Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Kansas State Referendum Campaign Speech - Sept. 14, 1867

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
September 14, 1867— Lawrence, Kansas
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How shall I find fitting words to express all I would say as I stand for the first time before an audience in Kansas? As the pious Catholic on entering his Cathedral kneels and with holy water makes the sign of the cross upon his brow before lifting his eyes to the Holy of Holies, so would I reverently tread this soil as the vestabule [sic] to our Temple of Liberty, the opening vista to the future grandeur of the new republic. Here the youngest civilization in the world is about to establish a government on that divine idea of equality uttered on the cross 1800 years ago, echoed by the Pilgrim Fathers in '76, and already twice baptized in American blood within one century. Here scanting kings, thrones, principalities and powers, it is proposed to make all your citizens equal before the law! Here at last is the idea to be realized, fortold [sic] by prophets and seers from the beginning and struggled for by the nations of the earth throughout the centuries. Here the mother of the race, the most important character in the drama of life is for the first time in the history of the world to stand the peer of man. It is fitting that the corner stone of the new republic should be laid here, where the first battles of liberty were fought and won over the monster slavery: that most deadly enemy of free institutions.

For forty years the monster slavery has ruled this country with a high hand. It gave us in quick succession the annexation of Texas, the Fugitive Slave law, the denial of the right of petition in Congress and of free speech in all the northern states, the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and mob law throughout the Union, culminating here in the Lecompton Constitution, the dynasty of Atchison and the enrolling of voters from the Cincinnati directory, inaugurating a long and bloody political struggle in Kansas where southern tyrants were taught for the first time at the feet of the brave men and women of this state that freedom was stronger than slavery.

When the telegraphic wires brought us the news last winter of a proposition before your Legislature to take the words white male from your Constitution, we were holding meetings all through New York preparatory to our Constitutional Convention, patiently laboring in the faith that the efforts of our lives, if never realized to ourselves, would descend in blessing to our children's children. But the action of Kansas seemed to bring the prize at once within our grasp; it gave us new hope, new courage and an assurance that we should ourselves see a speedy and complete success. With a feeling of independence such as I had never known before, I said to my friends, Now if we fail to secure our political rights in N.Y. we will shake the dust of the Empire State from our feet and go out towards the setting sun, where Kansas, the young and beautiful hero of the West, is already beconing [sic] us to her rich fields and rolling prairies, that we may at least lay our bones beneath a soil sacred to freedom and equality. Yes we will leave those white male fossils, with their odious statutes and that second Art[icle] of their Constitution to find a common grave while that state becomes one vast scene of desolation and not with consent shall the ghost of a woman go back to shed one tear over their downfall.

White male. Old Bridget. [According to a handwritten addition to the manuscript by Stanton's daughter, "This was a note to throw in one of her favorite stories, if the occasion seemed to permit the telling." Signed: H[arriot] S[tanton] B[latch].]

It is better for many reasons, that this new experiment should be tried in a young state, rather than in older civilizations with the multiplied vices and crimes, of dense population in luxurious and indolent conditions of life.

The precious seeds of equality garnered from the sufferings of our forefathers under a British yoke, brought in the May Flower [sic] to these western shores, are to find here for the first time, a rich soil and genial atmosphere and with woman to help in the planting you may look for a full fruition and harvests of plenty.

On the rock bound coast of New England where they export nothing but ice and codfish, there was no soil for seed like this. Fresh from the corrupting influences of Kings and Courts it was a great thing for our Fathers to get the idea of equality on paper, to send forth a declaration of rights that made every crowned head in Europe tremble on his throne; but it is a greater thing for you to day to make it a fact in the government of a mighty state and show the world the possibility of its realization, the beneficence of its growth and protection, and the immortality of a nation founded on the Gibraltar rock of justice and equality. I say "nation," for what you now do in this state is the inauguration of the future policy of the nation. Wherever you lead, other states will follow. In deciding last winter to extend [the] right of suffrage to all the citizens of this state you struck the key note of reconstruction. Your far reaching wisdom embraced more than state institutions, and if you realize what you propose, to you will belong the honor of solving the national problem that has so long perplexed our political leaders, for as in the war freedom was the key note of victory, so now is universal suffrage the key note of reconstruction.

