Carrie Chapman Catt

The Vote as a SafeGuard of Democracy - May 25, 1936

Carrie Chapman Catt
May 25, 1936
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The pride and glory of this country from its beginning has been its evolving democracy. White men who paid no tax, Jews, Catholics, Negroes, Indians and the women of the nation, class by class, have been enfranchised during the past 160 years. As a fitting conclusion of these years of perpetual growth, it has seemed that ours was destined to become the best and wisest form of democratic government in the entire world, - a worthy example for other nations to follow.

By the year 1920, European countries had widely extended the vote to new classes of men and nearly half the nations of that continent had enfranchised women. Verily, the war appeared to have made "the world safe for democracy.'' Then came the surprising reaction. Now, fifteen European countries are commanded by virtual dictatorships, the chief of which are Russia, Germany and Italy. Whether they are of the Left or of the Right, one common fact characterizes them all. The people do not govern, they obey. They may think, but they may not say what they think. Free conscience, free thought, free speech, free press, and a free vote, the five liberties for which men have striven during the past centuries, are severely curbed. The vote has not actually been taken from men and women, but it has been made useless. Parliaments have become mere tools in the hands of depots and democracy has lost in the resulting chaos. High geared and high priced propaganda have intimidated the people into complete obedience. What will happen in Europe is the talk of the hour. Will there be another war? Will there be more dictatorships? No one knows.

There is trouble here as well. An inexcusable political has grown into a genuine menace. We maintain a government by the people, but we repudiate our own handiwork. Gibes at the Constitution, the Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, the State Legislatures, the Governors will draw forth from any audience a contemptuous guffaw. Let no one forget that this nation is composed of the kind of people who live here. From these people we choose our representatives. Our people are not perfect and their representatives are not better than the people. It was this kind of contempt for the officials composing their governments that built the roads to dictatorships in Europe. If you do not want one here, uphold the principles of our forefathers; make our elections clean and the elected respected. This habit of ridiculing every one in high office at dinner tables and on public platforms is not a new political symptom in this country. It has been growing since the days of George Washington. No party has caused it. It is we, the people, who are guilty. We have tolerated and contributed to it until it has become a menace.

Women of America, I appeal to you to join a campaign to win patriotic respect for our government. Teach it to your children, your family, and your party. If incompetent or unworthy men hold high office, vote in better ones if you are able, but base the change on issues before you and not on gossip.

Use your vote to make this a better and wiser nation, a nobler democracy, a higher-minded citizenry in order that it may fulfill the destiny for which we have hoped.

For our own national safety, believe me it behooves all true Americans to unite seriously in a campaign to show the world that "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" has not perished from the earth.

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