Carrie Chapman Catt

Statement at U.S. Senate committee hearing - April 19, 1910

Carrie Chapman Catt
April 19, 1910— Washington, D.C.
Print friendly

Although the Constitution of the United States in Section 2 of Article I seems to have relegated authority over the extension of the suffrage to the various states, yet curiously few men in the United States possess the suffrage because they or the class to which they belong have secured their right to it be the State action.

The first voters in the United States were those who possessed the right under the original charters granted by the mother country, and as the restrictions were many, including religious test in most of the Colonies and property qualifications in all, the number of actual voters was exceedingly small.

When it became necessary at the close of the Revolution to form a federation for the "common defence" and the promotion of the "general welfare," it was obvious that citizenship must be made National. To do this it became clearly necessary that religious tests must be abandoned, since Catholic Maryland, Quaker Pennsylvania and Congregational Massachusetts could be united under a common citizenship by not other method.

The elimination of the religious test enfranchised a larger number of men, and this too without a struggle or any form of a suffrage movement in their behalf.

In 1790 the first naturalization law was passed by Congress. Under the Articles of Confederation, citizenship had belonged to the States; but since it was apparent to all that citizenship must now be National, a compromise was made between the old idea of States' rights, and the new idea of Federal union. Each of the original States had its representatives in the Convention which drafted the Federal Constitution, and by common consent it was there planned that citizenship should carry with it the right to vote, although this was to be put into the State Constitution and not into the National Constitution. These delegates, influencing their own States in the formation of their respective Constitution, easily brought this about, and that too without any movement on the part of those who were to be naturalized.

This common understanding in the National Constitutional Convention, and the Naturalization Act of Congress in 1790 certainly enfranchised somewhere between three-fourths and four-fifths of all voters in the United States at this time.

The population of the Colonies at the time of the Revolution was two and a half million, and even though all men had been voters, the number could not have been more than seven or eight hundred thousand. By the Census of 1900 there were 21,000,000 of men of voting age in the United States. The Act, therefore, of the United States Government, virtually enfranchised millions upon millions of men. Generations unborn have come into the rights of the suffrage in this country under that Act, and men of every race and nationality have availed themselves of its privileges to become voting citizens of this country. Although technically speaking, enfranchisement of the foreign-born citizens was extended by the States, yet in reality it is obvious that the real granting of this privilege came from Congress itself.

The thirteen original States retained their property qualifications after the formation of the Union, and these were removed by State amendments, usually by eliminating the property qualifications from the body of the Constitution itself, so that the popularity of the revised Constitution carried the measure. The number of those to be enfranchised was comparatively small, and this extension of the suffrage was made in most cases many years ago, when the electorate was very small in number compared with that of the present day.

The history of the enfranchisement of the negro is well-known. States attempted to enfranchise the negro by amendment to State Constitutions, but in no case was this successfully accomplished. Congress undertook to secure their enfranchisement by National amendment; and although the various States took action, and the amendments were ratified by the necessary three-fourths of the States, yet it must always be remembered that all the Southern States were virtually coerced into giving their consents.

The Legislatures of Ohio and New Jersey ratified the 14th Amendment, and before all the other States had all been heard from, they changed their decision. Congress decided that these States had no right to change their position, and although their legislative records announce their opposition, the three-fourths of the Legislatures necessary to ratification counted these two States as in favor. New York ratified the 15th Amendment, and later changed its votes, but Congress refused to admit its right to changes its position, and the ratification of that Amendment was announced with New York favorable, although its own records show it to have been opposed.

This and many other factors concerning that bit of American history, prove beyond doubt that the enfranchisement of the Negro was not accomplished by State action, but by Congress itself

The Indians were enfranchised by acts of Congress which granted to them lands in severalty.

The evolution of man suffrage in American shows that but one class of men received their votes by direct State action, and this class was the non-property holders. Each class of citizens enfranchised has added to the electorate conservatism and opposition to the next class applying for the vote. Non-property holding men in their various States found political parties and statesmen to advocate their cause, and their enfranchisement was made easy by Constitutional action. Yet the number of voters in the whole United States at that time was but a handful as compared with the vast electorate today.

In the 120 years of National life, no class of men have been forced to organize a movement in behalf of their own enfranchisement; they have offered no petition or plea, nor given sign that the extension of suffrage to them would be acceptable. Yet American women, who have conducted a persistent, intelligent movement for a half century, which has grown stronger and stronger with the years, appealing for their own enfranchisement and supported by a petition of 400,000 citizens of the United States, and are told that it is unnecessary to consider their plea since all women do not want to vote.

Gentlemen, is it not manifestly unfair to demand of women a test which has never been true in the case of enfranchised men, in this or any other country? Is it not true that the attitude of the Government toward an unenfranchised class of men has been that it is a privilege to be extended, and optional with the citizen whether or not he shall use it after it is his? If any proof of this point is needed, it can be found in the fact that the United States Government has absolutely no record as to the number of citizens who have been naturalized in this country, not has any State, with the exception of Pennsylvania, kept this record.

The Government of the United States has no record whatever of the number of Indians who have accepted the Government's offer of the rights of citizenship as a reward for taking up land in severalty. Manifestly, the Government, as represented by Congress and the Legislatures of the various States, consider it entirely unnecessary to know whether men who have had the "suffrage thrust upon them" use it or not, but consider it imperative that women must not only demand the suffrage in very large number but give guarantee that they will use it before the extension shall be made to them.

Is it not likewise unfair to compel women to seek their enfranchisement by methods infinitely more difficult than those by means of which any man in this country has secured his right to vote? Ordinary fair play should compel every believer in democracy and individual liberty, no matter what are his views on woman suffrage, to grant women the easiest process of enfranchisement and that is the submission of a Federal amendment.

PDF version

PDF version 2