Front Page Titles (by Subject) WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE - The American Nation: Primary Sources
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE - Bruce Frohnen, The American Nation: Primary Sources 
The American Nation: Primary Sources, ed. Bruce Frohnen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The right of women to vote was a contentious issue in the United States from its very beginnings. Immediately following independence from Great Britain a number of states allowed women to vote, then, beginning in 1777, rescinded that right. Movements to establish women’s rights, and the right to vote in particular, grew steadily over the course of the nineteenth century. In 1869 the Wyoming Territory granted women suffrage. A number of states, especially in the West, followed. Such victories were the result of decades of organizing and campaigning on the part of women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Anna Howard Shaw—all of them also active in peace and temperance movements. Shaw (1847-1919) was a Methodist minister, physician, and, for fifteen years, the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Her speech reproduced here insists on the inconsistency of a democracy, supposedly founded on the rule of the people, refusing to recognize the right to vote of one-half its population. Opponents, as shown by the congressional debate reproduced here, focused on two issues: perceived differences between the sexes and their proper duties, and the need to maintain state control over issues as important as the franchise. By the time of World War I, with women already working in jobs and industries once reserved for men, President Woodrow Wilson proposed, as a “war measure,” an amendment by which the federal government would recognize women’s right to vote. Passed by the House of Representatives, the amendment was defeated by the Senate in 1918, achieving passage by both houses only in June 1919.
The Fundamental Principle of a Republic
June 21, 1915
When I came into your hall tonight, I thought of the last time I was in your city. Twenty-one years ago I came here with Susan B. Anthony, and we came for exactly the same purpose as that for which we are here tonight. Boys have been born since that time and have become voters, and the women are still trying to persuade American men to believe in the fundamental principles of democracy, and I never quite feel as if it was a fair field to argue this question with men, because in doing it you have to assume that a man who professes to believe in a Republican form of government does not believe in a Republican form of government, for the only thing that woman’s enfranchisement means at all is that a government which claims to be a Republic should be a Republic, and not an aristocracy. The difficulty with discussing this question with those who oppose us is that they make any number of arguments but none of them have anything to do with Woman’s Suffrage; they always have something to do with something else, therefore the arguments which we have to make rarely ever have anything to do with the subject, because we have to answer our opponents who always escape the subject as far as possible in order to have any sort of reason in connection with what they say.
Now one of two things is true: either a Republic is a desirable form of government, or else it is not. If it is, then we should have it, if it is not then we ought not to pretend that we have it. We ought at least to be true to our ideals, and the men of New York have, for the first time in their lives, the rare opportunity, on the second day of next November, of making the state truly a part of a Republic. It is the greatest opportunity which has ever come to the men of the state. They have never had so serious a problem to solve before, they will never have a more serious problem to solve in any future year of our Nation’s life, and the thing that disturbs me more than anything else in connection with it is that so few people realize what a profound problem they have to solve on November 2. It is not merely a trifling matter; it is not a little thing that does not concern the state, it is the most vital problem that we could have, and any man who goes to the polls on the second day of next November without thoroughly informing himself in regard to this subject is unworthy to be a citizen of this state, and unfit to cast a ballot.
If Woman’s Suffrage is wrong, it is a great wrong; if it is right, it is a profound and fundamental principle, and we all know, if we know what a Republic is, that it is the fundamental principle upon which a Republic must rise. Let us see where we are as a people; how we act here and what we think we are. The difficulty with the men of this country is that they are so consistent in their inconsistency that they are not aware of having been inconsistent; because their consistency has been so continuous and their inconsistency so consecutive that it has never been broken, from the beginning of our Nation’s life to the present time. If we trace our history back we will find that from the very dawn of our existence as a people, men have been imbued with a spirit and a vision more lofty than they have been able to live; they have been led by visions of the sublimest truth, both in regard to religion and in regard to government that ever inspired the souls of men from the time the Puritans left the old world to come to this country, led by the Divine ideal which is the sublimest and supremest ideal in religious freedom which men have ever known, the theory that a man has a right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, without the intervention of any other man or any other group of men. And it was this theory, this vision of the right of the human soul which led men first to the shores of this country.
Now, nobody can deny that they are sincere, honest and earnest men. No one can deny that the Puritans were men of profound conviction, and yet these men who gave up everything in behalf of an ideal, hardly established their communities in this new country before they began to practice exactly the same sort of persecutions on other men which had been practiced upon them. They settled in their communities on the New England shores and when they formed their compacts by which they governed their local societies, they permitted no man to have a voice in the affairs unless he was a member of the church, and not a member of any church, but a member of the particular church which dominated the particular community in which he happened to be. In Massachusetts they drove the Baptists down to Rhode Island; in Connecticut they drove the Presbyterians over to New Jersey; they burned the Quakers in Massachusetts and ducked the witches, and no colony, either Catholic or Protestant allowed a Jew to have a voice. And so a man must worship God according to the conscience of the particular community in which he was located, and yet they called that religious freedom, they were not able to live the ideal of religious liberty, and from that time to this the men of this government have been following along the same line of inconsistency, while they too have been following a vision of equal grandeur and power.
