," present or
previous. And not only married women, but I will also prove to you
that by all the great fundamental principles of our free government,
the entire womanhood of the nation is in a "condition of servitude"
as surely as were our revolutionary fathers, when they rebelled
against old King George. Women are taxed without representation,
governed without their consent, tried, convicted and punished
without a jury of their peers. And is all this tyranny any less
humiliating and degrading to women under our democratic-republican
government to-day than it was to men under their aristocratic,
monarchical government one hundred years ago? There is not an
utterance of old John Adams, John Hancock or Patrick Henry, but finds
a living response in the soul of every intelligent, patriotic woman of the
nation. Bring to me a common-sense woman property holder, and I will
show you one whose soul is fired with all the indignation of 1776 every
time the tax-gatherer presents himself at her door. You will not find
one such but feels her condition of servitude as galling as did James
Otis when he said:
"The very act of taxing exercised over those who are not
represented appears to me to be depriving them of one of their most
essential rights, and if continued, seems to be in effect an entire
disfranchisement of every civil right. For, what one civil right is worth
a rush after a man's property is subject to be taken from him at
pleasure without his consent? If a man is not his own assessor in
person, or by deputy, his liberty is gone, or he is wholly at the mercy
What was the three-penny tax on tea, or the paltry tax on paper
and sugar to which our revolutionary fathers were subjected, when
compared with the taxation of the women of this Republic? The
orphaned Pixley sisters, six dollars a day, and even the women,
who are proclaiming the tyranny of our taxation without
representation, from city to city throughout the country, are
often compelled to pay a tax for the poor privilege of defending
our rights. And again, to show that disfranchisement was precisely
the slavery of which the fathers complained, allow me to cite to you
old Ben. Franklin, who in those olden times was admitted to be good
authority, not merely in domestic economy, but in political as well;
"Every man of the commonalty, except infants, insane persons
and criminals, is, of common right and the law of God, a freeman
and entitled to the free enjoyment of liberty. That liberty or freedom
consists in having an actual share in the appointment of those who
are to frame the laws, and who are to be the guardians of every
man's life, property and peace. For the all of one man is as dear to
him as the all of another; and the poor man has an equal right, but
more need to have representatives in the Legislature that the rich
one. That they who have no voice or vote in the electing of
representatives, do not enjoy liberty, but are absolutely enslaved
to those who have votes and their representatives; for to be enslaved
is to have governors whom other men have set over us, and to be
subject to laws made by the representatives of others, without
having had representatives of our own to give consent in our behalf."
Suppose I read it with the feminine gender:
"That women who have no voice nor vote in the electing of
representatives, do not enjoy liberty, but are absolutely enslaved
to men who have votes and their representatives; for to be
enslaved is to have governors whom men have set over us, and to
be subject to the laws made by the representatives of men, without
having representatives of our own to give consent in our behalf."
And yet one more authority; that of Thomas Paine, than whom
not one of the Revolutionary patriots more ably vindicated the principles
upon which our government is founded:
"The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which
other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce man to
a state of slavery; for slavery consists in being subject to the will of
another; and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives
is in this case. The proposal, therefore, to disfranchise any class of
men is as criminal as the proposal to take away property."
Is anything further needed to prove woman's condition of servitude
sufficiently orthodox to entitle her to the guaranties of the fifteenth
Is there a man who will not agree with me, that to talk of freedom
without the ballot, is mockery-is slavery-to the women of this Republic,
precisely as New England's orator Wendell Phillips, at the close of the
late war, declared it to be to the newly emancipated black men?
I admit that prior to the rebellion, by common consent, the right to
enslave, as well as to disfranchise both native and foreign born citizens,
was conceded to the States. But the one grand principle, settled by the
war and the reconstruction legislation, is the supremacy of national
power to protect the citizens of the United States in their right to
freedom and the elective franchise, against any and every interference
on the part of the several States. And again and again, have the
American people asserted the triumph of this principle, by their
overwhelming majorities for Lincoln and Grant.
