This speech was written as an open letter to the members of Congress and was delivered on several occasions in late 1917 and 1918 during Catt's speaking tours. Catt did not actually present this speech to Congress. This version was published in February 1919
Woman suffrage is inevitable. Three distinct causes make it so.
1. The History of Our Country and the Theory of Our Government. Ours is a nation born of revolution; of rebellion against a system of government so securely entrenched in the customs and traditions of human society that in 1776 it seemed impregnable. From the beginning of things nations had been ruled by kings and for kings, while the people served and paid the cost. The American Revolutionists boldly proclaimed the heresies:
“Taxation with representation is tyranny.”
“Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The Colonists won and the nation which was established as a result of their victory has held unfailingly that these two fundamental principles of democratic government are not only the spiritual source of our national existence but have been our chief historic pride and at all times the sheet anchor of our liberties.
Eighty years after the Revolution Abraham Lincoln welded those two maxims into a new one:
“Ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Fifty years more passed and the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, in a mighty crisis of the nation, proclaimed to the world:
“We are fighting for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts – for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government.”
All the way between these immortal aphorisms political leaders have declared unabated faith in their truth. Not one American has arisen to question their logic in the one hundred and forty-one years of our national existence. However stupidly our country may have evaded the logical application at times, it has never swerved from its devotion to the theory of democracy as expressed by those two axioms.
Not only has it increasingly upheld the THEORY but it has carried these theories into PRACTICE whenever men made application.
Certain denominations of Protestans, Catholics, Jews, non-land holders, workingmen, Negroes, Indians, were at one time disfranchised in all, or in part, of our country. Class by class they have been admitted to the electorate. Political motives may have played their part in some instances but the only reason given by historians for their enfranchisement is the force of the logic of these maxims of the Declaration.
Meantime the United States opened wide its gates to men of all nations of earth. By the combination of naturalization granted the foreigner after a five-years’ residence by our national government and the uniform provision of the State constitutions which extend the vote to male citizens, it has been the custom in our country for three generations that any male immigrant, accepted by the national government as a citizen, automatically became a voter in any State in which he chose to reside, subject only to the minor qualifications prescribed by the State. Justifiable exceptions to the general principle might have been entered. Men just emerging from slavery, untrained to think or act of themselves and in most cases wholly illiterate, were not asked to qualify for voting citizenship. Not even as a matter of national caution has the vote ever been withheld from immigrants until they have learned our language, earned a certificate of fitness from our schools or given definite evidence of loyalty to our country. When such questions have been raised, political leaders have replied: “What! Tax men and in return give them no vote; compel men to obey the authority of a government to which they may not give consent! Never. That is un-American.” So, it happens that men of all nations and all races, except the Mongolian, may secure citizenship and automatically become voters in any State in the Union, and even the Mongolian born in this country is a citizen and has the vote.
With such a history behind it, how can our nation escape the logic it has never failed to follow, when its last unenfranchised class calls for the vote? Behold our Uncle Sam floating the banner with one hand, “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” and with the other seizing the billions of dollars paid in taxes by women to whom he refuses “representation.” Behold him again, welcoming the boys of twenty-one and the newly- made immigrant citizen to “a voice in their own government” while he denies that fundamental right of democracy to thousands of women public school teachers from whom many of these men learned all they know of citizenship and patriotism, to women college presidents, to women who preach in our pulpits, interpret law in our courts, preside over our hospitals, write books and magazines and serve in every uplifting moral and social enterprise.
Is there a single man who can justify such inequality of treatment, such outrageous discriminations?
Woman suffrage became an assured fact when the Declaration of Independence was written. It matters not at all whether Thomas Jefferson and his compatriots thought of women when they wrote that immortal document. They conceived and voiced a principle greater than any man. “A Power not of themselves which makes for righteousness” gave them the vision and they proclaimed truisms as immutable as the multiplication table, as changeless as time. The Hon. Champ Clark announced that he had been a woman suffragist ever since he “got the hang of the Declaration of Independence.” So it must be with every other American. The amazing this is that it has required so long a time for a people, most of whom know how to read, “to get the hang of it.” Indeed, so inevitable does our history make woman suffrage that any citizen, political party, or Legislature that now blocks its coming by so much as a single day, contributes to the indefensible inconsistency which threatens to make our nation a jest among the onward-moving peoples of the world.