Never in the history of the world did it dawn upon the human mind as it dawned upon your ancestors, what it would mean for men to be free. They got the vision of a government in which the people would be the supreme power, and so inspired by this vision men wrote such documents as were sent from the Massachusetts legislature, from the New York legislature and from the Pennsylvania group over to the Parliament of Great Britain, which rang with the profoundest measures of freedom and justice. They did not equivocate in a single word when they wrote the Declaration of Independence; no one can dream that these men had not got the sublimest ideal of democracy which had ever dawned upon the souls of men. But as soon as the war was over and our government was formed, instead of asking the question, who shall be the governing force in this great new Republic, when they brought those thirteen little territories together, they began to eliminate instead of include the men who should be the great governing forces, and they said, who shall have the voice in this great new Republic, and you would have supposed that such men as fought the Revolutionary war would have been able to answer that every man who has fought, every one who has given up all he has and all he has been able to accumulate shall be free, it never entered their minds. These excellent ancestors of yours had not been away from the old world long enough to realize that man is of more value than his purse, so they said every man who has an estate in the government shall have a voice; and they said what shall that estate be? And they answered that a man who had property valued at two hundred and fifty dollars will be able to cast a vote, and so they sang “The land of the free and the home of the brave.” And they wrote into their Constitution, “All males who pay taxes on $250 shall cast a vote,” and they called themselves a Republic, and we call ourselves a Republic, and they were not quite so much of a Republic as we are and we are not quite so much of a Republic that we should be called a Republic yet. We might call ourselves angels, but that wouldn’t make us angels, you have got to be an angel before you are an angel, and you have got to be a Republic before you are a Republic. Now what did we do? Before the word “male” in the local compacts they wrote the word “church-members”; and they wrote in the word “tax-payer.” Then there arose a great Democrat, Thomas Jefferson, who looked down into the day when you and I are living and saw that the rapidly accumulated wealth in the hands of a few men would endanger the liberties of the people, and he knew what you and I know, that no power under heaven or among men is known in a Republic by which men can defend their liberties except by the power of the ballot, and so the Democratic party took another step in the evolution of a Republic out of a monarchy and they rubbed out the word “tax-payer” and wrote in the word “white,” and then the Democrats thought the millenium had come, and they sang “The land of the free and the home of the brave” as lustily as the Republicans had sung it before them and spoke of the divine right of motherhood with the same thrill in their voices and at the same time they were selling mother’s babies by the pound on the auction block, and mothers apart from their babies. Another arose who said a man is not a good citizen because he is white, he is a good citizen because he is a man, and the Republican party took out that progressive evolutionary eraser and rubbed out the word “white” from before the word “male” and could not think of another word to put in there—they were all in, black and white, rich and poor, wise and otherwise, drunk and sober; not a man left out to be put in, and so the Republicans could not write anything before the word “male,” and they had to let that little word “male” stay alone by itself.
And God said in the beginning, “It is not good for man to stand alone.” That is why we are here tonight, and that is all that woman’s suffrage means; just to repeat again and again that first declaration of the Divine, “It is not good for man to stand alone,” and so the women of this state are asking that the word “male” shall be stricken out of the constitution altogether and that the constitution stand as it ought to have stood in the beginning and as it must before this state is any part of a Republic. Every citizen possessing the necessary qualifications shall be entitled to cast one vote at every election, and have that vote counted. We are not asking, as our Anti-Suffrage friends think we are, for any of the awful things that we hear will happen if we are allowed to vote: we are simply asking that that government which professes to be a Republic shall be a Republic and not pretend to be what it is not.
Now what is a Republic? Take your dictionary, encyclopedia, lexicon or anything else you like and look up the definition and you will find that a Republic is a form of government in which the laws are enacted by representatives elected by the people. Now when did the people of New York ever elect their representatives? Never in the world. The men of New York have, and I grant you that men are people, admirable people, as far as they go, but they only go half way. There is still another half of the people who have not elected representatives, and you never read a definition of a Republic in which half of the people elect representatives to govern the whole of the people. That is an aristocracy and that is just what we are. We have been many kinds of aristocracies. We have been a hierarchy of church members, [then] an oligarchy of sex.
There are two old theories which are dying today. Dying hard but dying. One of them is dying on the plains of Flanders and the Mountains of Galicia and Austria, and that is the theory of the divine right of kings. The other is dying here in the state of New York and Massachusetts and New Jersey and Pennsylvania and that is the divine right of sex. Neither of them had a foundation in reason, or justice or common sense.
Now I want to make this proposition, and I believe every man will accept it. Of course he will if he is intelligent. Whenever a Republic prescribes the qualifications as applying equally to all the citizens of the Republic, when the Republic says in order to vote, a citizen must be twenty-one years of age, it applies to all alike, there is no discrimination against any race or sex. When the government says that a citizen must be a native born citizen or a naturalized citizen, that applies to all; we are either born or naturalized, somehow or other we are here. Whenever the government says that a citizen, in order to vote, must be a resident of a community a certain length of time, and of the state a certain length of time and of the nation a certain length of time, that applies to all equally. There is no discrimination. We might go further and we might say that in order to vote the citizen must be able to read his ballot. We have not gone that far yet. We have been very careful of male ignorance in these United States. I was much interested, as perhaps many of you, in reading the Congressional Record this last winter over the debate over the immigration bill, and when that illiteracy clause was introduced into the immigration bill, what fear there was in the souls of men for fear we would do injustice to some of the people who might want to come to our shores, and I was much interested in the language in which the President vetoed the bill, when he declared that by inserting the clause we would keep out of our shores a large body of very excellent people. I could not help wondering then how it happens that male ignorance is so much less ignorant than female ignorance. When I hear people say that if women were permitted to vote a large body of ignorant people would vote, and therefore because an ignorant woman would vote, no intelligent women should be allowed to vote. I wonder why we have made it so easy for male ignorance and so hard for female ignorance.
When I was a girl, years ago, I lived in the back woods and there the number of votes cast at each election depended entirely upon the size of the ballot box. We had what was known as the old tissue ballots and the man who got the most tissue in was the man elected. Now the best part of our community was very much disturbed by this method, . . . but they did not know what to do in order to get a ballot both safe and secret; but they heard that over in Australia, where the women voted, they had a ballot which was both safe and secret, so we went over there and we got the Australian ballot and brought it here. But when we got it over we found it was not adapted to this country, because in Australia they have to be able to read their ballot. Now the question was how could we adapt it to our conditions? Someone discovered that if you should put a symbol at the head of each column, like a rooster, or an eagle, or a hand holding a hammer, that if a man has intelligence to know the difference between a rooster and an eagle he will know which political party to vote for, and when the ballot was adapted it was a very beautiful ballot, it looked like a page from Life.
Now almost any American woman could vote that ballot, or if she had not that intelligence to know the difference between an eagle and a rooster, we could take the eagle out and put in the hen. Now when we take so much pains to adapt the ballot to the male intelligence of the United States, we should be very humble when we talk about female ignorance. Now if we should take a vote and the men had to read their ballot in order to vote it, more women could vote than men. But when the government says not only that you must be twenty-one years of age, a resident of the community and native born or naturalized, those are qualifications, but when it says that an elector must be a male, that is not a qualification for citizenship; that is an insurmountable barrier between one half of the people and the other half of the citizens and their rights as citizens. No such nation can call itself a Republic. It is only an aristocracy. That barrier must be removed before that government can become a Republic, and that is exactly what we are asking now, that the last step in this evolutionary process shall be taken on November 2d, and that this great state of New York shall become in fact, as it is in theory, a part of a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Men know the inconsistencies themselves; they realize it in one way while they do not realize it in another, because you never heard a man make a political speech when he did not speak of this country as a whole as though the thing existed which does not exist and that is that the people were equally free, because you hear them declare over and over again on the Fourth of July “Under God, the people rule.” They know it is not true but they say it with a great hurrah, and they repeat over and over again that clause from the Declaration of Independence, “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and then they see how they can prevent half of us from giving our consent to anything, and then they give it to us on the Fourth of July in two languages, so if it is not true in one it will be in the other, “vox [populi], vox Dei.” “The voice of the people is the voice of God,” and the orator forgets that in the people’s voice there is a soprano as well as a bass. If the voice of the people is the voice of God, how are we ever going to know what God’s voice is when we are content to listen to a bass solo. Now if it is true that the voice of the people is the voice of God, we will never know what the Deity’s voice in government is until the bass and soprano are mingled together, the result of which will be the divine harmony. Take any of the magnificent appeals for freedom which men make, and rob them of their universal application and you take the very life and soul out of them.
