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Women and the Alphabet By Thomas Wentworth Higginson Characters: 60786

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"When you were weak and I was strong, I toiled for you. Now you are strong and I am weak. Because of my work for you, I ask your aid. I ask the ballot for myself and my sex. As I stood by you, I pray you stand by me and mine."--CLARA BARTON.

[Appeal to the returned soldiers of the United States, written from Geneva, Switzerland, by Clara Barton, invalidated by long service in the hospitals and on the field daring the civil war.]


It is constantly said that the advocates of woman suffrage ignore the fact of sex. On the contrary, they seem to me to be the only people who do not ignore it.

Were there no such thing as sexual difference, the wrong done to woman by disfranchisement would be far less. It is precisely because her traits, habits, needs, and probable demands are distinct from those of man, that she is not, never was, never can, and never will be, justly represented by him. It is not merely that a vast number of human individuals are disfranchised; it is not even because in many of our States the disfranchisement extends to a majority, that the evil is so great; it is not merely that we disfranchise so many units and tens: but we exclude a special element, a peculiar power, a distinct interest,-- in a word, a sex.

Whether this sex is more or less wise, more or less important, than the other sex, does not affect the argument: it is a sex, and, being such, is more absolutely distinct from the other than is any mere race from any other race. The more you emphasize the fact of sex, the more you strengthen our argument. If the white man cannot justly represent the negro,-- although the two races are now so amalgamated that not even the microscope can always decide to which race one belongs,--how impossible that one sex should stand in legislation for the other sex!

This is so clear that, so soon as it is stated, there is a shifting of the ground. "But consider the danger of introducing the sexual influence into legislation!" ... Then we are sure to be confronted with the case of Miss Vinnie Ream, the sculptor. See how that beguiling damsel cajoled all Congress into buying poor statues! they say. If one woman could do so much, how would it be with one hundred? Precisely the Irishman's argument against the use of pillows: he had put one feather on a rock, and found it a very uncomfortable support. Grant, for the sake of argument, that Miss Ream gave us poor art; but what gave her so much power? Plainly that she was but a single feather. Congress being composed exclusively of men, the mere fact of her sex gave her an exceptional and dangerous influence. Fill a dozen of the seats in Congress with women, and that danger at least will be cancelled. The taste in art may be no better; but an artist will no more be selected for being a pretty girl than now for being a pretty boy. So in all such cases. Here, as everywhere, it is the advocate of woman suffrage who wishes to recognize the fact of sex, and guard against its perils.

It is precisely so in education. Believing boys and girls to be unlike, and yet seeing them to be placed by the Creator on the same planet and in the same family, we hold it safer to follow his method. As they are born to interest each other, to stimulate each other, to excite each other, it seems better to let this impulse work itself off in a natural way,--to let in upon it the fresh air and the daylight, instead of attempting to suppress and destroy it. In a mixed school, as in a family, the fact of sex presents itself as an unconscious, healthy, mutual stimulus. It is in the separate schools that the healthy relation vanishes, and the thought of sex becomes a morbid and diseased thing. This observation first occurred to me when a pupil and a teacher in boys' boarding-schools years ago: there was such marked superiority as to sexual refinement in the day-scholars, who saw their sisters and the friends of their sisters every day. All later experience of our public-school system has confirmed this opinion. It is because I believe the distinction of sex to be momentous, that I dread to see the sexes educated apart.

The truth of the whole matter is that Nature will have her rights-- innocently if she can, guiltily if she must; and it is a little amusing that the writer of an ingenious paper on the other side, called "Sex in Politics," in an able New York journal, puts our case better than I can put it, before he gets through, only that he is then speaking of wealth, not women: "Anybody who considers seriously what is meant by the conflict between labor and capital, of which we are only just witnessing the beginning, and what is to be done to give money legitimately that influence on legislation which it now exercises illegitimately, must acknowledge at once that the next generation will have a thorny path to travel." The italics are my own. Precisely what this writer wishes to secure for money, we claim for the disfranchised half of the human race,-- open instead of secret influence; the English tradition instead of the French; women as rulers, not as kings' mistresses; women as legislators, not merely as lobbyists; women employing in legitimate form that power which they will otherwise illegitimately wield. This is all our demand.


"It would be a great convenience, my hearers," said old Parson Withington of Newbury, "if the moral of a fable could only be written at the beginning of it, instead of the end. But it never is." Commonly the only thing to be done is to get hold of a few general principles, hold to those, and trust that all will turn out well. No matter how thoroughly a reform may have been discussed,--negro emancipation or free-trade, for instance,--it is a step in the dark at last, and the detailed results never turn out to be precisely according to the programme.