2. The Suffrage for Women Already Established in the United States Makes Woman Suffrage for the Nation Inevitable. When Elihu Root, as President of the American Society of International Law, at the eleventh annual meeting in Washington, April 26, 1917, said, “The world cannot be half democratic and half autocratic. It must be all democratic or all Prussian. There can be no compromise,” he voiced a general truth. Precisely the same intuition has already taught the blindest and most hostile foe of woman suffrage that our nation cannot long continue a condition under which government in half its territory rests upon the consent of half the people and in the other half upon the consent of all the people; a condition which grants representation to the taxed in half its territory and denies it in the other half; a condition which permits women in some States to share in the election of the President, Senators and Representatives and denies them that privilege in others. It is too obvious to require demonstration that woman suffrage, now covering more than half our territory, will eventually be ordained in all the nation. No one will deny it; the only question left is when and how will it be completely established.
3. The Leadership of the United States in World Democracy Compels the Enfranchisement of its Own Women. The maxims of the Declaration were once called “fundamental principles of government.” They are now called “American principled” or even “Americanisms.” They have become the slogans of every movement toward political liberty the world around; of every effort to widen the suffrage for men or women in ant land. Not a people, race or class striving for freedom is there anywhere in the world that has not made our axioms the chief weapon of the struggle. More, all men and women the world around, with far-sighted vision into the verities of things, know that the world tragedy of our day was not waged over the assassination of an Archduke, nor commercial competition, nor national ambitions, nor the freedom of the seas – but was a death grapple between the forces which deny and those which uphold the truths of the Declaration of Independence.
Our “Americanisms” became the issue of the great war!
Every day the conviction grew stronger that a world humanity would emerge from the war, demanding political liberty and accepting nothing less.
That prediction has proved true and in the new struggle emanating from the war, there is little doubt that men and women will demand and attain political liberty together. Yesterday men and women were fighting the world’s battle for Democracy together – men in the army of the trenches, women in the supporting army behind the trenches. They paid the frightful cost of war and bore its sad and sickening sorrows together. Tomorrow they will share its rewards together in democracies which make no discrimination on account of sex.
The war brought new times. In the words of Premier Lloyd George: “There are times in history when the world spins along its destined course so leisurely that for centuries it seems to be at a standstill. Then comes awful times when it rushes along at so giddy a pace that the track of centuries is covered in a single year. These are the times in which we now live.”
It is true; democracy, votes for men and votes for women, making slow but certain progress in 1914, have suddenly become established facts in many lands in 1917. Already our one-time Mother Country has become the standard bearer of our Americanisms, the principles she once denied, and – cynical fact – Great Britain, not the United States, is now leading the world on to the coming democracy.
As an earnest of its sincerity in the battle for democracy, the government of Great Britain not only pledged votes to its disfranchised men and to its women, but the measure passed the House of Commons June 1917, by a vote of 7 to 1, the House of Lords in January, 1918 and became a national law on February 6th, 1918 by the signature of the King. In consequence of this law the women of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and all the smaller British Islands participated in the parliamentary elections in December 1918.
Canada, too, has enfranchised its women from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The great Island Colonies of Great Britain (New Zealand and Australia) and Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland have long had woman suffrage. Sweden and Holland have now extended the vote to women, while France and Italy pledge votes to their women. The governments in process of formation amid the wreckage of the former empires of Russia, Germany and Austria, are promising equal suffrage for women.
No slogan of democracy is more worthy of immortality than that of the women of the New Russia, “Without the participation of women, suffrage is not universal.”
Any man who has red, American blood in his veins, any man who has gloried in our history and felt the thrill of patriotic pride in the belief that our land was the leader of world democracy, will share the humiliation that our country has so long delayed action upon this question.
The Logic of the Situation Calls for Immediate Action
Is it not clear that American history makes woman suffrage inevitable? That full suffrage in fifteen States makes it coming in all forty-eight States inevitable? That spread of democracy over the world, including votes for the women of many countries, in each case based upon the principles our Republic gave to the world, compels action by our nation? Is it not clear that the world expects such action and fails to understand its delay?
In the face of these facts we ask you, Legislators of the United States, is not the immediate enfranchisement of the women of our nation the duty of the hour?