Where is the difficulty? Just in one thing and one thing only, that men are so sentimental. We used to believe that women were the sentimental sex, but they cannot hold a tallow candle compared with the arc light of the men. Men are so sentimental in their attitude about women that they cannot reason about them. Now men are usually very fair to each other. I think the average man recognizes that he has no more right to anything at the hands of the government than has every other man. He has no right at all to anything to which every other man has not an equal right with himself. He says why have I a right to certain things in the government; why have I a right to life and liberty; why have I a right to this or this? Does he say because I am a man? Not at all, because I am human, and being human I have a right to everything which belongs to humanity, and every right which any other human being has, I have. And then he says of his neighbor, and my neighbor he also is human, therefore every right which belongs to me as a human being, belongs to him as a human being, and I have no right to anything under the government to which he is not equally entitled. And then up comes a woman, and then they say now she’s a woman; she is not quite human, but she is my wife, or my sister, or my daughter or an aunt, or my cousin. She is not quite human, she is only related to a human, and being related to a human a human will take care of her. So we have had that care taking human being to look after us and they have not recognized that women too are equally human with men. Now if men could forget for a minute—I believe the anti-suffragists say that we want men to forget that we are related to them, they don’t know me—if for a minute they could forget our relationship and remember that we are equally human with themselves, then they would say—yes, and this human being, not because she is a woman, but because she is human is entitled to every privilege and every right under the government which I, as a human being am entitled to. The only reason men do not see as fairly in regard to women as they do in regard to each other is because they have looked upon us from an altogether different plane than what they have looked at men; that is because women have been the homemakers while men have been the so-called protectors, in the period of the world’s civilization when people needed to be protected. I know that they say that men protect us now and when we ask them what they are protecting us from the only answer they can give is from themselves. I do not think that men need any very great credit for protecting us from themselves. They are not protecting us from any special thing from which we could not protect ourselves except themselves. Now this old time idea of protection was all right when the world needed this protection, but today the protection in civilization comes from within and not from without.
What are the arguments which our good Antis friends give us? We know that lately they have stopped to argue and call suffragettes all sorts of creatures. If there is anything we believe that we do not believe, we have not heard about them, so the cry goes out of this; the cry of the infant’s mind; the cry of a little child. The anti-suffragists’ cries are all the cries of little children who are afraid of the unborn and are forever crying, “The goblins will catch you if you don’t watch out.” So that anything that has not been should not be and all that is is right, when as a matter of fact if the world believed that we would be in a statical condition and never move, except back like a crab. And so the cries go on.
When suffragettes are feminists, and when I ask what that is no one is able to tell me. I would give anything to know what a feminist is. They say, would you like to be a feminist? If I could find out I would, you either have to be masculine or feminine and I prefer feminine. Then they cry that we are socialists, and anarchists. Just how a human can be both at the same time, I really do not know. If I know what socialism means it means absolute government and anarchism means no government at all. So we are feminists, socialists, anarchists and mormons or spinsters. Now that is about the list. I have not heard the last speech. Now as a matter of fact, as a unit we are nothing, as individuals we are like all other individuals.
We have our theories, our beliefs, but as suffragettes we have but one belief, but one principle, but one theory and this is the right of a human being to have a voice in the government under which he or she lives, on that we agree, if on nothing else. Whether we agree or not on religion or politics we are not concerned. A clergyman asked me the other day, “By the way, what church does your official board belong to,” I said I don’t know. He said, “Don’t you know what religion your official board believes.” I said, “Really it never occurred to me, but I will hunt them up and see, they are not elected to my board because they believe in any particular church.[”] We had no concern either as to what we believe as religionists or as to what we believe as women in regard to theories of government, except that one fundamental theory in the right of democracy. We do not believe in this fad or the other, but whenever any question is to be settled in any community, then the people of that community shall settle that question, the women people equally with the men people. That is all there is to it, and yet when it comes to arguing our case they bring up all sorts of arguments, and the beauty of it is they always answer all their own arguments. They never make an argument but they answer it. When I was asked to answer one of their debates I said, “What is the use? Divide up their literature and let them destroy themselves.” . . .
I remember hearing Rev. Dr. Abbot speak before the anti-suffrage meeting in Brooklyn and he stated that if women were permitted to vote we would not have so much time for charity and philanthropy, and I would like to say, “Thank God, there will not be so much need of charity and philanthropy.” The end and aim of the suffrage is not to furnish an opportunity for excellent old ladies to be charitable. There are two words that we ought to be able to get along without, and they are charity and philanthropy. They are not needed in a Republic. If we put in the word “opportunity” instead, that is what Republics stand for. Our doctrine is not to extend the length of our bread lines or the size of our soup kitchens, what we need is the opportunity for men to buy their own bread and eat their own soup. We women have used up our lives and strength in fool charities, and we have made more paupers than we have ever helped by the folly of our charities and philanthropies; the unorganized methods by which we deal with the conditions of society, and instead of giving people charity we must learn to give them an opportunity to develop and make themselves capable of earning the bread; no human being has the right to live without toil; toil of some kind, and that old theory that we used to hear “The world owes a man a living” never was true and never will be true. This world does not owe anybody a living, what it does owe to every human being is the opportunity to earn a living. We have a right to the opportunity and then the right to the living thereafter. We want it. No woman, any more than a man, has the right to live an idle life in this world, we must learn to give back something for the space occupied and we must do our duty wherever duty calls, and the woman herself must decide where her duty calls, just as a man does.
Now they tell us we should not vote because we have not the time, we are so burdened that we should not have any more burdens. Then, if that is so, I think we ought to allow the women to vote instead of the men, since we pay a man anywhere from a third to a half more than we do women it would be better to use up the cheap time of the women instead of the dear time of the men. And talking about time you would think it took about a week to vote. . . .