The one issue of the last two Presidential elections was, whether
the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments should be considered the
irrevocable will of the people; and the decision was, they shall be--
and that it is only the right, but the duty of the National Government
to protect all United States citizens in the full enjoyment and free
exercise of all their privileges and immunities against any attempt
of any State to deny or abridge.
And in this conclusion Republican and Democrats alike agree.
Senator Frelinghuysen said:
"The heresy of State rights has been completely buried in these
amendments, that as amended, the Constitution confers not only
national but State citizenship upon all persons born or naturalized
within our limits."
The Call for the national Republican convention said:
"Equal suffrage has been engrafted on the national Constitution;
the privileges and immunities of American citizenship have become a
part of the organic law."
The national Republican platform said:
"Complete liberty and exact equality in the enjoyment of all civil,
political and public rights, should be established and maintained
throughout the Union by efficient and appropriate State and federal
If that means anything, it is that Congress should pass a law to
require the States to protect women in their equal political rights, and
that the States should enact laws making it the duty of inspectors of
elections to receive women's votes on precisely the same conditions
they do those of men.
Judge Stanley Mathews-- a substantial Ohio democrat-- in his
preliminary speech at the Cincinnati convention, said most emphatically:
"The constitutional amendments have established the political
equality of all citizens before the law."
President Grant, in his message to Congress March 30th, 1870,
on the adoption of the fifteenth amendment, said: "A measure which
makes at once four millions of people voters, is indeed a measure of
greater importance than any act of the kind from the foundation of
the Government to the present time."
How could four millions negroes be made voter if two millions
were not included?
The California State Republican convention said:
"Among the many practical and substantial triumphs of the principles
achieved by the Republican party during the past twelve years, it
enumerated with pride and pleasure, the prohibiting of any State from
abridging the privileges of any citizen of the Republic, the declaring the
civil and political equality of every citizen, and the establishing all these
principles in the federal constitution by amendments thereto, as the
Benjamin F. Butler, in a recent letter to me, said:
"I do not believe anybody in Congress doubts that the Constitution
authorizes the right of women to vote, precisely as if authorizes trial by
jury and many other like rights guaranteed to citizens."
And again, General Butler said:
"It is not laws we want; there are plenty of laws-- good enough, too.
Administrative ability to enforce law is the great want of the age, in this
country especially. Everybody talks of law, law. If everybody would insist
on the enforcement of law, the government would stand on a firmer
basis, and questions would settle themselves."
And it is upon this just interpretation of the United States Constitution
that our National Woman Suffrage Association, which celebrates the
twenty-fifth anniversary of the woman's rights movement in New York
on the 6th of May next, has based all its arguments and action the past
We no longer petition Legislature or Congress to give us the right
to vote. We appeal to the women everywhere to exercise their too
long neglected "citizen's right to vote." We appeal to the inspectors
of election everywhere to receive the votes of all United States citizens
as it is their duty to do. We appeal to United States commissioners and
marshals to arrest the inspectors who reject the names and votes of
United States citizens, as it is their duty to do, and leave those alone
who, like our eighth ward inspectors, perform their duties faithfully
We ask the juries to fail to return verdicts of "guilty" against honest,
law-abiding, tax-paying United States citizens for offering their votes
at our elections. Or against intelligent, worthy young men, inspectors
of elections, for receiving and counting such citizens votes.
We ask the judges to render true and unprejudiced opinions of the
law, and wherever there is room for a doubt to give its benefit on the
side of liberty and equal rights to women, remembering that "the true
rule of interpretation under our national constitution, especially since
its amendments, is that anything for human rights is constitutional,
everything against human right unconstitutional."
And it is on this line that we propose to fight our battle for the
ballot-- all peaceably, but nevertheless persistently through to
complete triumph, when all United States citizens shall be recognized
as equals before the law.