The partial demand of negro suffrage has been the one weak point in the republican battlements at which the enemy have kept up a continual fire, while friends have been able to make no defence.

For the same exhaustive arguments by which the rights of black men have been maintained, have been arguments against all class and caste legislation. The inconsistency of our position has been remarked alike by friends and foes. The President of the United States [Andrew Johnson] in his veto on [sic] the District of Columbia suffrage bill says, "It hardly seems consistent with the principles of justice and right that representatives of states where suffrage is denied the colored man or granted to him on qualifications requiring intelligence or property should compel the people of the District to try an experiment which their own constituents have thus far shown an unwillingness to try for themselves." In the debate on Nebraska Senator [Charles] Sumner expresses the same opinion. He said, "When we demand equal rights of the southern states, we must not be so inconsistent as to admit any new state with a constitution disfranchising citizens on account of color. Congress must be itself just if it would recommend it to others. Reconstruction must begin at home." When men from such opposite points of view express the same opinion, it is well for us to consider what they say.

Every thoughtful person must see that northern representatives are in no condition to reconstruct the southern states until their constitutions are purged of all invidious distinctions among the citizens of their own states. As the fountain rises no higher than its source, how can New York press on South Carolina a civilization she has never tried herself? But say you we can coerce the South to do what we have no right to force on a loyal state. Has not each state a right to amend her own constitution and establish a genuine republic within her own boundaries? Let each man mend one, says the old proverb, and the world is mended. Let each state bring its constitution into harmony with the Federal Constitution, and the Union will be a republic. Would you press impartial suffrage on the South recognize it first at home. Would you have Congress do its duty in the coming session, let the action of every State Legislature teach their representatives what that duty is. Does the North think it absurd for its women to vote and hold office; the South thinks the same of its negroes. Does the North consider its women a part of the family, to be represented by the "white male citizen"? So views the South her negroes. Is there anything more rasping to a proud spirit than to be rebuked for short comings by those who are themselves guilty of the grossest violations of law and justice. How different would our attitude be to day towards the South, were all the Northern States so amending their constitutions as to meet the requisitions they press on them. Example is better than precept. Would New York now take the lead in making herself a genuine republic, with what a new and added power our representatives could press universal suffrage on the Southern States. The work of this hour is a broader one than the reconstruction of the rebellious states, it is the lifting of the entire nation into higher ideas of justice and equality. It is the realization of what the world has never yet seen--a genuine republic. "Universal suffrage," says [Alphonse Marie Louis de] Lamartine, "is the first truth and only basis of every genuine republic." "The ballot," says Senator Sumner, "is the Columbiad of our political life, and every citizen who has it is a full armed Monitor." It is in no narrow captious or selfish spirit that at this hour we press woman's claim to the ballot, but that we may end all class and caste legislation, vindicate the republican idea, and set a spotless example to the nations of the world.

In this prolonged unsettlement of the country, I see a wise Providence, that the people may thus have time to debate the great fundamental principles of government, that when we do again crystallize into any form it will be on a foundation that will stand forever and ever.

As in the war freedom was the key note of victory, so now is universal suffrage the key note of reconstruction. John Stuart Mill in a late letter to Hon. S.N. Wood has well said: "If your citizens next November give effect to the enlightened views of your Legislature history will remember that one of the youngest states in the civilized world , has been the first to adopt a measure of liberation, destined to extend all over the earth and to be looked back to as is my fixed conviction as one of the most fertile in beneficial consequences, of all the improvements yet effected in human affairs."

And in saying thus much Mr. Mill does not overestimate the importance of the enfranchisement of women. When you come to appreciate the fact that there is sex in mind, that ideas as well as beings need the mother soul for their growth and development, you will appreciate how much has been lost in the world of morals and intellect, through the ignorance and degradation of woman, in thus blotting out one half the race.