Why hesitate? Not an inch of solid ground is left for the feet of the opponent. The world’s war has killed, buried and pronounced the obsequies of the hard-worked “war argument.” Mr. Asquith, erstwhile champion anti-suffragist of the world, has said so and the British Parliament has confirmed it by its enfranchisement of British women. The million and fifteen thousand women of New York; the two hundred and two thousand women of Michigan, the sixty-five thousand women of Oklahoma, the fifty thousand women of South Dakota, who signed a declaration that they wanted the vote, plus the heavy vote of women in every State and country where women have the franchise, have finally and completely disposed of the familiar “they don’t want it” argument. Thousands women annually emerging from the schools and colleges have closed the debate upon the one-time serious “they don’t know enough” argument. The statistics of police courts and prisons have laid the ghost of the “too bad to vote” argument. The woman who demanded the books and verse in the Bible which gave men the vote, declaring that the next verse gave it to women, brought the “Bible argument” to a sudden end. The testimony of thousands of reputable citizens of our own suffrage States and of all other suffrage lands that woman suffrage has brought no harm and much positive good, and the absence of reputable citizens who deny these facts, has closed the “women only double the vote” argument. The increasing number of women wage-earners, many supporting families and some supporting husbands, has thrown out the “women are represented” argument. One by one these pet misgivings have been relegated to the scrap heap of all rejected, cast-off prejudices. Not an argument is left. The case against woman suffrage, carefully prepared by the combined wit, skill and wisdom of opponents, including some men of high repute, during sixty years, has been closed. The jury of the electorate in Michigan, South Dakota and Oklahoma in 1918 heard it all, weighed the evidence and pronounced it “incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial.”
Historians tell us that the battle of Gettysburg brought our Civil War to an end, although the fighting went on a year longer because the people who directed it did not see that the end had come. Had their sights been clearer, a year’s casualties of human life, desolated homes, high taxes and bitterness of spirit might have been avoided. The battle of New York was the Gettysburg of the woman suffrage movement. There are those too blind to see that the end has come, and others, unrelenting and unreasoning, who stubbornly deny that the end has come although they know it. These can compel the women of the nation to keep a standing suffrage army, to finance it, to fight on until these blind and stubborn ones are gathered to their fathers and men with clearer vision come to take their places, but the casualties will be sex antagonism, party antagonism, bitterness, resentment, contempt, hate and the things which grow out of a rankling grievance autocratically denied redress. These things are not mentioned in the spirit of threat but merely to voice well known principles of historical psychology.
Benjamin Franklin once said “The cost of war is not paid at the time, the bills come afterwards.” So too the nation, refusing justice when justice is due, finds the costs accumulating and the bills presented at unexpected and embarrassing times. Think it over.
Women may be enfranchised in two ways.
1. By amendment of the National Constitution. This process demands that the amendment shall pass both Houses of Congress by a two-thirds vote and shall then be ratified by the Legislature of three-fourths of the States.
2. By amendment of State Constitutions. This method sends the question from each Legislature by referendum to all male voters of the State.
Three Reasons for the Federal Method
There are three reasons for choosing the Federal method and three for rejecting the State Method. The Federal Method is best.
1. Because it is the quickest process and the place of our Nation in the procession of democracy demands immediate action.
In 1869 Wyoming led the way by extending full suffrage to women and 1919 will round out half a century of the most self-sacrificing struggle any class ever made for the vote. It is enough. The British women’s suffrage army will be mustered out at the end of their half century of similar endeavor. Surely men of the land of George Washington will not require a longer time than those of the land of George the Third to discover that taxation without representation is tyranny no matter whether it be men or women who are taxed! We may justly expect American men to be as willing to grant to the women of the United States as generous consideration as those of Great Britain have done.
2. Every other country dignifies woman suffrage as a national question. Even Canada and Australia, composed of self-governing states like our own, so regard it. Were the precedent not established our own national government has taken a step which makes the treatment of woman suffrage as a national question imperative. For the first time in our history Congress has imposed a direct tax upon women and has thus deliberately violated the most fundamental and sacred principle of our government, since it offers no compensating “representation” for the tax it imposes. Unless reparation is made it become the same kind of tyrant as was George the Third. When the exemption for unmarried persons under the Income Tax was reduced to $1,000, the Congress laid the tax upon thousands of wage-earning women – teachers, doctors, lawyers, bookkeepers, secretaries and the proprietors of many businesses. Such women are earning their incomes under hard conditions of economic inequalities largely due to their disfranchisement. Many of these, while fighting their own economic battle, have been contributors to the campaign for suffrage that they might bring easier conditions for all women. Now those contributions will be deflected from suffrage treasuries into government funds through taxation.
Women have realized the dire need of huge government resources at this time and have made no protest against the tax, but it must be understood, and understood clearly, that the protest is there just the same and that disfranchised women income taxpayers with few exceptions harbor a genuine grievance against the government of the United States. The national government is guilty of the violation of the American principle that the tax and the vote are inseparable; it alone can make amends. Two ways are open; exempt the women from the Income Tax or grant them the vote – there can be no compromise. To shift responsibility from the Congress and the Legislatures to the voters is to invite the scorn of every human being who has learned to reason. A Congress which creates the law and has the power to violate a world-acknowledged axiom of just government can also command the law and the power to make reparation to those it has wronged by the violation.
3. If the entire forty-eight States should severally enfranchise women their political status would still be inferior to that of men since no provision for national protection in their right to vote would exist. The women of California or New York are not wholly enfranchised for the national government has not denied the States the right to deprive them of the vote. This protection can come only by Federal action. Therefore, since women will eventually be forced to demand Congressional action in order to equalize the rights of men and women, why not take such action now and thus shorten and ease the process?
Three Reasons Against the State Method
The three reasons why no American should insist upon the State amendment process are:
1. The constitutions of many States contain such difficult provisions for amending that it is practically impossible to carry an amendment at the polls. Several States require a majority of all the votes cast at an election to insure the adoption of an amendment. As the number of persons voting on amendments is usually considerably smaller than the number voting for the head of the ticket, the effect of such provision is that a majority of those men who do not vote at all on the amendment are counted as voting against it. For example, imagine a State casting 100,000 votes and 80,000 on a woman suffrage amendment. That proportion would be a usual one. Now suppose there were 45,000 votes in favor and 35,000 against woman suffrage. The amendment would have been carried by 10,000 majority in a State which requires only a majority of the votes cast on the amendment, as in the State of New York. If, however, the State requires a majority of the votes cast at the election, the amendment would be lost by a 10,000 majority. The men who were either too ignorant, too indifferent or too careless to vote on the question would have defeated it. Such constitutions have rarely been amended and then only on some non-controversial question which the dominant powers have agreed to support with the full strength of their “machines.”
New Mexico, for example, requires three-fourths of those voting at an election, including two-thirds from each county. New Mexico is surrounded by suffrage States but the women who live there can secure enfranchisement only by federal action. The Indiana constitution provides that a majority of all voters is necessary to carry an amendment; thus the courts may decide that registered voters who do not go to the polls at all may be counted in the number a majority of whom it is necessary to secure. The constitution cannot be amended. The courts have declared that the constitution prohibits the legislature from granting suffrage to women. What then can the women of Indiana do? They have no other recourse than the federal Amendment. Several State constitutions stipulate that a definite period of time must elapse before an amendment defeated at the polls can again be submitted. New York had no such provision and the second campaign of 1917 immediately followed the first in 1915; but Pennsylvania and New Jersey, both voting on the question in 1915, cannot vote on it again until 1920. New Hampshire has no provision for the submission of an amendment by the Legislature at all. A Constitutional Convention alone has the right to submit an amendment, and such conventions can not be called oftener than once in seven years. The constitutional complications are numerous, varied and difficult to overcome.
All careful students must arrive at the conclusion that the only chance for the enfranchisement of the women of several States is through Federal action. Since this is true we hold it unnecessary to force women of States to pass through referenda campaigns. The hazards of the State constitutional provisions which women are expected to overcome in order to get the vote, as compared with the easy process by which the vote is fairly thrust upon foreigners who choose to make their residence among us, is so offensive an outrage to one’s sense of justice that a woman’s rebellion would surely have been fomented long ago had women not known that the discrimination visited upon them was without deliberate intent. The continuation of this condition is, however, the direct responsibility now of every man who occupies a position authorized to right the wrong. You are such men, Honorable State Senators and Representatives. To you we appeal to remove a grievance more insulting than any nation in the wide world has put upon its women.
2. The second reason why there is objection to the State process is far more serious and important than the first. It is because the statutory laws governing elections are so inadequate and defective as to vouchsafe little or no protection to a referendum in most States. The need for such protection seems to have been universally overlooked by the lawmakers. Bi-partisan election boards offer efficient machinery whereby the representatives of one political party may check any irregularities of the other. The interests of all political parties in an election are further protected by partisan watchers. None of these provisions is available to those interested in a referendum. In most States women may not serve as watchers and no political party assumes responsibility for a non-partisan question. In the State of New York women did serve as watchers. They did so serve in 195 and in 1917; nearly every one of the more than 5,000 polling places was covered by efficiently trained women watchers. The women believe that this fact had much to do with the favorable result.
In twenty-four States there is no law providing for a recount on a referendum. Voters may be bribed, colonized, repeated and the law provides for no possible redress. In some States corrupt voters may be arrested, tried and punished, but that does not remove their votes from the total vote cast nor in any way change the results. When questions which are supported by men’s organizations go to referendum, such as prohibition, men interested may secure posts as election officials or party watchers and thus be in position to guard the purity of the election. This privilege is not open to women.
That corrupt influences have exerted their full power against woman suffrage, we know well. We have seen blocks of men marched to the polling booth and paid money in plain sight, both men and bribers flaunting the fact boldly that they were “beating the – women.” We have seen men who could not speak a word of English nor write their names in any language, driven to the polls like sheep to vote against woman suffrage and no law at the time could punish them for the misuse of the vote so cheaply extended to them, nor change the result.
It is the sincere belief of suffrage workers based upon evidence which has been completely convincing to them that woman suffrage amendments in several States have been won on referendum but that the returns were juggled and the amendment counted out. They have given to such campaigns their money, their time, their strength, their very lives. They have believed the amendment carried and yet have seen their cause announced as lost. They are tired of playing the State campaign game with “the political dice loaded and the cards stacked” against them before they begin. The position of such an amendment is precisely like that of the defendant in a case brought before an inexperienced judge. After having heard the plaintiff, he untactfully remarked that he would listen to the defendant’s remarks but he was bound to tell him in advanced that he proposed to give the verdict to the plaintiff. From this lower court, often unscrupulous in its unfairness, women appeal to the higher, the Congress and the Legislatures of the United States.
3. The third reason why we object to the State method is even more weighty than either or both of the others. It is because the State method fixes responsibility upon no one. The Legislatures pass the question on to the voters and have no further interest in it. The political parties, not knowing how the election may decide the matter, are loth to espouse the cause of woman suffrage, lest if it loses, they will have alienated from their respective parties the support of enemies of woman suffrage.
Contributors to campaign funds have at times stipulated the return service of the party machinery to defeat woman suffrage, and as such contributors are often wily enough to make certain of their protection, they often contribute to both dominant parties. Thousands of men in every State have become so accustomed to accept party nominations and platforms as their unquestioned guide that they refuse to act upon a political question without instruction from their leaders. When the leaders pass the word along the line to defeat a woman suffrage amendment it is impossible to carry it. It is not submitted to an electorate of thinking voters whose reason must be convinced, but to such voters, plus political “machines” skillfully organized, servilely obedient, who have their plans laid to defeat the question at the polls even before it leaves the Legislature. From a condition where no one is responsible for the procedure of the amendment through the hazards of an election where every enemy may effectively hide his enmity and the methods employed, behind the barriers of constitutions and election laws, women appeal to a method which will bring their cause into the open where every person or party, friend or foe involved in the campaign, may be held responsible to the public. Women appeal from the method which has kept the women of this country disfranchised a quarter of a century after their enfranchisement was due, to the method by which the vote has been granted to the men and women of other lands. They do so with the certain assurance that every believer in fair play, regardless of party fealties, will approve the decision.
These are the three reasons why thoughtful men and women elected the federal method, and the three reasons why they rejected the state method. Certain members of Congress opposed three objection; they may reappear in the Legislatures.
Three Objections Answered
Objection No. 1. A vote on this question by Congress and the Legislatures is undemocratic; it should go to the “people” of the States.
When a State Legislature submits a constitutional amendment to male voters it does a legal and constitutional thing but it does not follow that it is democratic or that “the people” decide the matter. When that amendment chiefly concerns one-half the people of a state and the law permits the other half to adopt or reject it, the wildest stretch of the imagination could not describe the process as either just or undemocratic. It is a mere modified form of Kaiserism. Were the question of woman suffrage to be submitted to a vote of both sexes in a states where women are unenfranchised, the action would be just and democratic but in that case it would not be legal or constitutional since women can not be authorized by a Legislature to exercise such a franchise. In other words when the question of woman suffrage goes to male voters for decision, it is a legal but not a just or democratic way; when it goes to a vote of both sexes it is a just and democratic but it is not a legal way. There is no possible method of granting women suffrage by amendment of state constitutions which is both legal and democratic.
Let it not be forgotten that democracy means “a rule or determination by the people” and that women, obviously, are people.
Male voters have never been named by any constitution or statute as the representatives of voteless women. The nearest approach to representation allowed voteless women are the members of Congress and the Legislatures. These members are apportioned among the several States upon the basis of population and not upon the basis of numbers of voters. Therefore every member of the National Congress and of the State Legislatures theoretically represents the non-voting women as well as the voting men of their respective constituencies. Such representatives are theoretically responsible to men and to women and women may properly go to them for redress of such grievances as fall within their jurisdiction. More, all members of Congress and of the Legislatures are representatives of the entire nation or the entire state, as the case may be, not of the small relative constituencies which elect them, since their function is to assist in the enactment of legislation for their entire country or the entire state. Women, whether voters or non-voters, properly claim members of Congress and the Legislatures as the only substitution for representation provided by the constitution.
