Susan B. Anthony

Statement Before the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary - Jan. 24, 1880

Susan B. Anthony
January 24, 1880— Washington, D.C.
Print friendly

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Committee: I did not propose to make any argument, but simply to call the attention of the committee to the fact that disfranchisement is not only political degradation, but that it is also social, moral, and industrial degradation. It does not matter whether the class affected by disfranchisement is that of ignorant, intemperate, or vicious men—the serfs in Russia, the negroes on our plantations before the war, the Chinamen on our Pacific coast to-day—or the intelligent, educated women of this Republic, disfranchisement works precisely the same results. If we could make the men and women of this republic realize for a moment that the results of disfranchisement to woman are the same as the results of disfranchisement to all the different classes of men I have named, we should not have to wait for another Congress before the proposition for a XVITH amendment would be submitted. But the difficulty is that each man to whom we appeal fails to appreciate the consequences of this law of disfranchisement or to realize the degradation which it entails. I have endeavored, in my arguments, to show that disfranchisement is the cause of woman's degradation in the world of labor; that it is because of it that she is doomed, everywhere doomed, to remain in the subordinate departments of labor, in the school-house, everywhere; that she is doomed to do her work for half pay, always as a subordinate, as I have said, and without any promotion. If men could only believe that the fact of that position of woman in the world of work was due to her disfranchisement, we should not have one session of Congress pass with a proposition for an amendment. But the people do not believe it; and yet, as some of the ladies have shown here, it is the cause of woman's degradation in labor everywhere. We are here to ask that woman may have the power of the ballot; that when she speaks she shall be respected; that when women workers in the factories and shops, the teachers in the school-houses, shall combine together to demand better wages of the capitalists; the political editors of the newspapers in a community will feel that if they speak on the side of the capitalist and against the workingwomen their party will lose the votes of those workingwomen at the next election. With the ballot in the hands of all the millions of factory women and workingwomen in this nation, you can perceive at once that they have a power by which they, like the workmen of the nation, can decide what work they will do, what prices they will be paid, and what positions they will occupy. Then, as to the government departments of which some one here has spoken, the facts are that all over the country there are hundreds of thousands of civil service offices; that many of the women of this republic are well qualified to do the work in those departments, but stand very little chance to get a fair quota of those appointments at the hands of members of Congress, members of the state legislatures, and "the powers that be" everywhere—this, not because men are unjust, but because many of the members of Congress here at Washington would not be glad to have women appointed to the various positions of work, but because it is an utter impossibility, politically speaking, for them to secure places. Governments cannot afford to give good places, good work, or good offices to persons who cannot help to make government. So long as woman hold in her hands no power to help make this government, no member of Congress can afford to advocate equal pay and equal place for women in the departments. The best of our friends, as members of this committee, know that, on the floor of Congress, when we have asked them to ordain that women workers shall be paid equal wages with men, they have told us that to pass such a law, and to enforce it, would be to drive all the women out of the departments, because the only excuse that the government now has for employing them is that it is a matter of economy to the government. Now, what we ask is that women shall have this power of appeal to the self-interest of the government officeholders and the government itself. We ask that woman shall have the ballot that she may come within the body politic, and there become just heir with her brothers for all the good things that are to be disposed of at the hands of the government.

This disfranchisement is not only an industrial and a social, but a moral degradation. Why, gentlemen of the committee, did you ever stop to think of what disfranchisement says to each and every one of these women here to-day and to each and every one of the women under this proud flag? It say, non compos, your judgment is not sound, your opinions are not worthy to be counted up in what men call "public sentiment," "the crystallizing of the popular will into law." While that is true of all women, let me put before you the other side. Enfranchisement says to every man, poor or rich, ignorant or learned, drunk or sober—to every man outside the State's prison or the lunatic asylum—"your judgment is sound, your opinion is worthy to be counted." And you gentlemen, all of you, recognize the fact that the equal counting and equal recognition of men's opinions established in this country that good thing which we call "political equality"—each and every man equal to each and every other man. This opinion of the most ignorant ditch-digger in the country, on election day, counts for just as much as that of the richest and proudest millionaire. It is a good thing, gentlemen; and we, woman suffragists, believe in the principle of democracy and republicanism, in the equal recognition of all men; but while that principle established the equal and just recognition of all men among men, we at the same time recognize that it established between the sexes that hateful thing of inequity; that it makes all men sovereigns and all women subjects; that it makes all men, politically, superiors and all women inferiors. And there is no amount of training, education, or discipline that can ever educate an ignorant man or a small boy to the belief that that is not the discrimination. This ignoring of women's opinions politically is not grounded upon intellectual inferiority. The more ignorant the man the better he feels convinced that he knows more than the most intelligent woman in the country. Intelligent men know that the great work of this republic from the beginning has been the sloughing off, little by little, of the old feudalistic ideas of caste, until at last we have this grand idea of self-government. We women know that those who are engaged in this movement are struggling with might and main to lift the women, through the XVIth amendment, upon the same platform with intelligent, cultivated man, who does respect an intelligent, cultivated woman, whom the ignorant man does not comprehend and has no appreciation of.