Now what does it matter whether the women will vote as their husbands do or will not vote; whether they have time or have not; or whether they will vote for prohibition or not. What has that to do with the fundamental question of democracy, no one has yet discovered. But they cannot argue on that; they cannot argue on the fundamental basis of our existence so that they have to get off on all these side tricks to get anything approaching an argument. So they tell you that democracy is a form of government. It is not. It was before governments were; it will prevail when governments cease to be; it is more than a form of government; it is a great spiritual force emanating from the heart of the Infinite, transforming human character until some day, some day in the distant future, man by the power of the spirit of democracy, will be able to look back into the face of the Infinite and answer, as man cannot answer today, “One is our Father, even God, and all we people are the children of one family.” And when democracy has taken possession of human lives no man will ask for him to grant to his neighbor, whether that neighbor be a man or a woman; no man will then be willing to allow another man to rise to power on his shoulders, nor will he be willing to rise to power on the shoulders of another prostrate human being. But that has not yet taken possession of us, but some day we will be free, and we are getting nearer and nearer to it all the time; and never in the history of our country had the men and women of this nation a better right to approach it than they have today; never in the history of the nation did it stand out so splendidly as it stands today, and never ought we men and women to be more grateful for anything than that there presides in the White House today a man of peace.
And so our good friends go on with one thing after another and they say if women should vote they will have to sit on the jury and they ask whether we will like to see a woman sitting on a jury. I have seen some juries that ought to be sat on and I have seen some women that would be glad to sit on anything. When a woman stands up all day behind a counter, or when she stands all day doing a washing she is glad enough to sit; and when she stands for seventy-five cents she would like to sit for two dollars a day. But don’t you think we need some women on juries in this country? You read your paper and you read that one day last week or the week before or the week before a little girl went out to school and never came back; another little girl was sent on an errand and never came back; another little girl was left in charge of a little sister and her mother went out to work and when she returned the little girl was not there, and you read it over and over again, and the horror of it strikes you. You read that in these United States five thousand young girls go out and never come back, don’t you think that the men and women, the vampires of our country who fatten and grow rich on the ignorance and innocence of children would rather face Satan himself than a jury of mothers. I would like to see some juries of mothers. I lived in the slums of Boston for three years and I know the need of juries of mothers.
Then they tell us that if women were permitted to vote that they would take office, and you would suppose that we just took office in this country. There is a difference of getting an office in this country and in Europe. In England a man stands for Parliament and in this country he runs for Congress, and so long as it is a question of running for office I don’t think women have much chance, especially with our present hobbles. There are some women who want to hold office and I may as well own up, I am one of them. I have been wanting to hold office for more than thirty-five years. Thirty-five years ago I lived in the slums of Boston and ever since then I have wanted to hold office. I have applied to the mayor to be made an officer; I wanted to be the greatest office holder in the world, I wanted the position of the man I think is to be the most envied, as far as ability to do good is concerned, and that is a policeman. I have always wanted to be a policeman and I have applied to be appointed policeman and the very first question that was asked me was, “Could you knock a man down and take him to jail?” That is some people’s idea of the highest service that a policeman can render a community. Knock somebody down and take him to jail. My idea is not so much to arrest criminals as it is to prevent crime. That is what is needed in the police force of every community. When I lived for three years in the back alleys of Boston, I saw there that it was needed to prevent crime and from that day to this I believe there is no great public gathering of any sort whatever where we do not need women on the police force; we need them at every moving picture show, every dance house, every restaurant, every hotel and every great store with a great bargain counter and every park and every resort where the vampires who fatten on the crimes and vices of men and women gather. We need women on the police force and we will have them there some day.
If women vote will they go to war? They are great on having us fight. They tell you that the government rests on force, but there are a great many kinds of force in this world, and never in the history of man were the words of the Scriptures proved to the extent that they are today, that the men of the nation that lives by the sword shall die by the sword. When I was speaking in North Dakota from an automobile with a great crowd and a great number of men gathered around a man who had been sitting in front of a store whittling a stick called out to another man and asked if women get the vote will they go over to Germany and fight the Germans? I said, “Why no, why should we go over to Germany and fight Germans?” “If Germans come over here would you fight?” I said, “Why should we women fight men, but if Germany should send an army of women over here, then we would show you what we would do.[”] We would go down and meet them and say, “Come on, let’s go up to the opera house and talk this matter over.” It might grow wearisome but it would not be death.
Would it not be better if the heads of the governments in Europe had talked things over? What might have happened to the world if a dozen men had gotten together in Europe and settled the awful controversy which is today decimating the nations of Europe? We women got together over there last year, over in Rome, the delegates from twenty-eight different nations of women, and for two weeks we discussed problems which had like interests to us all. They were all kinds of Protestants, both kinds of Catholics, Roman and Greek, three were Jews and Mohamedans, but we were not there to discuss our different religious beliefs, but we were there to discuss the things that were of vital importance to us all, and at the end of the two weeks, after the discussions were over we passed a great number of resolutions. We discussed white slavery, the immigration laws, we discussed the spread of contagious and infectious diseases; we discussed various forms of education, and various forms of juvenile criminals, every question which every nation has to meet, and at the end of two weeks we passed many resolutions, but two of them were passed unanimously. One was presented by myself as Chairman on the Committee on Suffrage and on that resolution we called upon all civilizations of the world to give to women equal rights with men and there was not a dissenting vote.
The other resolution was on peace. We believed then and many of us believe today, notwithstanding all the discussion that is going on, we believe and we will continue to believe that preparedness for war is an incentive to war, and the only hope of permanent peace is the systematic and scientific disarmament of all the nations of the world, and we passed a resolution and passed it unanimously to that effect. A few days afterward I attended a large reception given by the American Ambassador and there was an Italian diplomat there and he spoke rather superciliously and said, “You women think you have been having a very remarkable convention, and I understand that a resolution on peace was offered by the Germans, the French women seconded it, and the British presiding officer presented it and it was carried unanimously.” We none of us dreamed what was taking place at that time, but he knew and we learned it before we arrived home, that awful, awful thing that was about to sweep over the nations of the world. The American ambassador replied to the Italian diplomat and said, “Yes Prince, it was a remarkable convention, and it is a remarkable thing that the only people who can get together internationally and discuss their various problems without acrimony and without a sword at their side are the women of the world, but we men, even when we go to The Hague to discuss peace, we go with a sword dangling at our side.” It is remarkable that even at this age men cannot discuss international problems and discuss them in peace.