Objection No. 2. This is not the proper time to consider the question. This objection has offered excuse for delay and postponement for half a century. When war came it was brought forward with fresh emphasis as though it were its first appearance in the discussion. Yet, two neutral countries, Iceland and Denmark, and two belligerent countries, Canada and Great Britain, enfranchised their women during war time and they had been engaged in war for three and a half years when they took the action. It was in vain that women plead that that which was a proper time for such countries was proper enough for ours. The Congress did not act. Peace came and there were those who declared that the period of reconstruction is not the proper time. In fact, as the ex-Kaiser would never have recognized a proper time to enfranchise men, so there are Americans who will never admit a proper time to enfranchise women.
It is not the fault of American women that this question is still unsettled in 1919. If their urgent advice had been taken it would have been disposed of twenty-five years ago and our nation would now be proudly leading the world to democracy instead of following in third place. Had Congress “got the hang of the Declaration of Independence” a generation ago, a world’s war “to make the world safe for democracy” would have been better understood at home and abroad.
In 1866 an Address to Congress was adopted by a Suffrage Convention held in New York and presented to Congress later by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They protested against the enfranchisement of Negro men while women remained disfranchised and asked for Congressional action. In 1878 the Federal Suffrage Amendment was introduced in Congress at the request of the National Woman Suffrage Association and has been reintroduced in each succeeding Congress.
The representatives of this Association appeared before the Committees of every Congress since 1878 to urge its passage. The women who made the first appeal, brave, splendid souls, long since passed into the Beyond; and each one died knowing that the country she loved and served classified her as a political pariah. Every Congress saw the Committee Rooms packed with anxious women yearning for the declaration of their nation that they were no longer to be classed with idiots, criminals and paupers, the groups denominated in constitutions as suitable for disfranchisement.
Every State sent its quota of women to those Committees. Among them were the daughters of Presidents, Governors, Chief Justices, Speakers of the House, leaders of political parties and leaders of great movements. List the women of the last century, those whose names will pass into history among the historic immortals and scarcely one is there who has not appeared before those committees – Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Mary A. Livermore, Lillie Devereux, Julia Ward Howe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frances Willard, Clara Barton and hundreds more. Indeed there are thousands of women in our country, any one of whom has paid out more money in railroad fare to Washington in order to persuade members of Congress that “women are people” and thus entitled to the rights of people, than all the men of the entire country, ever paid to get a vote.
Perhaps, there are those who think the pleas of women in those Committee Rooms were poor attempts at logic. Ah, one chairman of the committee long ago said to a fellow member: “There is no man living or dead who could answer the arguments of those women,” and then he added, “but I’d rather see my wife dead in her coffin than going to vote.” Yet, there are those who have said that women are illogical and sentimental!
Since Congress had fifty-three years in which to deal with the question of woman suffrage, before taking final action, women look to the Legislatures to make quick work of ratification and thus remedy at the earliest possible moment the outrageous wrong of the years of delay. No time is an improper one to do an act of justice and when that justice has been long deferred the obviously proper time is now.
Objection No. 3. States Rights. It has been pronounced unfair that thirty-six States should determine who may vote in the remaining twelve; that possible Republican Northern States should decide who may vote in Democratic Southern States and vice versa. Perhaps; but it is no more unfair than that some counties within a state, on state amendment referendum should decide who may vote in the remaining counties; no more fair than that the Democratic city of New York should have enfranchised the women of the Republican cities of Albany and Rochester, as was done.
The method is that provided by the makers of the constitution and has remained unchallenged for a century. It is based upon the principle of majority rule. The constitution itself would have become the fundamental law of the land according to the plan of its framers, had nine states only adopted it, making the necessary majority somewhat less than the three-fourths required for the adoption of a federal constitutional amendment.
Forty-eight States will have the opportunity to ratify the Federal Amendment and every State, therefore, will have its opportunity to enfranchise its own women in this manner. If any State fails to do it, history will record the fact that that state failed to catch the vision and spirit of Democracy sweeping over the world. This nation cannot, must not, wit for any State, so ignorant, so backward. That State more than all others needs woman suffrage to shake its dry bones, to bring political questions into the home and set discussion going. It needs education, action, stimulation to prevent atrophy. In after years posterity will utter grateful thanks that there was a method which could throw a bit of modernity into it from the outside; a method which would permit the Nation to catch pace in the democratic procession moving rapidly onward toward governments “by the people” in all lands.