I will give you an illustration of my meaning. There are three ladies in this room to-day from the State of Iowa. One of these ladies pays more taxes in the city of Maquoketa, in which she resides, than do the whole twelve men who are the members of the common council of her city. Those three women, in the city of Maquoketa, and county of Jackson, have been at the very head and front of the Women's Christian Temperance organization in that city. They have prayed, petitioned, and done everything to shut up the grog shops in their community which a disfranchised class can do—which is exactly nothing. On election morning, the question of license or no license is to be voted on in that city. My friend, Mrs. Allen, and other ladies wo work with her have paid into the treasury of the victims of the idiocy and crime which are the outgrowth of the liquor traffic. My friend, Mrs. Allen, is standing on the street on election morning, and in another quarter there stands an ignorant man, a man who by his drunkenness has caused to be sold under the hammer the farm he inherited from his father, whose every dollar of property is gone, whose wife and children are houseless and homeless and he a pauper in the county house, supported at the public expense. He knows that three-fourths of the money taken from Mrs. Allen's and those other ladies' taxes goes to support him and others like him in this and their necessities. He looks at that woman; he sneers at her education, her standing, her fine clothes, her self-respect, at everything she possesses; he envies her; but at last he bethinks himself. He folds his arms and with utter complacency exclaims, "Yez can sing, yez can shout, yez can pray, yez can petition agin rum; but be jabbers, yez can't go to the ballot-box and vote agin it. I can vote for free whisky and you can't help yourselves." Now, gentlemen of the committee, do you not see how that little fact, that that ignorant pauper's opinion is thus respected and counted that day, while that intelligent tax-paying woman's opinion is ignored, educates that ignoramus into a feeling of superiority over that woman? Nothing but an amendment of the Constitution of the United States, saying that woman's opinion shall be respected and counted, will ever educate that man to respect her. The secret, underlying cause of the disrespect which men often show toward women—the slighting manner in which coarse, rude men are wont to speak of woman—lies in the fact of woman's opinion being ignored in the deciding of all the great questions involving the conditions or surroundings of society and the government.

Then look at the boys of this generation. Before the boy's head reaches the level of the table, he learns that he is one of the superior class and that when he is twenty-one years old her will make laws for Mrs. Saxon, Mrs. Gage, and all these ladies who are mothers. His mother teaches him all the requisites for success in after life. She says: "My son, you must not chew, nor smoke, nor gamble, nor swear, nor be a libertine; you must be a good man." The boy looks his mother in the face, unbelievingly, and, perchance, at his father, who is guilty of every one of the vices which the mother says he must avoid if he would become a great man. Perhaps he sees the minister of his mother's church walking down the street with a cigar in his mouth. Then he looks to Congress. It may have been a slander—nevertheless it was a newspaper report, and I use it as an illustration—that the Forty-fifth Congress, at its close, had but one sober man on its floor, and he was a black man (Cain) of South Carolina. I do not say that that was true, but I give it as I heard it. If the boy goes into court, he sees the judge, with a good-sized spittoon by his side and half filled. Now, what does the boy say when he looks up to his mother? He says, "O, nonsense! mother, you don't know what you are talking about; you're only a woman."

If you would have that boy respect his mother, your laws will first have to respect her. Laws do more to educate and develop public sentiment than you, whose business it is to make laws and constitutions, are doing to day. Therefore, as a matter of educating ignorant men and small boys in a just and respectful appreciation of woman, I ask you not to bury this petition of ours, but to do something to awaken an agitation and discussion of our request on the floors of Congress.

Allow me to make one further observation. Since the days of Frémont and Jessie, women have been very politely invited to attend Republican meetings. All of you Republicans know how the women filled up your empty benches in those days and made your conventions look very respectable indeed. By and by the Democrats came into line, and the conventions of both parties often contained as many women as men. Then the pool stump orators are put to their wit's end upon the woman question. They can, without difficulty, frame paragraphs to suit every class of human beings who have a ballot; they can appeal alike to the rumsellers and the temperance men, to the Irishmen, the Germans, the Swedes, the Bohemians and, since the XVth amendment, to the negroes. Every politician can promptly show why his own party is the one for which the particular class to which he addresses himself should vote. Finally he comes to the inevitable woman and, realizing that he must say something on that point, says: "I am glad to see the ladies here to-night, am always glad to have them in my audiences; they are a sort of inspiration, enable me to make a better speech: the fact is, gentlemen, I rather like the ladies, for my mother was a woman—God bless her." Now, gentlemen, don't you believe that under those bonnets there were voters, those voters would soon cause that orator and his party, whether in or out of power, to suddenly discover there were some brains under there? You see that we want this power to appeal to the instinct of self-interest in this government; and if this committee does not do itself the honor to report a proposition for a XVIth amendment, some succeeding committee will do itself that honor. The tide is moving, it cannot be swept back. I beg you, in the name of justice, humanity, and mercy, that you will not keep woman coming back here for the next thirty years as she has been kept coming her for the last thirty years.

I hope too, that you will help us all you can. We, who are agitating this movement, are not a moneyed class. I trust that you will submit a resolution directing that the reports of this hearing shall be printed at the government expense. I would also urge the importance of your presenting the proposition for a XVIth Amendment before Congress because it will create an agitation and discussion which may educate not only the members of Congress but their constituencies on this question.

Mr. LAPHAM, of New York. I have understood that your association desired to have an act of incorporation.

Miss ANTHONY. It is true that we desire incorporation. When the rich Miss Dorseys and others all over the country take it into their heads to make us a bequest, we should be in a condition to hold any such bequest according to law. We have framed a bill looking to the chartering of our organization that we may become a legal personage, and I ask of you to give the measure whatever of aid you may be able to give it.