Virginia Minor

Opening Address at the Missouri Woman Suffrage Convention - Oct. 6,1869

Virginia Minor
October 06, 1869
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I believe that the Constitution of the United States gives me every right and privilege to which every other citizen is entitled; for while the Constitution gives the States the right to regulate suffrage, it nowhere gives them power to prevent it. The power to regulate is one thing, the power to prevent is an entirely different thing. Thus the State can say where, when and what citizens may exercise the right of suffrage. If she can say that a woman, who is a citizen of the United States shall not vote, then she can equally say that a Chinaman, who is not a citizen, shall vote and represent her in Congress. The foreign naturalized citizen claims his right to vote from and under the paramount authority of the federal Government, and the State has no right to prevent him from voting, and thus place him in a lower degree or grade of citizenship than that of free citizens. This being the case, is it presumable that a foreign citizen is intended to be placed higher than one born on our soil? Under our Constitution and laws, woman is a naturalized citizen with her husband. There are men in this town today, to my certain knowledge, who have had this boon of citizenship thrust upon them, who scorned the name, and who freely claimed allegiance to a foreign power. Our Government has existed for eighty years, yet this question of citizenship has never been settled. ln 1856 the question came before the then Attorney-General, Mr. Cushing, as to whether Indians were citizens of the United States, and as such, were entitled to the privilege of preempting our public lands. He gave it as his opinion that they were not citizens, but domestic subjects, and therefore not entitled to the benefits of the act.

In 1821 the question came before Attorney-General William Wirt, as to whether free persons of color in the State of Virginia were citizens of the United States, and as such, entitled to command vessels engaged in foreign trade. He gave it as his opinion that they were not, that the Constitution by the term citizen, and by its description of citizen, meant only those who were entitled to all the privileges of free white persons, and negroes were not citizens. ln 1843 the question came before Attorney-General Legree, of South Carolina, as to whether free negroes of that State were citizens, and he gave it as his opinion that as the law of Congress intended only to exclude aliens, therefore that they as denizens could take advantage of the act. Mr. Marcy, in 1856, decided that negroes were not citizens, but entitled to the protection of the Government.

In justice to our sex, l must ask you to bear in mind the fact that all these wise Secretaries of State and Attorney-Generals, were men that made these singular decisions, not illogical, unreasoning women, totally incapable of understanding politics. And lastly, in 1862, our late honored and lamented fellow-citizen, Attorney -General Bates, decided that free negroes were citizens. Thus, you see, it took forty-one years to make this simple discovery. I have cited all these examples to show you that all rights and privileges depend merely on the acknowledgment of our right as citizens, and wherever this question has arisen the Government has universally conceded that we are citizens; and as such, I claim that if we are entitled to two or three privileges, we are entitled to all. This question of woman's right to the ballot has never yet been raised in any quarter. It has yet to be tested whether a free, moral, intelligent woman, highly cultivated, every dollar of whose income and property are taxed equally with that of all men, shall be placed by our laws on a level with the savage. I am often jeeringly asked, "If the Constitution gives you this right, why don't you take it?" My reply is both a statement and a question. The State of Massachusetts allows negroes to vote. The Constitution of the United States says the citizens of each State shall be allowed all the privilege of the citizens in the several States. Now, I ask you, can a woman or negro vote in Missouri? You have placed us on the same level. Yet, by such question you hold us responsible for the unstatesmanlike piece of patchwork which you call the Constitution of Missouri! Women of the State, let us no longer submit to occupy so degraded a position! Disguise it as you may, the disfranchised class is ever a degraded class. Let us lend all our energies to have the stigma removed from us. Failing before the Legislatures, we must then turn to the Supreme Court of our land and ask it to decide what are our rights as citizens, or, at least, not doing that, give us the privilege of the Indian, and exempt us from the burden of taxation to support so unjust a Government. [Applause].

Stanton, E. C., Anthony, S. B., and Gage, M. J. (Eds.). (1886). History of woman suffrage, volume 2, pp. 409-410.