Do you realize that in no other country in the world with democratic tendencies is suffrage so completely denied as in a considerable number of our own States? There are thirteen black States where no suffrage for women exists and fourteen others where suffrage for women is more limited than in many foreign countries.
Do you realize that no class of men in our own or in any other land have been compelled to ask their inferiors for the ballot?
Do you realize that when you ask women to take their cause to State referendum you compel them to do this; that you drive women of education, refinement, achievement, to beg men who cannot read for their political freedom?
Do you realize that such anomalies as a College President asking her janitor to give her a vote is overstraining the patience and driving women to desperation?
Do you realize that women in increasing numbers indignantly resent the long delay in their enfranchisement?
Many of you have admitted that “States Rights” is less a principle than a tradition – a tradition, however, which we all know is rooted deep in the memory of bitter and, let us say, regrettable incidents of history. But the past is gone. We are living in the present and facing the future. Other men of other lands have thrown aside traditions as tenderly revered as yours in response to the higher call of Justice, Progress and Democracy. Can you, too, not rise to this same call of duty? Is any good to be served by continuing one injustice in order to manifest resentment against another injustice? We are one nation and those of us who live now and make our appeal to you are life yourselves not of the generation whose differences created the conditions which entrenched the tradition of States Rights. We ask you, our representatives, to right the wrong done us by the law of our land as the men of other lands have done.
Adherence to the States Rights doctrine will keep the United States far behind all other democratic nations in action upon this question. A theory which prevents a nation from keeping up with the trend of world progress cannot be justified.
A Few Misgivings
Do you still harbor misgivings? Please remember that woman suffrage is coming; you know it is. It would be a dull person who does not know that when women vote on equal terms with men in fifteen states they will vote in all the forty-eight eventually; that since they vote in Canada from ocean to ocean, they certainly will vote from East to West in the United States.
In this connection, have you ever thought that the women of your own families who may tell you now that they do not want the vote are going to realize some day that there is something insincere in your protestations of chivalry, protection and “you are too good to vote, my dear,” and are going to discover that the trust, respect, and frank acknowledgement of equality which men of other States have given their women are something infinitely higher and nobler than you have ever offered them? Have you thought that you may now bestow upon them a liberty that they may not yet realize they need, but that tomorrow they may storm your castle and demand? Do you suppose that any woman in the land is going to be content with unenfranchisement when she once comprehends that men of other countries have given women the vote? Do you not see that when that time comes to her she is going to ask why you, her husband, her father, who were so placed, that you did not see the coming change of custom and save her from the humiliation of having to beg for that which women in other countries are already enjoying? Have you known that no more potent influence has aroused the sheltered and consequently narrow-visioned woman into a realization that she wanted to be a part of an enfranchised class than the manner in which men treat enfranchised women? There is no patronizing “I am holier than thou” air, but the equality of “fellow citizen.” One never sees that relation between men and women except where women vote. Some day that woman who doesn’t know the world is moving on and leaving her behind will see and know these things. What will she say and do then? What will you do for her now?
We beg you not to think of suffrage for women as a reward. There were many well known men in Great Britain who frankly confessed that their desire to give British women the vote was founded upon their sense of gratitude for the loyal and remarkable war service women had performed. They spoke of suffrage as a reward. For years women had asked the vote as a recognition of the incontrovertible fact that they were responsible, intelligent citizens of the country and because its denial was an outrageous discrimination against their sex. British women received their enfranchisement will joyous appreciation but the joy was lessened and the appreciation tempered by the perfect understanding that the “vote as a reward” was only an escape from the uncomfortable corner into which the unanswerable logic of the case had driven the government. Mutual respect between those who gave and those who received the vote would have been promoted had the inevitable duty not been deferred. We hope American Legislators will be wiser.
Are you perplexed because every woman you know does not frankly confess that she wants the vote? Was there ever a class of unenfranchised men who unanimously demanded the vote? Never. Then why demand of women what has never been true of any other class. As a matter of fact American women have struggled for the vote in larger numbers, for a longer time and at greater cost than either men or women of any other country.
The vote is permissive, a liberty extended. Therefore not to permit those who want the vote to have and to use it is a denial of liberty, an oppression, tyranny – and no other words describe the condition. On the other hand, no wrong is done those who do not want the vote, since there is no obligation to exercise the right. Enfranchisement means freedom to vote or not to vote as the individual elects. Disfranchisement means the denial of freedom to vote or not to vote. When, therefore men within a State are so ungenerous or unprogressive or stubborn as to continue the denial of the vote to the women who want it, men on the outside should have no scruples constituting themselves the liberators of those women.
