The Women of Seneca Falls and William Blackstone

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and associates (Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass, etc.) argued women should be allowed the right to vote during the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention held at Seneca Falls, New York. They all discussed the basis for the reason they believed that women should have the right to vote. They based it on Blackstone’s Commentaries. Specifically, they reference this quote:

Adam Smith, Employment, and the Advantages to Society

The Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith (1723–1790) was the author of two books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). In his discussion “Of Restraints upon the importation from Foreign Countries of such Goods as can be produced at Home”, Smith writes the following passage:

Adam Smith on the legitimacy of using force to ensure justice (1759)

Adam Smith (1723-1790) argues that justice is the only virtue which may be imposed by force:

Molinari on mankind’s never-ending struggle for liberty (1849)

The French economist Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) was inspired by mankind’s never-ending struggle for liberty against their oppressors and concluded his book Les Soirées (1849) with this inspiring speech:

Edward Bellarmine grapples with the problem of a subject’s obedience to kings or popes (1610)

The Jesuit priest and political philosopher Edward Bellarmine constructs a dialogue between “the people” and “the Pope” in which the Pope thinks of Christ as the Lord who owns the flock of sheep, himself as the shepherd, the people as the “little sheep” at the very bottom, and the Kings who rule over the people are the “rams” who might at any time turn into “wolves”:

Herbert Spencer on the right of political and economic “dissenters” to have their different beliefs and practices respected by the state (1842)

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) argues that political and economic “dissenters” should have the same right as religious dissenters to have their different beliefs and practices respected by the state:

Auberon Herbert’s aim is to destroy the love of power and the desire to use force against others (1897)

The English radical individualist Auberon Herbert (1838-1906) was a member of a group that called themselves “Voluntaryists” who believed in self-ownership and opposed the use of force in all its forms. This is part of an impassioned speech he gave explaining their views:

Thomas Hodgskin on the futility of politicians tinkering with bad laws when the whole political system needed to be changed (1832)

The British naval officer and later radical journalist Thomas Hodgskin (1878-1869) denounced the politicians in Westminster for tinkering endlessly with trying to patch and mend the laws when what was required was a fundamental change in thinking about what government should do:

William Paley dismisses as a fiction the idea that there ever was a binding contract by which citizens consented to be ruled by their government (1785)

The English moral philosopher William Paley (1743-1805) debunks the idea that there ever was a binding “contract” by which the inhabitants of a country ever “consented” to be ruled by their rulers:

Bastiat criticizes the socialists of wanting to be the “Great Mechanic” who would run the “social machine” in which ordinary people were merely so many lifeless cogs and wheels (1848)

The French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) accused the socialists of wanting to create an “artificial” organisation by using coercion in which they would be the “Great Mechanic” who would run the “social machine,” and where ordinary people would be so many lifeless cogs and wheels to be manipulated (1848):

Frédéric Bastiat argues that socialism hides its true plunderous nature under a facade of nice sounding words like “fraternity” and “equality” (1850)

The French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) argues that under socialism’s facade of nice-sounding terms like fraternity, solidarity, and equality lies the “monster” of legal plunder and state coercion:

Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk argues that Marx ignored the fact that the same amount of labor time should be rewarded differently depending upon where along the structure of production it took place (1898)

The Austrian economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk (1851-1914) wrote a devastating crique of Karl Marx’s economic theory shortly after the publication of the posthumous third volume of Das Kapital in 1894. Among many criticisms, he points out that Marx ignored the fact that the same amount of labor time should be rewarded differently depending upon where along the structure of production it took place:

Karl Marx on the necessary task the “bourgeoisie” was doing in putting an end to “feudal and patriarchal relations” (1848)

The German socialist Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a much better journalist than he was an economist. Here is an example from The Communist Manifesto (1848) on how “capitalism” freed many people by breaking the crippling bonds of feudal society and ushering in free trade and free markets:

Gershom Carmichael on the idea that civil power is founded on the consent of those against whom it is exercised (1724)

Gershom Carmichael (1672-1729) argued that the legitimacy of the government lay in the consent the people gave the civil authority when they transferred the rights they had in the state of nature to it:

Jean Barbeyrac on the need to disobey unjust laws (1715)

The French jurist Jean Barbeyrac (1674-1744) argues that it “absolutely necessary” for a good man to disobey just civil laws when they conflict with the natural laws which are “written in our heart”:

Algernon Sidney on not unquestioningly “rendering unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” before checking to see if they legitimately belong to Caesar (1689)

The English radical republican Algernon Sidney (1622-1683) wants us to ask “who is this Caesar” and “what legitimately belongs to him” before we give Caesar anything:

Elisha Williams on the unalienable right every person has to think and judge for themselves (1744)

The American Congregational minister Elisha Williams (1694–1755) argues that every person has an unalienable right to read, think, argue, and speak about religious matters without outside interference or control:

Benedict de Spinoza on the natural right every person has to think and speak on any subject they choose (1670)

The Dutch philosopher Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677) argued that “in a free state every man may think what he likes, and say what he thinks”:

William Graham Sumner on the political corruption which is “jobbery” (1884)

The American clergyman and sociologist William Graham Sumner (1840-1910) thought that “jobbery”, the attempt to gain wealth from others by extortion by means of the government instead of honest labor, was rampant in plutocratic America:

Thomas Jefferson on whether the American Constitution is binding on those who were not born at the time it was signed and agreed to (1789)

In a letter written to James Madison from Paris just after the French Revolution had broken out, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) argues that any Constitution expires after 19 years and must be renewed if it is not to become “an act of force and not of right”:

Thomas Aquinas on why the law should not punish imperfect men for practising vices which do not harm others (1274)

The Italian Dominican theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1275) argues the because the majority of people are weak and not perfect, human laws should not punish individuals for engaging in vice unless it causes harm to others:

Epictetus on one’s inner freedom that is immune to external coercion (c. 100 CE)

The ex-slave and Stoic philosopher Epictetus (55-100 CE) argues that one’s inner power to assent or not to assent to something is what constitutes one’s true freedom:

Francis Hutcheson on the difference between “perfect” and “imperfect” rights (1725)

The Scottish philosopher Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746) distinguished between “perfect rights” (like the right to life and liberty) which were so essential that one was permitted to use violence to protect, and “imperfect rights” which were not:

William Godwin on the need to simplify and reduce the power of the state (1793)

The English radical political philosopher and novelist William Godwin (1756-1836) thought that human beings were not naturally “vicious” but were made so by complex political institutions which rewarded predatory behavior:

Benjamin Constant on the difference between rights and utility (1815)

The French-Swiss political theorist Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) thought Jeremy Bentham confused cause and effect when he rejected the idea of natural rights: