Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Statement before the U.S. Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage – April 2, 1888

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
April 02, 1888— Washington, D.C.
Print friendly

Honorable gentlemen, for many successive years a class of women, fully comprehending the dignity of citizenship in a Republic, have appeared before committees of the House and Senate, praying that the national Constitution should be so interpreted or amended as to secure to the women of the nation all the rights, privileges, and immunities of citizens.

During this discussion the basic principles of republican government, the Declaration of Independence, the national Constitution, have been thoroughly studied by us, until it may be truly said that the leaders in the suffrage movement fully understand the Constitution, and that to them its provisions for the largest liberty are as familiar as the spelling book. Their arguments already gild the page of history and are highly creditable, for their research and eloquence, to the women of the generation.

Our champions, too, in the halls of Congress and legislative assemblies in half the States of the Union have based their arguments on these immortal documents, which together form the Magna Charta of human liberties. Logical arguments against woman's enfranchisement can not be based on the principles of our Government, for they all alike proclaim "equal rights to all" without regard to race, color, sex or previous conditions of servitude. Individual sovereignty, individual conscience and judgement, are the central truths of a republic, from which radiate the guiding principles that lighten our path through all the complications of government.

The Constitution as it is, in spirit and letter, is broad enough to protect the personal and property rights of all citizens under our flag. By every principle of fair interpretation we need no amendment, no new definitions of the terms "people," "persons," "citizens," no additional power conferred on Congress to enable this body to establish a republican form of government in every State of the Union; and whenever our rulers are ready to make the experiment they will see that they already possess all the constitutional power they need to act, and that the right of suffrage is, and always was, the inalienable right of every citizen under government.

Let me rehearse a few of the provisions of the Constitution to show your power and our rights as citizens of a republic:

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Article I, section 2:

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.

Section 4:

The times, places, and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators. (See Elliot's Debates, vol. 3, p, 366—remarks of Mr. Madison—Story's Commentaries, secs. 623, 626, 578.)

Section 8. The Congress shall have power—

To establish a uniform mode of naturalization, to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.

Section 9. No bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed.
No title of nobility shall he granted by the United States.
No State shall pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligations of contracts, or grant any title of nobility. (See Cummings vs. The State of Missouri, Wallace Rep., 287, and ex parte Garland, same volume.)

Article IV, section 2:

The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.

The elective franchise is one of the privileges secured by this section. (See Corfield vs. Coryell, 4 Washington Circuit Court Reps., 380, cited and approved in Durham vs. Lamphere, 3 Gray;. Mass. Rep., 276, and Bennett vs. Boggs, Baldwin Rep., p. 72, Circuit Court U. S.)

Section 4:

The United States shall guaranty to every State in this Union a republican form of government.

How can that form of government be republican when one-half the people are forever deprived of all participation in its affairs?

Article VI:

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

XIV amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of the United States.

Even the preamble of the Constitution is an argument for self-government—"We, the people." You recognize women as people, for you count us in the basis of representation. Half our Congressmen hold their seats to-day as representatives of women. We help to swell the figures by which you are here, and too many of you, alas! are only figurative representatives, paying little heed to our rights as citizens.

"No bill of attainder shall be passed." ''No title of nobility granted." So says the Constitution; and yet you have passed bills of attainder in every State of the Union making sex a disqualification for citizenship. You have granted titles of nobility to every male voter, making all men rulers, governors, sovereigns, over all women.

"The United States shall guaranty to every State in the Union a republican form of government." And yet we have not a republican form of government in a single State in the Union. One-half the people have never consented to a single law under which they live. They have had rulers placed over them in whom they have no choice. They are taxed without representation, tried in our courts by men, for the violation of laws made by men, with no appeal except to men, and for crimes over which men should have no jurisdiction whatever, while honorable gentlemen all—these, and many more provisions of the Constitution are violated every day that woman remains disfranchised. You are very conscientious in not using the power you already possess to crown us with all the rights of citizens.

There is no significance in the argument that the fathers did not intend to include women in these provisions. The contrary supposition is quite as fair as in spirit, and, better, they have done so. "We, the people" are three plain English words that do not admit of any subtle, symbolical meaning, and when you count us in the basis of representation, as l said, you admit that we are people. Again, as women voted all along from the earliest days in England, and many voted and held important offices in colonial days in our country, the fact must have been familiar to the fathers.

Article 4, section 2, says the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States. Yet, if citizens from Washington Territory, Wyoming, or Kansas, where women vote, pass into any other State or Territory they lose the right to vote, the fundamental right of citizenship.

We have abundant guaranties in the Constitution to secure to woman all her rights. AII we need is that some far-seeing statesman or chief justice may arise who shall fairly interpret the constitutional law we already possess; a man who, like Lord Mansfield in the Somerset case, shall declare that, according to the genius of our institutions, no disfranchised citizen can breathe on American soil. That simple declaration of Lord Mansfield struck every fetter from the slaves in every land and isle of the sea under the shadow of the English throne.

The chief justice of Massachusetts abolished slavery in that State by a similar declaration. The fact that the pronoun ''he" is used in various provisions of the Constitution does not decide that man alone is referred to, for in the whole criminal code the pronouns are "he," "his," ''him." Surely if women can be made to pay all the penalties of violated law as ''he," she might be permitted to enjoy all the privileges of a citizen as "he." If a woman can hang as "he," she might vote as "he."

I would quote a few opinions of distinguished statesmen and publicists, to show what our ablest men think as to where the principles of our Government legitimately lead us in deciding the inalienable rights of citizens.

The Declaration of Independence asserts that to secure the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, governments are instituted among men, "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Benjamin Franklin said:

Liberty consists in having an actual share in the appointment of those who frame the laws and who are the guardians of every man's life, property, and peace.
That they who have no voice nor vote in the electing of representatives do not enjoy liberty, but are absolutely enslaved to those who have votes and to their representatives.

James Madison said:

Under every view of the subject, it seems indispensable that the mass of the citizens should not be without a voice in making the laws which they are to obey, and in choosing the magistrates who are to administer them.

Samuel Adams said:

Representation and legislation, as well as taxation, are inseparable, according to the spirit of our Constitution and of all others that are free.

Again, he said:

No man can be justly taxed by, or bound in conscience to obey, any law to which he has not given his consent in person or by his representative.

And again :

No man can take another's property from him without his consent. This is the law of nature, and a violation of it is the same thing whether it is done by one man, who is called a king, or by five hundred of another denomination.

James Otis, in speaking of the rights of the colonists as descendants of Englishman, said they ''were not lo be cheated out of them by any phantom of virtual representation, or any other fiction of law or politics."


No such phrase as virtual representation is known in law or constitution. It is altogether a subtlety and illusion, wholly unfounded and absurd.
Among all the rights and privileges appertaining to us, that of having a share in the legislation, and being governed by such laws as we ourselves shall cause, is the most fundamental and essential as well as the most advantageous and beneficial.

The judicious Hooker wrote:

Agreeable to the same just privileges of natural equity is that maxim of the English constitution, that "law, to bind all, must be assented lo by all," and there can be no legal appearance of assent without some degree of representation.

In 1790, Condorcet, in his treatise on the admission of women to the rights of citizenship in France, says:

Now, the rights of men result solely from the fact that they are rational beings, susceptible of acquiring moral ideas and reasoning on those ideas. Women, having the same qualities, have the same equal rights. Either no one individual of the human kind has true rights or all have the same, and one who votes against the right of another, whatever be that other's religion, color, or sex:, from that moment forfeits his own.

Mirabeau condensed the whole question in his definition that "a representative body should be a miniature of the whole community."

The right of women to personal representation through the ballot seems to me unassailable wherever the right of man is conceded and exercised. I can conceive of no possible abstract justification for the exclusion of the one and the inclusion of the other.

For years we demanded our rights under the Constitution as it is, specifically under the fourteenth amendment. Some of our coadjutors tested its legality by exercising the right of suffrage in their respective States. Their cases were tried in the Supreme Court and decided against them, thus practically declaring that under neither State nor national constitutions is there any guaranty for the protection of the political rights of women, and their civil rights have also been denied by both the State and General Governments. A woman in the State of Illinois was denied the right to practice law, and the Supreme Court of the United States, to which she carried her case, confirmed the State's decision.

Since these decisions we have asked for a sixteenth amendment, declaring that all the provisions of the Constitution shall apply equally to men and women.

Although we have had these hearings eighteen years in succession, and all the minority reports of our champions, from General Butler, of Massachusetts, down to Senator Butler, of New Hampshire, have been able, unanswerable constitutional arguments, the majority reports have studiously avoided logic, common sense and Constitution, and based their objections upon the most trivial popular prejudices. Lecky, the historian, has well said the success of a movement depends much less on the force of its arguments, or upon the ability of its advocates, than the predisposition of society to receive it.

Though our arguments have never been answered, it is fair to suppose that the honorable gentlemen who have written the adverse reports have read the Constitution which they have sworn to support, and are fully aware that the weight of argument rests on our side. Hence they betake themselves to the world of speculation, where they can manufacture statistics adapted to their prejudices. As our arguments are never answered, it is evident they make no impression on our opponents, as each committee in turn rehearses the popular objections, though we have pointed out their absurdity as often as they are offered.

Instead of a constitutional argument at this time I will review a few of the points made by former majority committees, suggesting that the gentlemen to report on this hearing will try to strike out some new and more worthy trend of thought. It may not be known to you gentlemen that all these reports are published in the History of Woman Suffrage and that these volumes have been not only extensively circulated in this country and placed in all our leading public libraries, but that they are also circulated in foreign lands and placed in all the old universities in Great Britain and Europe.

However indifferent our statesmen may be to their own reputation, their wives and daughters do not wish them to make fools of themselves on the page of history. I never glance over these reports that I do not blush for my countrymen. My only consolation is that the able and eloquent minority reports do in a measure redeem the dignity of these committees in both the Senate and the House. In view of such reports as the majority have given us I can not express to you, gentlemen, the humiliation I feel, as a native-born American citizen, much older, probably, than any member on the committee, that after half a century of weary waiting and watching, educated, refined women are still compelled to beg of their own Saxon fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons, for those civil and political rights so freely granted to every foreigner who lands on our shores.

While I possess every qualification of a voter—age, property, education; while I fully appreciate the genius of republican institutions, and glory in the success of our triumphant democracy; while traveling in the Old World my proudest boast has ever been "I am an American citizen;" yet to my pleadings for the political rights of women you turn a deaf ear, and hold the very idea of woman's enfranchisement up to scorn, while you extend the right hand of welcome to ever ignorant foreigner who lands on our shores, who has no idea of what constitutes a republic, nor of the duties self-government invokes; yet you crown him with the rights of American citizenship, rights for which your own mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters plead in vain.

Landing in New York one week ago, l saw 400 steerage passengers leave the vessel. Dull-eyed, heavy-visaged, stooping with huge burdens and the oppressions they endured in the Old World, they stood in painful contrast with the group of brilliant women on their way to the International Council just held here in Washington. I thought as this long line passed by, of the speedy transformation the genial influences of equality would effect in the appearance of these men, of the new dignity they would acquire, with a voice in the laws under which they live, and I rejoiced for them; but bitter reflections filled my mind when I thought these men are the future rulers of our daughters; these will interpret the civil and criminal codes by which they will be governed; these will be our future judges and jurors to try young girls in our courts for the crime of infanticide, for trial by a jury of her peers has never yet in the history of the world been vouchsafed to woman. Here is a right so ancient that it is difficult to trace its origin in history, a right so sacred that the humblest criminal may choose his juror. But, alas for the daughters of the people, their judges, advocates, jurors, must be men, and for them there is no appeal. But this is only one wrong among many inevitable in a disfranchised class. It is impossible for you, gentlemen, to appreciate the humiliations women suffer at every turn.

My joy in reaching my native land and meeting dear friends and family once more was shadowed by that vision on the wharf and by the knowledge that by the thousands still they come, and from lands where woman, as a mere beast of burden, is infinitely more degraded than by any possibility she can be here. Do you wonder, in view of what the character of our future law-makers may be, that we are filled with apprehensions of coming evil, and that we feel that there is no time to be lost, if our Saxon fathers ever propose to throw around us the protecting power of law and Constitution?

The next generation of women will not argue with their rulers as patiently as we have done, and to so little purpose for half a century. You have now the power to settle question by moral influences, by wise legislation. But, if you can not be aroused to its serious consideration, like every other step in progress, it will eventually be settled by violence. The wild enthusiasm of woman can be used for evil as well as good. To-day, you have the power to guide and direct it into channels of true patriotism, but in future, with all the elements of discontent now gathering from foreign lands, you will have the scenes of the French Commune repeated in our land. What women, exasperated with a sense of injustice, have done, in dire extremities in the nations of the Old world, they will do here.

The justice and moderation of our demands have always seemed to me so apparent that the bare statement should have sufficed long ago. The protracted struggle through which we have passed, and our labors not yet crowned with success, seems to me sometimes like a painful dream in which one strives to run and yet stands still, incapable alike of escaping or meeting the impending danger. I would not pain your ears with a rehearsal of the hopes ofttimes deferred and shadowed with fear, of the brightest anticipations again and again disappointed. I will leave it to your imagination to picture to yourselves how you would feel if you had had a case in court, a bill before some legislative body, or a political aspiration, for nearly half a century, with a continual succession of adverse decisions, while law and common justice were wholly on your side. Such, honorable gentlemen, is our case. Every point of constitutional law has been argued over and over, not only by our coadjutors, but by some of the ablest men in the nation. These arguments still remain unanswered.

It is fair Io suppose that, understanding the provisions of the Constitution, you know that women being persons born and naturalized in this country are citizens of the United States, and of the State wherein they reside, and that they have the same inalienable right to life, liberty, and happiness, to self-government and self-protection that each of you possesses. Like you, women pay taxes and the penalty of their own crimes. If they commit theft or murder they are imprisoned and hung. lf compelled to represent themselves on the gallows, why not at the polls? Surely the latter duty could be much more gracefully discharged than the former.

In looking over the majority reports l find the chief subterfuge of some of our opponents is that woman would be a dangerous element in politics.

First. They fear the vicious women, as it is supposed that they would rally a mighty multitude and all go to the polls, drive all the virtuous women away, completely demoralize the men, and sap the foundations of party platforms and political life. The women of the French revolution are supposed to illustrate what this class would do.

Second. They fear the fashionable women, because they would vote for handsome men, make their parlors symposiums for the discussion of questions of political economy, sacrifice their country to personal ambition and family aggrandizement, and spend so much time in the galleries of legislative assemblies as to distract the attention of statesmen from the great work of government.

Third. They fear religious, devout women, because they would destroy the secular nature of our Government, by introducing the name of God into the Constitution, and establishing religious tests for political parties and platforms.

Fourth. They fear married women, because they would vote with their husbands, and thus merely double the vote, or they would vote directly opposite, and this destroy tee family relation, which in either view would be a public and social calamity.

Fifth. The colored women. After wasting reams of paper and an immense amount of brain force in drawing up the fourteenth amendment expressly to keep this class out of the body politic, it would be most aggravating, after twenty years of safety, to find them citizens of the United States under this very amendment.

Though I believe universal suffrage, yet I am willing you should begin the experiment of womanhood suffrage with the smallest minority you deem safe, so that by enfranchising some women you overturn the present aristocracy of sex.

Well, gentlemen, to make the first practical step for you as easy as possible, why not exclude these five classes for the present and begin your experiment "with spinsters and widows'' who are householders. This is the basis on which England extends municipal suffrage to women. You have the power to extend and withhold the suffrage, as you choose; there is no reason why you shouldn't begin with universal suffrage for women. We can not ask you to be more generous to us than you have been to your own sex. Men at one time voted on qualifications of property, education, color, but each in turn were abolished in some States, and in some States still remain, except color, which was abolished for men by the fourteenth amendment.

Though my coadjutors all believe in universal suffrage, yet I think we should be willing to let you start with spinsters and widows who are householder. Having homes of their own it is fair to suppose that they are industrious, common-sense women, neither vicious, fashionable, nor ambitious for family position, women who love their country (having no husbands to love) better than themselves. With this class, you escape all danger of family upheavals on the one side and doubling the vote on the other. In this way, by admitting some women into political life, we overturn the aristocracy of sex.

Do you realize, gentlemen, that in establishing manhood suffrage you made all men sovereigns and all women subjects? This, the most odious form of aristocracy that the world ever saw, is the only one we have; an aristocracy that makes all men, black and white, foreign and native, lettered and unlettered, washed and unwashed, virtuous and vicious, the rulers of refined, educated, native-born women; an aristocracy that destroys the happiness of social life, exalting the son above the mother who bore him, engendering an insidious contempt for woman among all classes expressed in the debates on this question at every fireside, in the halls of legislation, in our laws and literature, alike in poetry and prose, most depressing to sensitive women, insulting to those who have a proper self-respect, and alike exasperating to all.

ln the history of the race there has been no struggle for liberty like this. Whenever the interest of the ruling classes has induced them to confer new rights on a subject class it has been done with no effort on the part of latter. Neither the American slave nor the English laborer demanded the right of suffrage. It was given in both cases to strengthen the liberal party. The philanthropy of the few may have entered into those reforms, but political expediency carried both measures. Women, on the contrary, have fought their own battles; and in their rebellion against existing conditions have inaugurated the most fundamental revolution the world has ever witnessed. The magnitude and multiplicity of the changes involved make the obstacles in the way of success seem almost insurmountable.

The narrow self-interest of all classes is opposed to the sovereignty of woman. The rulers in the state are not willing to share their power with a class equal, if not superior, to themselves, over which they could never hope for absolute control, and whose methods of government might in many respects differ from their own. The anointed leaders in the church are equally hostile to freedom for a sex supposed for wise purposes to have been subordinated by divine decree. The capitalist in the world of work holds the key to the trades and professions and undermines the power of labor unions in their struggles for shorter hours and fairer wages by substituting the cheap labor of a disfranchised class that can not organize its forces, thus making wife and sister rivals of husband and brother in the industries, to the detriment of both classes. Of the autocrat in the home, John Stuart Mill has well said:

No ordinary man is willing to find at his own fireside an equal in the person be calls wife.

This society is based on this fourfold bondage of woman, making liberty and equality for her antagonistic to every organized institution. Where, then, can we rest the lever with which to lift one-half of humanity from these depths of degradation, but on "that columbiad of our political life—the ballot—which makes every citizen who holds it a full­armed monitor? [Applause.]