In conclusion, we know, and you know that we know, that it has been the aim of both dominant parties to postpone woman suffrage as long as possible. A few men in each party have always fought with us fearlessly, conscientiously, continuously, but the party machines have evaded, avoided, tricked and buffeted this question from Congress to Legislatures, from Legislatures to political conventions. Many women have in consequence, a deep and abiding distrust of all existing political Parties – they have been tricked so often and in such unscrupulous fashion that their doubts are natural.
Now both dominant parties have endorsed woman suffrage in their National platforms as have all the smaller political parties; and the National Democratic and Republican Committees have endorsed the federal suffrage amendment but that does not mean that all the rank and file of these two great parties have followed the lead of the National Committees.
Some of you who are Legislators are also leaders of those parties and all are members. We know that your parties have a distrust and suspicion of new women voters. Let us counsel together. Woman suffrage is inevitable – you know it. The political parties will go on – we know it. Shall we then be enemies or friends? Can party leaders in fifteen States really obtain the loyal support of women voters when those women know that the same party has ordered the defeat of amendments in States where campaigns have been conducted; or has delayed action in Congress on the federal amendment; or is delaying its ratification? Why not meet the inevitable new woman voter half way and give her welcome instead of filling her soul with doubt and distrust? Isn’t that the wiser way?
Your party platforms have pledged woman suffrage. Then why not be honest, frank friends of our cause, adopt it in reality as your own, make it a party program and “fight with us?” As a party measure – a measure of all parties – why not put the amendment through your Legislature promptly? We shall all be better friends, we shall have a happier nation and we shall all be far prouder of our history.
“There is one thing mightier than kings and armies” – aye, than Congresses, Legislatures and political parties – “the power of an idea when its time has come to move.” The time for woman suffrage has come. The woman’s hour has truck. If State parties postpone action and thus do battle with this idea, they challenge the inevitable. The idea will not perish; the party which opposes it may. Every delay, every trick, every political dishonesty will antagonize the friends of woman suffrage more and more, and when the party or privileges come, their sincerity will be doubted and their appeal to the new voters will be met with suspicion. This is the psychology of the situation. Can you afford the risk? Think it over.
To you who have been friends of woman suffrage let us say that we know you will meet opposition. There are a few “woman haters” left, a few “old males of the tribe,” as Vance Thompson calls them, whose duty they believe it to be to keep women in the places they have carefully picked out for them. Treitschke, made world famous by war literature, said some years ago: “Germany, which knows all about Germany and France, knows far better what is good for Alsace-Lorraine than that miserable people can possibly know.” A few American Treitschkes we have who know better than women what is good for them. There are women, too, with “slave souls” and “clinging vines” for backbones. There are female dolls and male dandies. But the world does not wait for such as these, nor does Liberty pause to heed the plaint of men and women with a grouch. She does not wait for those who have a special interest to serve, nor a selfish reason for depriving other people of freedom. Holding her torch aloft, Liberty is pointing the way onward and upward and saying to America, “Come.”
This appeal for prompt action is not meant for you. The suffragists of the nation express their grateful thanks to you for all your past helpfulness and know that you will continue to render service to this cause.
To you who have been too indifferent to give more than casual attention to this question, let us remind you that it is worthy of your immediate consideration – a question big enough to engage the attention of our Allies in war time, is too big a question for you to neglect.
To you who have grown old in party service and yet see no need for haste in dealing with this question, let us ask, are you willing that those who take your places by and by shall blame you for having failed to keep pace with the world and thus having lost for them a party advantage? Is there any real gain for you, for your party, for the nation by delay? Do you want to drive the progressive men and women out of your party?
Legislators, you are the constitutionally designated representatives of the women of your State. Those women composing the Auxiliary in your State of the National American Woman Suffrage Association appeal to you now to hasten the passage and ratification of the federal constitutional suffrage amendment in order that our Nation may at the earliest possible moment show to all the nations of earth that its action is consistent with its principles.
“Taxation without representation is tyranny.”
Declaration of Independence
Women Are Taxed
“Governments derive their JUST powers from the consent of the governed.”
Declaration of Independence
Women Are Governed
“Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Women Are People
“Democracy is government by consent.”
To Have Democracy All the People Must Consent
“We are fighting **** for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government.”
Women Submit to Authority
“Whatever we do, we must be just – just to everybody. The world has got to be everybody’s world.”
In Everybody’s World, Everybody Votes
“It (the war) will and must result in the establishment of the moral, free choice of peoples and nations with regard to their own fate.”
Lieut.-General J.C. Smuts
The Fate Falls Upon Women Equally With Men