Carrie Chapman Catt

Statement before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary - Feb. 18, 1902

Carrie Chapman Catt
February 18, 1902— Washington, D.C.
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Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, we have with us a delegate from England who was to have spoken this morning and who will undoubtedly arrive later but who is not here now.

I have a favor to ask of this committee in an official capacity. It is something we have never asked before. We realize full well, and understand enough of human nature to know, that it is not a question of the actual merit of woman suffrage which must be considered by the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives. We realize that there are questions of politics behind it all, and the first consideration must, because of our peculiar political organizations, be the life and the policy of the political parties and the consent of the constituencies behind its members.

In a degree we have a sympathy with this position, and we are going to ask something of you which will make it a little easier than to give a favorable report upon our bill.

Since we never have had a favorable report from but one Judiciary Committee we have grown to be rather hopeless about the Judiciary Committee; but we hope, however, that we may ask something in which you may be able to concur.

Ever since the days of the Declarations of Independence, which declared that life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness were inalienable rights, that fact has become a conviction not alone with all Americans, but with all the people of the civilized world.

It does not take very much consideration, nor a very logical mind, to perceive that the ballot is the only possible way of maintaining and 14 defending those inalienable rights. It does not require a very logical mind to see that whenever the ballot is denied to a class of people the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness is alienated by tyrannical power. This is putting our case in a very simple fashion, but it is the conclusion to which the world will arrive in later years. We believe that the gentlemen of this committee are quite as much in sympathy with the logic of that position as we are ourselves; but we realize the political reasons why you might not act in accordance with that conviction.

We therefore have brought to you something of the testimonials of the success of woman suffrage in operation throughout the world, but yet I think you will realize if any man among you were called to stand before a judiciary committee in any house of representatives of the world, and to give in five or ten or fifteen minutes some proof of the operation of man suffrage, you would find it a very difficult thing to do; and you would find that your own presentation of that argument would be far from satisfactory to you. Therefore, the thing I ask in behalf of our association is that this committee will ask the House of Representatives to appoint a commission to investigate the results of woman suffrage in operation. This has never been done. We find that when our people come before you and read the testimonials of prominent citizens in favor of woman suffrage that it is but natural, as I see from the expression of the faces of one or two of you, that you think at once, “Of course, any man in politics would say that woman suffrage was a good thing when the women were a portion of his constituency.” It is but human nature, and from that point of view there is at once put upon all such testimonials a cheapness which robs them largely of their authority.

And further, since women vote in the same ballot boxes with men, since the registration is very difficult to separate, since the men register under names which are women's, and since women register very often under their initials, it is difficult to separate them. And while by investigation it has been shown that fully half the votes in Colorado and 45 per cent in Idaho at the last Presidential election were cast by women, although in both of those States the per cent of women is much less than the per cent of men, nevertheless these statements are not convincing.

The thing that has made us ask you this is a lesson that we have ourselves received. Last June a gentleman came from Belgium, Mr. Fernand Deschamps, who was a professor in the university at Antwerp. He was a gentleman of high scholarship and attainment, opposed to woman's suffrage; but he came to this country on behalf of his Government to make some investigations in regard to our educational system, and at the same time he came as delegate from the Sociological Society of Belgium, of which he was the secretary. He came with expenses paid for the express purpose of investigating the operation of woman's suffrage in this country, and he came to investigate it because in Belgium there is a very strong movement in a very curious fashion looking to the enfranchisement of women.

You will remember that in 1893 in response to the agitation of the sociologists of Belgium universal suffrage was granted to men. That suffrage, however, was in part a proxy vote. Every man was given a vote, but every man who paid a small tax and had a wife was given two votes upon the ground that he was the head of a family, and in a 15 sense it was a recognition of the woman in the state. If he paid a considerable tax, on what would be about $2,000 in our money, or if he had a university degree he was permitted to have still another vote. So that any man might qualify to have three votes. The Catholics are in power in Belgium. You know Belgium is a Catholic country and the Catholic religion is the established religion.

Now, it so happened that the people who possessed the university degrees and the majority of the property of Belgium were Catholics belonging naturally to the old conservative families of Belgium. Therefore, the Socialists discovered that they had gained very little in their vote, inasmuch as they were outvoted by these proxies. They have therefore instituted a new movement and their watchword is “One man, one vote.” In reply, in a spirit of retaliation to that demand, the Catholics in power, the government (for government there means a different thing, of course, from what it means with us and it is a more permanent thing, that is, the power that speaks is a more permanent thing) said:

If you compel us to take away the proxy votes and give to each man one vote, then we will retaliate by enfranchising the women.

Therefore this man came to us to investigate the working of woman suffrage; himself a Catholic, as the representative of the sociological society (but I must confess to you that with careful observations on his movements I was convinced that he was not the representative of the sociological society, but that he was the representative of the government itself). That gentleman spent several months in this country. We knew always where he was; we knew where he went and what he did. He visited Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, and Massachusetts. He visited the prominent citizens in those States; he went to men in the privacy of their own offices, and the executives in their own chambers, where they would not feel that they were pledged to testify to him in behalf of the success of woman suffrage, since there was no constituency to hear what they said.

He went prejudiced, but when he turned to New York and gave us something of a résumé of the results he found, he testified that his mind, his reason, were convinced of the justice of woman suffrage, although he said his feelings were still opposed to it. But he declared that he failed to understand how the United States could deny the right of suffrage to women when the fundamental principles of our Government were considered. He told us that in Wyoming he had only been able to find one solitary man who said to him in private that woman suffrage had not been a success, and that one man was a saloon keeper.