When I turned away from that place up in North Dakota that man in the crowd called out again, just as we were leaving, and said, “Well, what does a woman know about war anyway?” I had read my paper that morning and I knew what the awful headline was, and I saw a gentleman standing in the crowd with a paper in his pocket, and I said, “Will that gentleman hold the paper up,” and he held it up, and the headline read, “250,000 Men Killed Since the War Began.” I said, “You ask me what a woman knows about war? No woman can read that line and comprehend the awful horror; no woman knows the significance of 250,000 dead men, but you tell me that one man lay dead and I might be able to tell you something of its awful meaning to one woman.[”] I would know that years before a woman whose heart beat in unison with her love and her desire for motherhood walked day by day with her face to an open grave, with courage, which no man has ever surpassed, and if she did not fill that grave, if she lived and if there was laid in her arms a tiny little bit of helpless humanity, I would know that there went out from her soul such a cry of thankfulness as none save a mother could know. And then I would know, what men have not yet learned, that women are human; that they have human hopes and human passions, aspirations and desires as men have, and I would know that that mother had laid aside all those hopes and aspirations for herself, laid them aside for her boy, and if after years had passed by she forgot her nights of sleeplessness and her days of fatiguing toil in her care of her growing boy, and when at last he became a man and she stood looking up into his eyes and beheld him, bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, for out of her woman’s life she had carved twenty beautiful years that went into the making of a man; and there he stands, the most wonderful thing in all the world; for in all the Universe of God there is nothing more sublimely wonderful than a strong limbed clean hearted, keen brained, aggressive young man, standing as he does on the border line of life, ready to reach out and grapple with its problems. O, how wonderful he is, and he is her’s. She gave her life for him, and in an hour this country calls him out and in an hour he lies dead; that wonderful, wonderful thing lies dead; and sitting by his side, that mother looking into the dark years to come knows that when her son died her life’s hope died with him, and in the face of that wretched motherhood, what man dare ask what a woman knows of war. And that is not all. Read your papers, you cannot read it because it is not printable; you cannot tell it because it is not speakable, you cannot even think it because it is not thinkable, the horrible crimes perpetrated against women by the blood drunken men of the war.
You read your paper again and the second headline reads, “It Costs Twenty Millions of Dollars a Day,” for what? To buy the material to slaughter the splendid results of civilization of the centuries. Men whom it has taken centuries to build up and make into great scientific forces of brain, the flower of the manhood of the great nations of Europe, and we spend twenty millions of dollars a day to blot out all the results of civilization of hundreds and hundreds of years. And what do we do? We lay a mortgage on every unborn child for a hundred and more years to come. Mortgage his brain, his brawn, every pulse of his heart in order to pay the debt, to buy the material to slaughter the men of our country. And that is not all, the greatest crime of war is the crime against the unborn. Read what they are doing. They are calling out every man, every young man, every virile man from seventeen to forty-five or fifty years old, they are calling them out. All the splendid scientific force and energy of the splendid virile manhood are being called out to be food for the cannon, and they are leaving behind the degenerate, defective imbecile, the unfit, the criminals, the diseased to be the fathers of the children yet to be born. The crime of crimes of the war is the crime against the unborn children, and in the face of the fact that women are driven out of the home shall men ask if women shall fight if they are permitted to vote.
No we women do not want the ballot in order that we may fight, but we do want the ballot in order that we may help men to keep from fighting, whether it is in the home or in the state, just as the home is not without the man, so the state is not without the woman, and you can no more build up homes without men than you can build up the state without women. We are needed everywhere where human life is. We are needed everywhere where human problems are to be solved. Men and women must go through this world together from the cradle to the grave, it is God’s way and it is the fundamental principle of a Republican form of government.
Debate on Women’s Suffrage
May 21, 1919
Mr. Little. Mr. Speaker, the gentleman from Pennsylvania [Mr. Moore] suggests that the ladies who are not in favor of woman suffrage are taken unawares. To register surprise at the appearance of propositions of a certain welcome, friendly, complimentary, and anticipated tenor is one of the most highly valued privileges of that charming sex, which no gentleman, even in the heat of debate, would ask them to surrender for any political right, however important. The ladies are certainly no more surprised than I am, because it is scarce 30 minutes since notification from the gentleman from Illinois [Mr. Mann], chairman of the Woman Suffrage Committee and author of the resolution at issue, whose rare parliamentary sagacity and unrivaled parliamentary leadership made this day’s work possible, that I was to open this debate. This is a good time to bring it up.
Five years ago Julius Caesar, after 19 centuries, challenged Jesus Christ to a final contest. The Kaiser threw down the gantlet and the friends of Christian civilization took it up. The tide of war turned in favor of the Son of Bethlehem and against the Prussian; and, if anything has been decided, it has been decided that now right, not might, shall rule the world. [Applause.] Unless our sons and our billions have been sacrificed in vain, the world is about ready to substitute the rule of reason for the rule of force in the government of reasoning creatures. What better expression of that could there be than to say now that the mothers who risked their lives to bring into the world the four millions of soldiers we mustered shall have some word to say about the destinies of their sons? [Applause.] The British House of Commons voted, I think, 7 to 1, and recently, I believe, the French Chamber of Deputies voted 7 to 1, for woman suffrage. The time is opportune for marking an era’s close. Civilization has reached a state, a period, a moment, when we can ring the liberty bell again and announce that this great step forward has been taken.
They tell us that woman should not vote merely because she is a female. No other reason has been advanced except that form which says that she can not bear arms. Every mother who bears a son to fight for the Republic takes the same chance of death that a son takes when he goes to arms. The fact that she is a woman is a reason for, not against, the utilization of every force for the advancement of society. Ninety-nine per cent of the murderers in the world are men. Ninety-nine per cent of the burglars are men. Ninety-nine per cent of the gamblers are men. Ninety-nine per cent of counterfeiters are men. Ninety-nine per cent of all the thieves, outlaws, forgers, pickpockets, bank robbers, train robbers, pirates, and drunkards in the world are men. Ninety-nine per cent of all criminals are men.
Ninety-nine per cent of all diseases inherited by reason of evil lives of parents come down from the male side. For every courtesan there is a seducer and panderer and a thousand customers. When one considers the character of the two sexes, he better appreciates the power of the instinct of race preservation which nature has planted in the human kind, which certainly is all that has induced women to remain on the same continent with man for 60 centuries. If the world were open and the best character of votes were the dominating factor, women would control the ballot entirely. If good character were the basis for the franchise, most of the voters would probably have been women long ago.