As there is just that physical difference in man and woman necessary to the preservation of the race so there is just that spiritual difference necessary to the vitalizing of thought. Hence in the education and elevation of woman I see the growth and full development of the grand ideas enunciated by man in ages hitherto cold, barren and speculative because not met by the faith, hope and enthusiasm of a true womanhood. But when she awakes to the poetry of real life and sees the beauty of science, philosophy and government, then will the first note of harmony be struck, then will the great organ of humanity be played on all its keys with every stop rightly adjusted and with louder, loftier string the march of civilization will be immeasurably quickened. The distinguished historian Henry Thomas Buckle says, "The turn of thought of women, their habits of mind, their conversation invariably extending over the whole surface of society and frequently penetrating its intimate structure, have more than all other things put together tended to raise us into an ideal world and lift us from the dust into which we are too prone to grovel." And this will be her influence in exalting and purifying the world of politics.

When woman understands the momentous interests that depend on the ballot, she will make it her first duty to educate every American boy and girl into the idea that to vote is the most sacred act of citizenship:--a religious duty not to be discharged thoughtlessly, selfishly or corruptly but conscientiously remembering that in a republican government to each citizen is entrusted the interests of a nation. Would you fully estimate the responsibility of the ballot, think of it as the great regulating power of a continent of all our interests political, commercial, religious, educational, social and sanitary. To many minds this claim for the ballot suggests nothing more than a rough polling booth where coarse drunken men elbowing each other wade knee deep in mud to drop a little piece of paper two inches long into a box--simply this and nothing more. The poet [William] Wordsworth showing the blank materialism of those who see only with their outward eyes says of his Peter Bell:

A primrose on the river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him
And it was nothing more.

So our political Peter Bells see the rough polling booth in this great act of citizenship as nothing. But in this act so lightly esteemed by the mere materialist behold the realization of that great idea struggled for in the ages and proclaimed by the Fathers the right of self government. That little piece of paper dropped into a box is the symbol of citizenship: of equality, wealth, virtue, education, self-protection, dignity, independence and power, the mightiest engine yet placed in the hand of man for the uprooting of ignorance, tyranny and superstition, the overthrowing of Kings, Popes, Thrones, Altars, despotisms, monarchies and Empires.

What phantom can the sons of the Pilgrims be chasing when they make merchandise of a power like this. Judas Iscariot selling his Master for thirty pieces of silver is a fit type of these American citizens who sell their votes and thus betray the right of self-government. Talk not of the muddy pool of politics as if such things must need be. Behold with the coming of woman into this higher sphere of influence the dawn of the new day when politics so called are to be lifted up into the world of morals and religion, when the polling booth shall be a beautiful Temple, surrounded by fountains and flowers and triumphal arches through which young men and maidens shall go up in joyful procession to ballot for justice and mercy and when our elections shall be like the holy feasts of the Jews at Jerusalem. When you say, gentlemen, it would degrade woman to go to the polls, you make a sad confession of your irreligious mode of observing that most sacred right of citizenship. The ballot box in a republican government should be guarded with as much love and care as was the Ark of the Lord among the children of Israel. Here where we have no Heaven-anointed Kings or Priests, law must be to us a holy thing and the ballot box the Holies of Holies, for on it depends the safety and stability of our institutions!!