In the State of Colorado, where the women have voted so long, there was more difference of opinion, but he said whenever a person testified in favor of woman suffrage that person always had facts to give in support to his opinion, but whenever he found a person opposed to it that person had no facts to give in support of that position, but simply expressed the old feeling of antagonism which had always been his.

Now, gentlemen, in view of the fact that no man in all the world holds his right to the suffrage for any other reason than because “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” and because “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” 16 and in view of the fact that women of this country are taxed and are governed, there is no human being who can devise a logical reason why the women of this country should remain disfranchised.

And we ask enfranchisement because the demand is logical and just. We do not ask it because the unanimous vote of the women of this country is in favor of women suffrage, for, gentlemen, I ask of you when in the history of the world have the men of any country been unanimous in their demand for suffrage? Never once. And when we are asked to bring the approval of a majority of women, we are asked for a proof of our fitness, which was never demanded of men. When women are enfranchised, however, we find that they exercise that privilege quite as generally as do men.

We find that they exercise it as intelligently. We find that they lose nothing of their womanliness. We find that instead of broken homes, the homes have grown happier. We find that there is a larger womanhood and fatherhood as the result of it, and there is, in consequence, a happier and more progressive State.

In view of the fact that the appeal we make is a logical deduction from the fundamental principles of our government; in view of the fact that when women have been enfranchised they have used this privilege; in view of the fact that we have come to you for the last thirty years to make our appeal and never but once have even had a favorable report to Congress; in view of the fact that you turn your backs upon us as soon as we are gone, as though we had not come with an unanswerable petition to your; in view of all these facts we ask of you only this: To consider our question a live and important one.

You have sent commissions to Cuba to investigate conditions there, in order that you might know best how to govern the Cubans; you have sent commission to the Philippines in order to know best how you are to govern the Philippines; you have sent commission to Porto Rico in order to know best how to govern there; you sent a commission at one time to Sweden to investigate the operation of their liquor system; you have sent commissions wherever there was anything to be learned that could add to the usefulness of our Government; and now, gentlemen, the thing we ask is only a petition in line with growing civilization. For you must understand that we, who are the units of this Government as well as the men, we, who are its taxpayers, we, who help to bear the brunt and burden of this Government, regard the spread of woman suffrage in other countries with consuming humiliation while our own Government is silent.

We do not understand why when petition is made to foreign parliaments that “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” those Parliaments listen to that plea, and answer by enfranchising the women of the world; while the men of America, the descendents of those who initiated that immortal principal, turn a deaf ear to our petitions. Yet, we do know why it is; we know that there is a sort of skepticism surrounding universal suffrage; we know that there is a corruption growing up in American politics which makes you hesitate. But, gentlemen, there is no expediency to justice, and if it is right for men to vote it is right for women to vote.

If there is any guaranty by which any member of this Judiciary Committee holds his interest in the Government, then we have exactly that same guaranty. I for one do not blame men or women who hesitate about enfranchising women, because the thing you hesitate 17 about is not the thing we ask; it not the reality, but it is your imaginary idea of what woman suffrage is. And because this imaginary idea controls the Congress of the United States we ask you in the interest of fairness, in the interest of progress and civilization, to see to it that this commission is appointed to investigate suffrage in our four States. We ask you to investigate it in exactly the same spirit of calmness, the same spirit of scientific investigation which you would give if you were investigating man suffrage in Cuba.

We ask you to discover there whether the women exercise they privilege that is given them. We ask you to discover whether they register; what proportion of them vote after they are registered. We ask you to discover whether the bad women control politics. We ask you to discover whether the women who are intelligent have sufficient patriotism to make them exercise their privilege in the highest degree of intelligence. We ask you to discover whether homes have been broken up. We ask you to chase down to its lair every single charge and objection that has been made to woman suffrage. And, gentlemen, if when an honest commission has returned an honest investigation you discover that woman suffrage has proved a good thing, if you find that woman suffrage has proved as beneficial to women as man suffrage has proved to men, then we shall expect that another Judiciary Committee will give a favorable report upon our bill and ask Congress to submit a sixteenth amendment.

And if you discover that it is not a good thing, then I promise you in behalf of our association that we still turn our guns into those States and see that it is made a good thing. [Applause] For never so long as there are women on the face of the earth who are educated, women who think for themselves in this or any other country, will they rest content until they have the only weapon that governments can give them for defending in that government their liberty and pursuit of happiness.

They tell us the ballot is not an inalienable right. We care not what it is. We know that liberty and the pursuit of happiness are called inalienable rights. We know our liberty has been alienated from us because we have not had his privilege. If the ballot is a right, then we ask why it should not be extended to women, where is the reason? If it is a privilege, as some say, then we ask why should not women enjoy it? If it is a responsibility, we ask why should women be exempted from it? If it is a duty, why should not women be made to perform it?

This is our position, gentlemen. We stand before you citizens of this Government, qualified, intelligent, tax-paying women, who demand for ourselves the same right to make the Government under which we live that has been given to you.

And now, gentlemen, I see our delegate from England has come in, and I will ask Mrs. Florence Fenwick Miller to speak for a few minutes on the suffrage of women in England. [Applause.]

United States Congress. House. Committee On The Judiciary, Shaw, A. H., United States Congress ). House, National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection & Susan B. Anthony Collection. (1902) Woman suffrage: hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, Tuesday. [Washington: Government Printing Office] [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,