In the last analysis those who oppose woman suffrage simply ignore everything except brute force. They discard brains, scholarship, character, and simply seek to enforce the law of the herd, that the biggest bull is the boss. Under their theories Napoleon Bonaparte was a greater man than Abraham Lincoln; John L. Sullivan a more useful citizen than Thomas Edison. I challenge all such claims as unworthy of the citizens of a Christian and cultured land. Carried to their logical conclusion those theories have dominated and guided and wrecked and ruined the great Empire of Germany perhaps for centuries to come, and at the very moment when they had attained the rounded summit of a successful, brutal, despotic development of brute force. If during the last 40 years the women had held absolute control of Germany, that mighty State would now be rich, happy, contented, and yet there are still those who will tell you woman should not rule because she can not fight.
They told us last year the determination of this issue should be relegated to the States. One of the fundamental privileges under the Constitution is to amend it. If three-fourths of the States wish it, there is no authority under the Constitution that endows any State with the privilege of denying. They suggest they wanted a referendum vote. The Constitution prescribes, orders, another method. When the women come here and ask for the ballot, they simply invoke the methods by which the Constitution has always been amended. Any other system would be illegal. If you say to them that you are not willing to abide by those rules under which every amendment has been made, you simply plead the baby act; and when the mother of a soldier comes here to demand the privilege of the ballot you should not do that.
Men have argued here for 50 years that woman suffrage would break up the home. But in the Western States, where we have had woman suffrage in one form and another for years, we know of no family that has ever been disrupted by quarrel over politics. We know of no fireside that has burned more dimly because of any difference of opinion about the use of the ballot. To permit the mothers of this country to express their views on important issues will not injure the homes. As I reflect now I realize that every time I followed my mother’s advice I did well. Generally when I did not list to her I lived to regret it. She was a thoughtful and prudent woman. The long and short of the whole matter is that for centuries you have treated woman as a slave, dragged her over the pages of history by the hair, and then you pretend to think she is an angel, too good to interfere in the affairs of men. Give her now a fixed, reasonable status, as becomes a rational human being like yourself.
I wish there were a home for every woman. But our civilization has developed in another direction. During this great war it has been determined that women are to take part in every vocation of human life. There is no place they have not filled with ability. The increase in population, the complex demands of a complicated civilization, have made it absolutely essential that many women shall come away from the fireside and go to work for a living and fight and struggle with men.
In the streets of Strasburg I have myself seen women assisted by dogs hitched in harness pulling carts and selling milk at the homes along the streets. My friends and I traveling the path through an Egyptian field were suddenly accosted by a woman, who rose with her sickle from among the wheat to cry in Arabic, “In your great country, sir, women do not thus toil in the field.” But now, in my great country, women throng the shops, the offices, the factories, in their strife with men to earn a living. In uncivilized nations they still treat her as a slave and as an angel. Your great civilization gives woman the glorious privilege that man has to battle for a livelihood if she will do so for small wages, but denies her the use of the ballot in her struggle. What are you afraid of? The Burmese women handle all the business of that country. Is this, then, a Burmese peril which menaces you?
The gentleman who leads the opposition to-day said once that she could not have the rights of a man and the privileges of a woman. Why can she not? That can not be true. If we are going to be the gentlemen we assume to be, why should she not have the rights of a man and the privileges of a woman? Men retained all the male privileges of drinking whisky, playing poker, and racing horses when they cast the ballot. Why can not she still retain the privilege of being treated like a lady, a wife, a mother, even if she votes? God Almighty placed upon her certain duties from which you escape, and you are wonderfully fortunate that you do, and every time you think of it you should blush for shame that you would deny any rights you have because of the responsibility that God has placed upon her.
It has been a source of profound regret to me this morning that I did not have some notice that would enable me to present this subject more thoroughly. The women of the Republic come here and say to you that they want the ballot. Gentlemen, God Almighty has made you strong; they have made your Republic great and made you statesmen of this great Republic. They have given you infinite powers, mighty responsibilities. Now, the mother who bore you, the wife who brought your son into the world, and those who have gone before reach out and ask that you apply to them the rules of common sense, and no more, no less.
If you should throw 200 people upon an island, why should any particular member or set of members there for any reason have the power to say what should be done? Why should not a sensible, God-fearing, intelligent woman have just as good a right to have her say about what goes on in any nation as any man that walks the earth?
As I have said to you, she takes the same risk that every soldier did. Which of you is there who has taken the same chance on any battle field that a mother has taken every time a child comes into the world? Who are you that you should say to the mothers of America that they can not vote as you do?
The world must progress according to the methods of Julius Caesar or the theories of Jesus Christ. During the last five years that ancient contest came to a head and the cross of Christ must henceforth and forever be made the standard of civilization instead of the crown of Julius Caesar. For the second time in this House I appeal from the rule of force to the rule of reason. The conquering armies camped on the Rhine have fought to establish the fact that civilization is better civilized than barbarism. If common sense is more potent than the sword, if men have determined that that is their sober intention and their law, woman should now be accorded the same opportunity to take part in the life that men have always had.
When I am laid away on the hillside, Bert Berry, my orderly in the Philippines, will bring the bugle he blew for me at Marilao, Guiguinto, and San Fernando and sound taps above my last earthly resting place, and I trust I shall hear no more of wars for all eternity. I hope, as my dear wife holds my hand for the last time as I pass out into the starlight, and as my dear mother extends her sainted hand to me as the trumpets sound the reveille on the other side, both will know that the sons for whom they went down into the valley of the shadow have granted to the mothers of this most august and stateliest Republic of all time the same power, authority, and opportunity to fashion and preserve the lives of their sons that is possessed by their fathers. [Applause.] . . .
