Lillie Devereux Blake

Hearing before the Committee on Judiciary of the House of Representatives - Feb. 13, 1900

Lillie Devereux Blake
February 13, 1900— Washington, D.C.
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Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Committee: We are here to ask you to take measures to protect all the women of this nation in the right of suffrage, a privilege now most unjustly denied to a majority of them, who are still in the condition of the subjects of a monarchy, forced to submit to a government to which they have not consented and to pay taxes without representation. A few considerations will prove that this injustice, this denial of our chartered rights, is inflicted in defiance of the provisions of the Constitution which you, gentlemen, have sworn to maintain.

Many of these provisions promised the full meed of liberty to all the people, for the words of that noble instrument are ringing with a message of freedom to the women as well as the men of the nation, and we are here to protest against a false interpretation of these grand utterances, which has inflicted an age-long tyranny on one-half of the loyal, law-abiding inhabitants of this country.

We find it declared in Article I, section 2, that “The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several States.” Nothing can be clearer than the language of this article, nothing more obvious than its intent. It was framed to secure to the plain law-abiding inhabitants of the country a direct voice in the government, through those whom their suffrages have selected to represent them in what has been called “the popular branch of Congress,” that portion which you, gentlemen, represent. Now, I ask you, who are your constituents? Who form a large portion of those whom you address in your campaign speeches! Are not your audiences frequently made up of women and men to whom you talk with equal earnestness? Have you ever at some great meeting checked the flow of your eloquence to call attention to the fact that when you talked of the power and potency of their action in securing the prosperity of the nation by your election, you trusted that all would remember that these remarks only applied to the men present! Looking into the earnest faces of the wives of farmers, who have many times listened enrapt to your burning words as you spoke of the blessings of a free government, have you paused to explain that, so far as they were concerned, you trusted they would remember that the pledges and the privileges of the Constitution were not for them, and have added that this refusal of the privilege of helping to elect you by their ballots was a grievous wrong, and that you earnestly believed in a government which, in the words of the immortal Lincoln, would be “a government of the people, for the people, and by the people!”

What is it now? It is a government “of the men people, for the men people, and by the men people,” and, unless the pledges of this great man and of many others are fulfilled, we shall insist that the phraseology of the Constitution shall be changed in accordance with facts. In the future let us have plain, true statements instead of specious falsehoods. Let us have new editions of the Constitution and of the laws amended so as to be in accordance with the existing conditions. Then shall the Declaration of Independence read: “We hold this fact to be self-evident, that all men people are born free and equal and that the governments derive their just powers from the consent of the men people.” The preamble to the Constitution shall declare that it was ordained and established “by the men people of the United States,” and Article I, section 2, of the Constitution will read, “the House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen by the men people.” Let our national Constitution be at least honest, so that a large portion of the people of this Commonwealth will not be forced to live under an instrument that is false in its statements, foolish in its interpretation, and cruel in its administration.

We find that it is declared in Article IV, section 4, that “The United States shall guarantee to every State in the Union a republican form of government,” Gentlemen, what is a republican form of government? In a monarchy, the theory of government is that all power flows directly from the monarch; even in constitutional monarchies each concession has been obtained “by consent of our gracious sovereign.” When the laws are based on the idea that the caprices of the ruler regulate the privileges granted to the people, it is at least logical, even if it is cruel, to refuse the right of suffrage to any class of the community. You will agree that this is not a monarchy, where power flows from the sovereign to the people, but a republic, where the sovereign people give to the Executive they have chosen power to carry out their will. Can you really claim that we live under a republican form of government when one-half the adult inhabitants are denied all voice in the affairs of the nation? It may be better described as an oligarchy, where certain privileged men choose the rulers who make laws for their own benefit, too often to the detriment of the unrepresented portion of that people, who are denied recognition as completely as was over an oppressed class in the most odious form of oligarchy which ever usurped a government.

It is true that we have within our borders four real republics, glorious exceptions to this stern rule of tyranny. In four States all the people have an equal share in the election of the officials, women as well as men casting their ballots for those who shall make and enforce the laws under which all must live. Every other one of the forty-five States of this Union is a despotism in which one-half of the people are held in a condition of political slavery. In those four great free States women have shown themselves peaceable, law-abiding, competent, and faithful citizens, indorsing no fanatical reforms, but, by their influence, helping to build up prosperous, happy, and—in these cases—free commonwealths.