Do you shrink from having woman exposed to the grossness and vulgarity of public life, or encounter what she must at the polls? When you talk, gentlemen, of sheltering woman from the rough winds and revolting scenes of real life, you must be either talking for effect or wholly ignorant of what the facts of life are. The man whatever he is is known to woman. She is the companion not only of the accomplished gentleman, the statesman, the scholar, the orator, but the ignorant, vile, brutal, obscene man has his mother, wife, daughter, sister. Delicate, refined, educated women are in daily life with the drunkard, the gambler, the licentious and the criminal. And if man shows out what he is anywhere it is at his own hearthstone. There are over 40,000 drunkards in the state of New York. All these are bound by the ties of family to some woman. Allow but a mother and wife to each and you [have] 80,000 women. All these have seen their fathers, brothers, husbands, sons in the lowest stages of degradation. In your own circle of friends do you not know refined women whose whole lives are darkened and saddened by gross and brutal associations? Now, gentlemen, do you talk to woman of a rude jest or jostle at the polls, where noble, virtuous men stand ready to protect her person and her rights when alone in the darkness and solitude and gloom she has trembled at her own fireside waiting the return of a husband from his midnight revels? When stepping from her chamber door in bridal veil and orange blossoms she has beheld her royal monarch, her lord and master, her legal representative, the protector of her person and property, down on his hands and knees slowly crawling up the stairs with drunken curses on the lips that one short month before vowed love eternal. Behold him in her chamber in her bed! Is there a degradation more damning into which woman can sink in the muddiest pool of politics? Ah! the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast is far too often realized in life. Gentlemen such scenes as woman has witnessed at her own fireside where no eye save Omnipotence could pity, no strong arm could help can never be realized at the polls, never equalled elsewhere this side the bottomless pit. Woman has not hitherto lived in the clouds surrounded by an atmosphere of purity and peace but she has been the companion of man, in health, in sickness and in death, alike in his triumphs and degradation. She has worshiped him as a hero and saint and pitied him as a madman and a fool. In Paradise they were placed together and so they must ever be to rise or sink as one. If man is low, wretched and vile, woman cannot escape the contagion. An atmosphere that is unfit for one is unfit for the other. The customs of a darker age have already placed woman by the side of man in all his crimes, vices and amusements, oft sinking him to the lowest depths of degradation and despair. In the full blaze of civilization let us then demand that she be with him in his highest moments in all his profitable and honorable employments.

If the facts of life were not so truly humiliating it would be amusing to hear men talk of woman's "coming dawn." Do you not know, women of Kansas, that in your constitution you are ranked with minors, criminals, rebels, the lowest classes of your population? In none of the nations of modern Europe are women politically degraded as in this Republic. In the old world where the government is the aristocracy, where it is considered a mark of nobility to share its offices and powers-­ there women of rank have certain hereditary rights,--which raise them above a majority of the men--certain honors and privileges not granted to serfs or peasants. In England woman may be Queen, hold some offices, vote on some questions. In the southern states before the war women were not degraded in seeing their ditch diggers, gardeners, coachmen and waiters go to the polls to legislate on their interests. But in these northern states where the aristocracy is "male," washed or unwashed, lettered or unlettered, rich or poor, black or white, women of wealth and education who pay taxes on half the property in the country, your peers in art, science and literature, are thrust outside the pale of political consideration with the most degraded classes in the state. Your creeds and codes and customs harmonize with this position. Our lawyers see "femme covert," "widows claims," "dower," "protection," "incapacities," "incumbrance," "ad interim alimony" written on the brow of every woman they meet. And our clergy always think of the "weaker vessel," "wives obey your husband" whenever they hear of woman's equality. Now from such a position in the public mind where is the degradation in being crowned with all the rights of citizenship, in being ranked with such men as Gov. [Charles] Robinson, Senator [Samuel Clarke] Pomeroy or [Edmund Gibson] Ross, instead of the inmates of your state's prison? Taking the word "male" out of the constitution is lifting us at once to the level of our best and truest men, from all our degrading associations with our present political compeers, minors, criminals, paupers, rebels and idiots, for a man can vote if he is not more than nine-tenths a fool. But you are afraid this right to vote would take woman out of her sphere.

The North Pole and the passage round it, the nature of woman and her sphere, have troubled explorers and philosophers from the beginning, and will to the end because God never designed man to find out either. If it would not be audacious to dictate to the Lord of Creation, I would suggest, that the field of his labours is already so vast and varied that he might safely leave the discovery of these new regions to walruses and women. Man in unbounded freedom has discovered that the universe is not too large to feed his thought. Woman with the same latitude might not stay within four walls, but the world is large enough for both. Now it seems to me it is not a great mark of presumption on our part when we claim that woman is the best judge of her own sphere and that, if left to herself she will find it out. Man has marked it out for her, made laws for her, educated her and governed her for six thousand years and by their own telling they have made a failure. They say we cannot reason. There is no reasoning with a woman.