Mr. MacCRATE. Mr. Speaker and gentlemen, I realize thoroughly that a man only three days in Congress should hold his tongue, but coming as I do from a district which has equal suffrage, and being a member of the Committee on Woman Suffrage, I felt it obligatory to say why we from our section believe this national resolution or amendment should be submitted to the States for the States to decide in the constitutional way whether it shall be adopted. Now, whether you consider the franchise a right or a privilege, the women of America deserve the right, or they have earned the privilege. Everywhere you went during the past two years you saw women in uniform. You saw them in the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, the Knights of Columbus, the Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Men’s Hebrew Association, and other allied war activities. Whether you were at home or whether you were abroad, and like myself had the privilege of seeing the streets of London and Liverpool in January of this year, you realized that American womanhood had met the last argument that men have given for denying them the suffrage privilege, namely, that no one who is not a potential soldier is entitled to the franchise. I submit to your fairness and judgment that the women of America have been as potential soldiers during the past war as have been the men of America. [Applause.] And if potentiality for military service is the last objection, then certainly with the men who avoided the draft, or with the slackers, the women of America ought never be compared; and more certainly if men who continued in agricultural pursuits to win the war, if men who continued in shipyards to win the war, if men who continued in other branches of activities to win the war are entitled to the franchise, the women who maintained equal industrial and agricultural burdens and high moral burdens to win the war are entitled to the franchise. [Applause.] Not only that, but this resolution seems to me to be in perfect harmony with the Constitution itself. The preamble of the Constitution declares its purpose to be “to form a more perfect Union.” This amendment will help us perfect the Union. It does not go into the homes of the country and tell the people what they shall put on or what they shall eat or what they shall drink. It does not say to the men and women of America they shall not do this or they shall not do that, but it does recognize a fundamental of our Government that rights and privileges shall be equal, and declares that sex alone shall not deprive women of the right or privilege of voting. I submit to you that this resolution is in harmony with the spirit of the Constitution itself. [Applause.]
Mr. MANN. Mr. Speaker, I now renew my request that all Members have leave to extend their remarks in the Record on this subject for five legislative days.
The SPEAKER. The gentleman from Illinois asks unanimous consent that all Members may be permitted to extend their remarks in the Record on this subject—
Mr. RAGSDALE. I object, Mr. Speaker.
The SPEAKER. The gentleman from South Carolina objects.
Mr. CLARK of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I yield five minutes to the gentleman from Pennsylvania. [Mr. Focht.]
Mr. FOCHT. Mr. Speaker, I desire to ask unanimous consent to extend by remarks in the Record.
The SPEAKER. Is there an objection?
Mr. FERRIS. Mr. Speaker, reserving the right to object, I do not think it fair to let in any more extensions unless we let in those who did not have a chance to speak, and so I object—of course, without any discourtesy whatever to the gentleman.
Mr. FOCHT. Mr. Speaker, we all realize that this is a transcendent and far-reaching question. It has been decided in Pennsylvania more than once what the people there think about it. It has been decided in many, many States what they think about it there. It has been brought to Congress for decision. In Pennsylvania the last time the test was made the amendment was defeated by 50,000 majority, and it is conceded it would have been 250,000 majority or 300,000 majority had the question been voted on separately instead of in connection with four other amendments.
In my own district in Pennsylvania, comprised of eight counties, which are typical of the Christianity, civilization, and the chivalry of America, every last county went against it after a full discussion of the question. I dare say, if it were submitted again, yes or no on its merits, it would go double what it was the last time against it. I appreciate the tribute that has been paid here, very tenderly and, I might say, patriotically, to womanhood. How could any of us do otherwise than pay high tribute to the mother or wife or daughter? These gentlemen say that those of us who are opposed to this amendment are denying the women something; that we are defeating them in a high and laudable purpose. I challenge that statement and that argument. My proposition is that those mothers of the soldier boys do not ask for this thing. I need not dwell upon the greatness of Pennsylvania, or her glory, or the soldiers she sent to the front, or the money she gave to back them up, but it is well that you be reminded that Pennsylvania’s only vote of record is against woman suffrage. In the time I have here I want to enter the protest of one Member from Pennsylvania against going too far afield at this particular time in this uncharted matter, simply because a few States out West have adopted the suffrage program. And with all respect for the Members who come from those States where they have had woman suffrage, I do not believe many appeals come to them or much concern is felt for the franchise by most women. I do not believe a vast majority of women want the vote, nor do they need it for their protection.
Furthermore, let me say that in the State of Pennsylvania 20 years ago we had better laws for the protection of womanhood than they have in the States where they have had woman suffrage for 25 years, and we have better laws there now; hence it is to be seen that it is not necessary for women to engage in the conflict and asperities of politics to secure more than equality of protection with men. Formerly it was contended that the vote for women was necessary to win the war and to further prohibition, but the fallacy of these arguments was made manifest by subsequent events.
Mr. HICKS. Will the gentleman yield for a moment?
Mr. FOCHT. I can not, having but a few minutes’ time. I know where your heart is. You are really not for this. [Laughter.] There is no Member here, either from the States of New York, Pennsylvania, or Ohio, who down in his heart is for this sort of thing.
Another reason why women in their good sense are not here appealing for the vote and sphere of political activity may be that they have a better conception of the biological and physiological laws than some gentlemen who will vote in the affirmative on account of coming from States where women now vote—laws ordained by God, and which the vote of Congress nor an amendment to the Constitution can not change or set aside. [Applause.]
In conclusion I will submit a letter I received this morning from Mrs. Horace Brock, president of the Pennsylvania Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, and which includes some salient points on this question:
By the submission of the question of woman suffrage to the voters of the State in 1915 Pennsylvania declared against Federal interference and for the right of the electorate to decide this question. There is a bill now before the State senate, which has passed the house, providing for a resubmission to the people. We opposed this bill in the house, for, while we agree a referendum to the people is the only democratic and just way of deciding this issue, we know there is no increased demand for woman suffrage, but rather increased opposition to it. Since the passage of the bill in the house, however, we have made no further opposition and are making our opposition to the passage of an amendment to the Federal Constitution, which would deprive the State of the right to decide its own electorate.
A Federal amendment to the Constitution is a serious matter, because it is irrevocable. The voters of New York State, men and women, finding double suffrage increases taxes and the socialist vote, are planning a resubmission of this question to the voters before long. If the Federal amendment is not passed, this will certainly be done.
A noisy minority are demanding votes for women as a reward for their war work, but the majority of women war workers, who have been largely antisuffragists desiring no reward, object to being penalized and given this added burden because of their work. Moreover, because a woman is efficient in Red Cross and industrial work, it does not follow she would be efficient in Congress. Also, it is not advisable to legislate for normal times extraordinary measures that may be useful and necessary in abnormal times.
I therefore ask you, in justice to your State and its electorate, to vote against the Federal woman-suffrage amendment.
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Fess). The time of the gentleman from North Carolina has again expired.
Mr. CLARK of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I yield five minutes to the gentleman from Texas [Mr. Black].
The SPEAKER pro tempore. The gentleman from Texas is recognized for five minutes.