Article XIV, section 2, provides that “Representation shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.” What sort of justice is there in excluding from the basis of representation Indians who are not taxed and including women who are taxed? The framers of this amendment were evidently impressed with the tenet that taxation and representation should be associated, and that as the Indian paid no taxes, and was not, therefore, forced to carry the burdens of citizenship, he might, with justice, be denied the privileges of citizenship. But by what specious reasoning can anyone maintain that it is honest to tax the great body of women citizens, to count them in the basis of representation and yet deny to them the right of personal representation at the ballot box? What excuse can be made for this monstrous perversion of liberty? Each one of you, gentlemen, sit here as the representative of thousands of women who, by their money, have helped to build this Capitol in which you assemble, to pay for the seats in which you sit; nay, more, they pay one-half of the salary of every man here, and yet what real representation have they? How much do you think of the women of your States and of their interests? How much do you reflect on the injustice that is daily and hourly done them by denying to them all voice in this body, wherein you claim to “represent” the “people” of your respective States? You are totally indifferent to the political interests of one-half of the population of your homes, and are willing to place the educated, intelligent women of this our native land, as well as those of our foreign possessions, on a level with the wild savages to whom you deny the right of suffrage. Gentlemen, have you ever tried to realize how heavy are the burdens imposed upon women by disfranchisement?

Some years ago, when the bill regulating affairs in Utah was under discussion in the Senate, Senator Edmunds said: “Disfranchisement is a cruel and degrading penalty, that ought not to be inflicted except for crime.” But this cruel and degrading penalty is inflicted upon nearly all the women of the United States. Of what crime have we been guilty? Or is our mere sex a fault for which we must be punished? Would not any body of men look upon disfranchisement as “a cruel and degrading penalty?” Suppose the news were to be flashed across our country to-morrow that the farmers of the nation were to be disfranchised, what indignation there would be. How they would leave their homes to assemble and protest against this wrong. They would declare that disfranchisement was a burden too heavy to borne; that if they were unrepresented laws would be passed inimical to their best interests; that only personal representation at the ballot box could give them proper protection, and they would hasten here, even as we are doing, to entreat you to remove from them the burden of “the cruel and degrading penalty of disfranchisement."

And now, gentlemen, I desire to call your attention to a series of declarations in the Constitution which prove beyond all possibility of contravention that the Government has solemnly pledged itself to secure to the women of the nation the right of suffrage. In order to make my position clear, I will first briefly state what are the propositions I intend to establish and then give you the clauses in the Constitution which will sustain them. I shall prove to you by the words of that instrument, which has been called “the charter of our liberties”—

First, that women are citizens;

Secondly, that the right to vote is held to be one of the rights of the citizens of the nation, and

Thirdly, that the Constitution ordains that the rights of the citizens under the Government shall be the same in all the States of the Union.

A few quotations will prove the irrefutable truth of these statements.

Article XIV, section 1, declares that “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.” The women of this country are then citizens thereof and entitled to all the rights of citizens.

Article XV speaks of “the right of a citizen to vote” as if that were one of the most precious privileges of citizenship, so precious that its protection is embodied in a separate amendment.

If we now turn to Article IV, section 2, we find it declares that “the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.”

Now, gentlemen, what do these statements mean? Is there one of you who can explain away these noble guarantees of the right of individual representation at the ballot box as mere one-sided phrases, having no significance for one-half the people? These grand pledges are abiding guarantees of human freedom, honest promises of protection to all the people of the Republic.

Let me repeat the proposition, women are citizens (Art. XIV); the exercise of the right of suffrage is one of the privileges of citizenship (Art. XV), and the Government pledges itself to secure to the citizens of every State the privileges of the citizens of all the other States (Art. IV).

In four of the States of the Union women have the right to vote; in all the other States women are denied the right to vote, and this wrong is inflicted in direct violation of these constitutional guarantees. In four States all women citizens are protected in the privilege of voting. The Constitution solemnly promises to secure to the citizens of all the States the privileges enjoyed by the citizens of any of the States. We ask you to insist that these noble guarantees shall be carried out, and that the privilege of voting, now secured to the women of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho, shall be secured to the women citizens of every State, from the pine forests of Michigan to the everglades of Florida and from the rock-bound coast of Maine to the golden shores of California.

You, gentlemen, have sworn to carry out all the provisions of the Constitution. Does not this oath lay upon you the duty of seeing that this great pledge is fulfilled and that the Fifty-sixth Congress shall set its mark in history by fulfilling these guarantees and securing the ballot to the millions of women citizens, possessing every qualification for the intelligent use of this mighty weapon of liberty?

The Dome of this Capitol is surrounded by a magnificent statue representing the genius of American freedom. How is this mighty power embodied? As a majestic woman, full-armed and panoplied to protect the liberty she has won. Is not this symbol a mockery while nearly all the women of the country are held in political slavery? We ask you to insist that the pledges of the Republic shall be redeemed, that its promises shall be fulfilled, and that American womanhood shall be enfranchised.

Gentlemen, we leave our cause in your hands, confident in your wisdom, your, honesty, and your love of justice.

Source: Woman suffrage: hearing before the Committee on Judiciary of the House of Representatives, Tuesday, February 13, 1900. [Washington: Government Printing Office] [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,