Anna Howard Shaw

The Fate of Republics - May 1893

Anna Howard Shaw
May 01, 1893— Chicago, Illinois
Congress of Women at World's Fair
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The study of the rise and fall of great republics shows a remarkable correspondence in them all. They all had like beginnings, having been established by a body of people whose views were in advance of the age and the people among whom they dwelt; who were driven forth from their native country or became voluntary exiles, wandering into new lands, establishing a new system of government, the central idea of which was civil and religious liberty. About this central idea, by industry, perseverance, indomitable courage and patriotism, republics have grown more rapidly and attained to their period of glory in much shorter time than any other form of government They have also decayed and come to their ruin more rapidly than other equally great nations, until statesmen are beginning to ask, Is it possible for a republic to become a permanent form of government? Republics have also grown along like lines, and have come to their ruin from similar causes. The lines of growth correspond with those elements in human nature where men are superior to women. Point out a line of strength which is peculiarly masculine, and you will find a corresponding line of marked progress in all great republics–business enterprise, and inventive genius, the aggressive spirit and warlike nature, are the lines of strength in all of the great republics of the world.

On the other hand, Republics have decayed along the lines of our human nature in which men are inferior to women. Those of morality and purity, temperance and obedience to law, of loyalty to the teachings of religion and a love of peace. No republic, ancient or modern, ever died from the lack of material prosperity. Rome, Greece, Carthage, the Dutch Republic, all manifested evidences of decay while rich and powerful. Vice followed in the wake of great wealth, corruption close following on vice, then barbarism, the final fate of all. When we find a uniform result in any system of government, it is the part of wisdom to seek for the cause, and if the result is disastrous to the best interests of the nation, it is then the duty of patriots to remove the cause, regardless of prejudice or precedent.

It is an axiom in political economy "that in a republic, the class which votes affects the government in the long run along the lines of its nature." Following this law, it will readily be seen why republics into whose structure men have built their own nature, have manifested in all their lines of growth the strength of the masculine character; and on the other hand, since women have been excluded from all participation in governmental affairs, the peculiar characteristics of their nature have never been developed in the nation's life, therefore republics have always become weak and have ultimately come to their death through the decay of the moral and spiritual side of their life.

The question before us then is this: Is there anything in the nature of woman, differing from the nature of man in such a manner, that if women were permitted to vote it would enable them to affect the government differently from the way in which men affect it? In a speech made in Kansas some time since a United States senator said, "The nature of woman is as different from the nature of man, as the East is from the West." From which fact, he drew the conclusion that women ought to be disfranchised. He further states that, "If women were permitted to vote, the result would not be changed, as they would affect the government just as men affect it." In his speech the senator made a strong plea for the superiority of his sex on the ground of their reasoning and logical powers, and said: "Women cannot reason, but arrive at their conclusions intuitively." On reading the senator's speech one is led to inquire what woman's head he borrowed to enable him to arrive at his conclusions from the premises with which he started. If in a republic every class that votes affects the government in the long run along the line of its nature, and the nature of woman differs from the nature of man as the East differs from the West, how can any reasoning or logical mind conclude that the votes of women would affect the government exactly as those of men? Reason, or intuition, or by whatever mental process women reach their conclusions, they would claim the result of woman's voting to be as different from that of men as the East is from the West.

We need no argument to prove that the liquor class is able to affect the government, and that it influences it because of its power in the caucus, at the ballot box and in halls of legislation. Recent laws in many states show us how men interested in many forms of gambling and vice are able to affect the government through the power of the ballot. In one of my old parishes in Massachusetts, a body of men interested in cranberry culture were equally successful in defeating another body of men engaged in the fishing industry, because the cranberry men elected their candidate to the legislature, who through his ability to exchange votes, secured the passage of a bill in the interests of his constituents. Had women owned the property, in whose behalf legislation was secured, they could have done nothing but watch the shiny herring swim up and down the stream which was dammed by legislative enactment, until the last trump had sounded; because, not having votes, they could have sent no representative to the legislature to look after their special interests. If in a republic liquor men, gambling men and cranberry men having votes are able to affect the government, and to affect it along the line of their nature, then women, if they have votes, could affect it along the line of their nature, and if women differ from men, as the East does from the West, then the effect of their participation in government would differ less from that of men in like manner.