Mr. BLACK. Mr. Speaker, of course there is no dispute upon the proposition that Congress by a two-thirds vote of both Houses may submit any amendment which it sees fit, and when such amendment is ratified by three-fourths of the legislatures of the several States it would become a part of the Constitution and binding upon all the States. There is no controversy upon that point. And since the right of a State to peaceably secede from the Union has forever been settled in the negative, there can no longer be any sound contention that any amendment which is adopted in the constitutional manner violates any of the rights of the other States. The minority States must, of course, yield to the will of the majority.
But this very fact makes all the more important that Congress should be careful in submitting amendments, and the States should be slow in ratifying those which delegate power to the Federal Government hitherto reserved to the States and exercised by their own legislative machinery.
Article I, section 2, of our Federal Constitution provides—
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.
Thus it will be seen that the framers of our Constitution, recognizing the State as the sovereign unit of government, deemed it wise to reserve to the States the right to regulate their own suffrage and provided in affirmative terms that the House of Representatives should be chosen by electors having the same qualifications as those who should choose the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
And when 123 years later the seventeenth amendment was adopted, which provided for the election of United States Senators by direct vote of the people, this same provision was carried which prescribed that the electors should have the same qualifications as those required for electing the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
Now, the amendment which we have under consideration proposes to change all of this and turn over to the Federal Government one of the most essential elements of State sovereignty; that is, to limit and control the States in their right to determine and prescribe the qualifications of their own electors.
And while I concede that the method by which it is proposed to be done is a perfectly legal one, the question is, Should it be done as a matter of wise government policy?
Is suffrage such a question as should be snatched from the control of the States and lodged in a rapidly centralizing government? That is a question which I consider myself called upon to answer as the elected Representative of the people from the district which I have the honor to represent in this body.
When I consider the principles which underlie the structure of our republican form of government, with its “indissoluble Union of indestructible States”; when I consider the fact that I am a Democratic Representative and owe at least some allegiance to the historic principles of the party and some degree of obedience to its most recent national platform, then I am not in doubt as to how I should vote.
I should vote against the submission of the amendment and leave each State free to regulate and control the matter of its own suffrage.
Therefore I will vote that way I think and believe.
If my own State—Texas—for instance, wants to grant full suffrage to women, it has a perfectly simple method of doing it. On next Saturday, May 24, the people of our State will vote upon a constitutional amendment which has for its object this very purpose.
In the submission of this State amendment the voters get a real referendum. If they adopt it, they will have no need of this Federal amendment. If they do not adopt it, then why should I vote for a Federal amendment which would impose it upon them against their own will.
The committee at the last session of Congress who reported this resolution made this remarkable statement on page 4 of their report. I would not refer to it now except for the fact that it is illustrative of much of the logic used by the proponents of this amendment. The language was:
To deny the States the opportunity to establish woman suffrage if they wish to do so is an act of autocratic injustice which would certainly be misunderstood abroad and would deeply incense the millions of women who are voters, as well as the millions more who are petitioning for the vote.
That is a very remarkable statement. I would like to inquire what provision there is in the Federal Constitution which in the slightest degree prohibits the States from granting full suffrage to their women whenever they desire to do so? And if there is no such prohibition, then what possible power is there anywhere which can prevent a State from doing so?
Every schoolboy knows that all the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people. If that report had said, instead of the language which I have quoted, that “To deny the States the opportunity to control their own suffrage, if they wish to do so, is an act of autocratic injustice,” then it would have been a statement, as I understand it, of the doctrine which the Democratic Party has championed for more than a hundred years and which has been so ably defended by many of the party’s greatest leaders. I do not think that the matter has been more clearly stated anywhere than by President Wilson in a statement to a delegation of suffragists January 6, 1917:
I am tied to a conviction which I have had all my life, that changes of this sort ought to be brought State by State. It is a deeply matured conviction on my part, and therefore I would be without excuse to my own constitutional principles if I lent my support to this very important movement for an amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Of course it will be conceded that the President has expressed some contrary opinions since then, but the newest is not always the best. The date or luster of the coin does not determine its true value, and “he who chooses without a proper test may perish, both a pauper and a fool.”
When we put these different statements of the President to the test of Democratic principles, as interpreted throughout the history of our party and by our recent Democratic platforms, I am compelled to choose his option, as expressed on January 6, 1917, as the soundest and wisest one, rather than that of these more recent days.
Our platform at St. Louis in 1916 contained this declaration:
We recommend the extension of the franchise to the women of the country by the States on the same terms as to men.
If the party had intended to take the position that woman suffrage is a Federal and not a State matter, then the platform would have recommended that Congress take action on the question instead of making its recommendation to the several States of the Union. There is no declaration in the platform anywhere for the submission of a national woman suffrage amendment, and no Democratic national convention in the history of the party has ever declared for it.
On the contrary, it is perfectly well known that the attitude of the party has long been that the regulation of suffrage belongs to the States, and that as a matter of proper public policy it should be left there.
It is for these reasons, and not because I am opposed to woman suffrage by State action, that I will vote against the submission of this amendment. [Applause.]
U.S. Constitution, Nineteenth Amendment
August 26, 1920
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Government had played a significant role in Americans’ lives from the earliest settlements. The Puritans and other early settlers had to look to their local governments for protection from attack, disease, and hunger in their isolated state. Moreover, there had been a perfectionist streak in the settlers that demanded laws aimed at improving and guarding the people’s morals. But such laws always had been local in character. It was during the late nineteenth century that mass movements began forming on the conviction that new economic and social forces required a national response. While the earliest reformers sought to eliminate large combinations of wealth and power, the call soon came for the federal government to regulate such interests as the railroads and large industrial enterprises. With the coming of the Great Depression and its consequent economic hardships, the call became more sustained for a federal system of economic insurance. At all times these call came in conflict with the view that Americans’ virtue and well-being depended on habits of self-help and charity that would be undermined by public programs of assistance—the more so as these programs began to come from a federal government many believed was not authorized to take on the role of social insurer.
The assassination of President James A. Garfield by a man who sought, but failed to secure, a government job brought to a head decades of increasing discontent with the federal “spoils system.” This system was instituted by President Andrew Jackson, who served from 1829 to 1837. It rested on the assumption that government jobs should go to those loyal to the victorious political party. The policy encouraged loyalty to the ruling party’s policies and personnel. It also brought widespread bribery, incompetence, and use of public employees for political purposes. The Pendleton Act established the Civil Service Commission to oversee competitive examinations for some 10 percent of federal jobs (the number grew steadily, eventually topping 90 percent of the total). Hiring, raises, and promotions were now to be based on a test-based merit system, with campaign activities banned for persons in these positions.