"Frailty thy name is woman." History describes us a wicked, weak and sensuous. Our poets and novelists make these men grand, heroic, capable of great deeds, but their women weak, helpless and vacillating, while our lawmakers have legislated us into a nutshell, technically saying that as we have not souls large enough to claim justice and equality, it makes but little difference how we are classed politically. Yes, my brothers, you have undoubtedly failed in the type of woman developed under your ministrations. Now if you will let us alone 6,000 years, we will show you an order of women worthy [of] your love, admiration and worship.

Take care of yourselves. The "masculine element" needs a little looking after. You have generously devoted so much time to "woman's sphere" and "the feminine element" that you have quite forgotten that one of the greatest needs of the republic is high-toned, manly men.

We ask you literally to do nothing for us. Take our names out of your constitutions and statute books and have no more special legislation for us. Let your codes be for persons, for citizens, throw all the Negroes and women overboard. If they cannot live under the broad codes and constitutions which the best legal minds from Coke and Blackstone down to our Story [and] Kent, have been perfecting for years for "white men," let them perish. Let us try it. Let us rough it with you for a few centuries and see what will come [of] it. I have an idea that self made black men and women will be of a better stamp, than the anomalous beings now extant, the dwarfed and crippled creations of your fancies.

But I pray you, men of Kansas, do not laynthe blame of your failure on Providence. Do not say that woman's condition in the world has always been in harmony with the will of God. For such an assertion invokes the immutable and eternal in the administration of a changing, shortsighted policy. For the condition of woman in all ages has differed materially, and differs at this moment among the various nations of the earth, and which of all these conditions is in accordance with the will of God, enervated and voluptuous by confinement, as she is in Turkish harem or exhausted by excessive toil and outdoor labour as she is in Switzerland and Germany, with her feet compressed in iron boots to the smallest dimensions, depending on man to carry her about as she is in China, or standing all day in the intense heat of a summer's sun as she is in Christian America, with the crown and sceptre ruling the mightiest nation on the globe, as she is in England; or burning on the funeral pile of her husband, a useless relic of her lordly dead as she is in India? Who can decide which of all these is woman's true sphere?

I met a gentleman last winter who had just been to hear Anna Dickinson. I said how did you like her? Oh! very much, but I could not help feeling she was out of her sphere. Ah! said I have you heard [Adelaide] Ristori? Yes. Did you feel she was out of her sphere? No! What's the difference? He could give no satisfactory reason. So I explained his feelings to him to his satisfaction.

It has always been considered legitimate for women to amuse men but not to reprove them or teach them. But there was a time when women were not permitted to play in our public theatres. As late as Shakspeare [sic] day, all his tragedies were represented by men alone. Juliet, Ophelia, Rosalind, Portia, Cate [sic], Desdemona were all represented by men.

We find gentlemen with the most latitudinarian views on the question of morals the most concerned just now lest this movement for the enfranchisement of woman should make her an individual and in so doing that the home and conjugal relations should be disturbed.

With the education and elevation of woman we shall have most radical changes in the marriage relation. When woman is self-supporting and independent, she will not desecrate that holy relation by marrying for bread and a home. Drunkards, gamblers, licentious men and criminals will be at a discount. If the Bible, that best of books, teaches one thing, it is a pure and holy marriage. Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers, for vice and virtue, beauty and deformity, purity and corruption can never harmonize together. When woman understands the immutable laws of her being, the science of social life, she will see the wisdom of that warning in the second commandment uttered mid the thunders of Sinai. The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

When woman holds the lofty position God meant she should as mother of the race, base men will find no women base enough willingly to hand down their vices, diseases, crimes, their morbid appetites, their low desires, their tainted blood, that fire in the veins that consumes the workers of unrighteousness. The family, that great conservator of national strength and morals, how can you cement its ties, but in the independence and virtue of both man and woman. Man has hitherto educated woman according to his idea and marked out her sphere. Woman has now to find out her own sphere and educate herself according to her own highest idea and in another generation you will see the glory of the new experiment.

As transcribed in Campbell, K. K. (Ed.) (1989). Man Cannot Speak for Her, Volume II: Key Texts of the Early Feminists. New York, New York: Praeger Publishers.