Wherein does the nature of women differ from that of men in such a way that if they voted they would be able to affect the government. It is universally admitted that women are more moral than men. The great moral factor of the world is its womanhood. Men recognize this fact even more than women, as, in all their arguments against the extension of suffrage to women, they claim it would degrade them to the level of men. In the congressional debate over the admission of Wyoming territory into the Union as a state, every gentleman who opposed it based his argument upon the woman suffrage plank in its constitution, urging that women are "too good and pure to vote." For the first time in history goodness and virtue were made the basis of disfranchisement. In response to this sentiment Mr. Carey, the United States delegate from Wyoming, declared this very characteristic of womanhood had compelled both great political parties in that territory to nominate their best men in the caucuses, since the women defeated the immoral men at the polls. Said a woman in Wyoming: "We are not particular to hold offices ourselves, but we are very particular who do hold office." Women are more temperate than men; yet when the state has a temperance question to settle, the ballot is placed in the hands of every distiller, every brewer, every saloonkeeper, every bartender and every male drunkard and is kept out of the hands of the women, the great temperance factor of the world which, to our intuitive natures, is a mark of very poor statesmanship. Women are also more religious than men; nearly three-fourths of the church members are women and nine-tenths of the spiritual and philanthropic work of the world is done by them. Yet when it comes to building up the life of a republic this spiritual factor is counted out. And this men call statesmanship. It is charged that women, if possessed of political power, would seek to unite church and state. This statement is wholly without foundation; knowing as we do that such a union would be disastrous to both church and state, women would oppose it even more than men. Yet we answer the gentleman who claimed that, "there is no place in the politics of this country for the decalogue and the golden rule," that if it be true, then there is no place in God's universe for the politics of this country. He has no place for the politics of any country in which there is no room for the decalogue or the golden rule. What we need more than the settlement of any of the problems which are at present agitating the political mind is an infusion of the golden rule into politics, and of the decalogue into the laws of the land. This cannot be accomplished either by putting the name of Deity into the Constitution, or by the union of church and state, but by bringing to bear upon the government the influence of that class of people who are the spiritual strength of the church.

Again, women are more peace-loving than men. This has led some to say that women ought not to vote because they cannot bear arms. This claim is usually made by men who, in the hour of their country's need, sent substitutes to the army, or fled to Canada; or else, by the young men who have been born since the close of the war. The class who never make the statement that the ballot and the bayonet go together, are the heroes maimed in battle or broken in health, and prematurely old because of exposure and suffering in their country's behalf. They know the value of women in war time, and that women do go to war. Had it not been for the forty thousand women who went to the hospitals, visited the camps and battle-fields to care for our wounded heroes, there are thousands with us today who would never have seen home or friends again, but who would be sleeping in unknown graves. These heroes remember not only the services of the women in the field, but the great sanitary commission, sending its millions of dollars' worth of those things which were made for health and comfort, to hospital and fields during those terrible years of suffering. But, best of all, they remember the Grand Army of the Republic that staid at home, who, when the citizen soldiers laid down the implements of peace, to take up the weapons of war, took those implements of peace and went to the workshop, the factory, the counting-room, the store and the farm, filling the places of men and earning the livelihood for the family, when prices were such as had never been known in the history of our time, and when the news came flashing over the wire that they who had gone forth would never more return, the broken-hearted wives, forgetting the agony of their own loss, gathered their children about their knees, and asked God that they might be both father and mother to their fatherless little ones; and alone and single-handed all over the land women have reared to manhood and womanhood the children left by their dead heroes as their only legacy. Then some man who never struck a blow in behalf of his country exclaims: "Women must not vote, because they cannot fight." In the face of the loyalty of America's Womanhood the darkest stain on the escutcheon of our country is its utter forgetfulness of their services. From the beginning of its history to the present hour, by no act of Congress or of any state legislature has there ever been any public recognition of the services of its women. By no monument of granite, or marble, or bronze has it ever commemorated the memory of their patriotism. They are as utterly forgotten as if they had never lived, suffered or died for their country.

When a committee appealed to Congress, asking that when the negroes were enfranchised the loyal women might share their freedom, Congress answered: "It is the negro's hour, women must wait." The negro's hour struck, again women asked for liberty, and were again assured that Congress had weightier measures to consume its time and attention–it had the South to reconstruct, and the North to bring back to a sound business basis. The severest form of punishment it could devise for the crime of treason was disfranchisement, reducing traitors to the level of loyal women, who had given all they had for their country, and this is the only recognition that Congress has ever granted them. I have traveled in many countries, and in every one, save in these United States, I have seen stately monuments erected in grateful memory of the patriotic services of women. We had a faint hope of at least a part in one, when we learned that a national monument to the Pilgrims was to be unveiled at Plymouth, Mass. On the great day, scores of women gathered to witness the ceremonies. We were told that this government had taught the nations of the world the great principle that, "taxation without representation is tyranny." We sighed as we remembered the taxes we had paid, and yet were still refused representation. We were also told that in this country under God the people rule, and yet the constitution of every state in the Union, at that time, declared it was the males, and not the people who rule. The orator again assured us that the powers of this government were just, since governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; but they recently hung a woman, in one of these just states, who had never given her consent to the law under which she was executed, nor had the consent of women, her peers, ever been asked regarding it. Then we were told that as the voice of the people is the voice of God. and this was repeated both in Latin and in English, that there might be no doubt in regard to it, that the laws of our land were the crystallized voice of Deity. The speaker, forgetting that in the compass of the people's voice there is a soprano as well as a bass, and that if the voice of the people is the voice of God, we will never know what His voice is until the bass and soprano unite in harmonious sound, the resultant of which will be the voice of God. After many other statements of a similar character, which are true in spirit, but had never been practiced by any nation, the monument was unveiled, and our hearts sank with intense disappointment when we read the inscription, "Erected by a grateful country in honor of the Pilgrim Fathers." We had again witnessed the evidence of a country's easy forgetfulness of its debt to women. We felt just as we do when we gaze on that picture so familiar to you all; a ship in the background, between it and the shore is a man carrying what seems to be a woman in his arms, on the beach kneel a company of people, and farther up the beach stand another group with uplifted hands, thanking God for their deliverance. They look like men and women. You wonder what company of people it is, and read the inscription beneath the picture to learn, that it is not a company of men and women at all, but is a representation of "The landing of the Forefathers." You instinctively exclaim how kind the forefathers were to carry each other ashore, and how much some of them resemble mothers, but they were not mothers, they were all fathers, every mother of them.

There never was another country which had so many parents as we have had, but they have all been fathers–pilgrim fathers, Plymouth fathers, forefathers, revolutionary fathers, city fathers and church fathers, fathers of every description–but, like Topsy, we have never had a mother. In this lies the weakness of all republics. They have been fathered to death. The great need of our country today is a little mothering to undo the evils of too much fathering. Like Israel of old, when the people were reduced to their utmost extremity, in order to save the nation, there was needed a ruler who was at once a statesman, a commander-in-chief of the armies and a righteous judge, who would render justice and be impervious to bribes. God called a woman to rule, and Deborah tells us in her wonderful ode that the great need of the nation in this hour of its extremity was motherhood applied to government, when she exclaims, "Behold the condition of Israel when I, Deborah, a mother in Israel, arose."

"Then was there peace in Israel" and prosperity and success, as "Deborah ruled the people in righteousness for forty years."

Women are more law-abiding than men. It is universally accepted that the class of people who best obey the laws are best fitted to make them. It is also stated that everything in a republic depends upon the obedience of the citizens to law. I visited the penitentiary of a state whose senator made this statement, and asked the warden how many prisoners he had. He replied, "Eight hundred and eighty-nine, of whom eight hundred and eighty are men and nine are women," so that in the State of Kansas the women are a hundred times more law-abiding than the men. In the United States the same year there were sixty-eight thousand and five prisoners, of whom fifty-three thousand were men and only five thousand and five were women, showing that in the whole United States there were ten times as many men criminals as women.

It has been claimed that the small number of women prisoners is due to the fact that women have no part in politics, for in the thought of some people politics and prisons are synonymous terms. If, however, this statement were true of women, then where they are most in politics they would be most in prison We have but one state to which we can turn for statistics. At the close of the census in 1890 Mrs. Clara Bewick Colby, of Washington, consulted the statistics of crime, and learned to our great satisfaction that the only state in the Union in which there was not a woman criminal in jail or penitentiary was Wyoming, the state where women had voted for twenty-one years.

It has also been charged that on account of her emotional nature woman's mental condition would be unsettled if she engaged in anything so exciting as public affairs. But Mrs. Colby also learned from the same source that the only state in which there was not an insane woman in public or private asylum was the State of Wyoming, where women have been voting for twenty-one years. She also learned that Wyoming was the only state in which but few men were insane–only three–and concludes that the exercise of suffrage makes women so peaceable to live with that very few men go insane. The same authority points to the fact that Wyoming is the only state in which during the last two decades the per cent of marriage has increased over the per cent of divorce.

If, then, in a republic the class which votes affects the government in the long run along the line of its nature, and women are more moral, more temperate, more religious, more peace-loving and more law-abiding than men, then if they were permitted to vote they would affect the government along these lines. It needs but a glance at the world's history to show that these are the lines of weakness in republics, and that they have all died because of their immorality, licentiousness, intemperance, their disregard of their own laws, the violation of the statutes of God and by their warlike nature, and they can only become strong by the incoming of that class of people who are strong where they are weak. Then shall the voice of the people become the voice of God, and for the first time in history the voice of God shall be crystallized into the laws of a republic.

Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. 1894. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893, pp. 152-156. Chicago, Il: Monarch Book Company.