An "esteemed correspondent," who has written some of the best things yet said in America in behalf of the enfranchisement of woman, writes privately to express some solicitude, since, as she thinks, we are not ready for it yet. "I am convinced," she writes, "of the abstract right of women to vote; but all I see of the conduct of the existing women, into whose hands this change would throw the power, inclines me to hope that this power will not be conceded till education shall have prepared a class of women fit to take the responsibilities."

Gradual emancipation, in short!--for fear of trusting truth and justice to take care of themselves. Who knew, when the negroes were set free, whether they would at first use their freedom well, or ill? Would they work? would they avoid crimes? would they justify their freedom? The theory of education and preparation seemed very plausible. Against that, there was only the plain theory which Elizabeth Heyrick first announced to England,--"Immediate, unconditional emancipation." "The best preparation for freedom is freedom." What was true of the negroes then is true of women now.

"The lovelier traits of womanhood," writes earnestly our correspondent, "simplicity, faith, guilelessness, unfit them to conduct public affairs, where one must deal with quacks and charlatans.... We are not all at once 'as gods, knowing good and evil;' and the very innocency of our lives, and the habits of pure homes, unfit us to manage a certain class who will flock to this standard."

But the basis of all republican government is in the assumption that good is ultimately stronger than evil. If we once abandon this, our theory has gone to pieces, at any rate. If we hold to it, good women are no more helpless and useless than good men. The argument that would here disfranchise women has been used before now to disfranchise clergymen. I believe that in some States they are still disfranchised; and, if they are not, it is partly because good is found to be as strong as evil, after all, and partly because clergymen are not found to be so angelically good as to be useless. I am very confident that both these truths will be found to apply to women also.

Whatever else happens, we may be pretty sure that one thing will. The first step towards the enfranchisement of women will blow to the winds the tradition of the angelic superiority of women. Just so surely as women vote, we shall occasionally have women politicians, women corruptionists, and women demagogues. Conceding, for the sake of courtesy, that none such now exist, they will be born as inevitably, after enfranchisement, as the frogs begin to pipe in the spring. Those who doubt it ignore human nature; and, if they are not prepared for this fact, they had better consider it in season, and take sides accordingly. In these pages, at least, they have been warned.

What then? Suppose women are not "as gods, knowing good and evil:" they are not to be emancipated as gods, but as fallible human beings. They are to come out of an ignorant innocence, that may be only weakness, into a wise innocence that will be strength. It is too late to remand American women into a Turkish or Jewish tutelage: they have emerged too far not to come farther. In a certain sense, no doubt, the butterfly is safest in the chrysalis. When the soft thing begins to emerge, the world certainly seems a dangerous place; and it is hard to say what will be the result of the emancipation. But when she is once half out, there is no safety for the pretty creature but to come the rest of the way, and use her wings.


When Dr. Johnson had published his English Dictionary, and was asked by a lady how he chanced to make a certain mistake that she pointed out, he answered, "Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance." I always feel disposed to make the same comment on the assertion of any woman that she has all the rights she wants. For every woman is, or may be, or might have been, a mother. And when she comes to know that even now, in many parts of the Union, a married mother has no legal right to her child, I should think her tongue would cleave to her mouth before she would utter those foolish words again.

All the things I ever heard or read against slavery did not fix in my soul such a hostility to it as a single scene in a Missouri slave-jail many years ago. As I sat there, a purchaser came in to buy a little girl to wait on his wife. Three little sisters were brought in, from eight to twelve years old: they were mulattoes, with sweet, gentle manners; they had evidently been taken good care of, and their pink calico frocks were clean and whole. The gentleman chose one of them, and then asked her, good-naturedly enough, if she did not wish to go with him. She burst into tears, and said, "I want to stay with my mother." But her tears were as powerless, of course, as so many salt drops from the ocean.

That was all. But all the horrors of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the stories told me by fugitive slaves, the scarred backs I afterwards saw by dozens among colored recruits, did not impress me as did that hour in the jail. The whole probable career of that poor, wronged, motherless, shrinking child passed before me in fancy. It seemed to me that a man must be utterly lost to all manly instincts who would not give his life to overthrow such a system. It seemed to me that the woman who could tolerate, much less defend it, could not herself be true, could not be pure, or must be fearfully and grossly ignorant.

You acquiesce, fair lady. You say it was horrible indeed, but, thank God! it is past. Past? Is it so? Past, if you please, as to the law of slavery, but as to the legal position of woman still a fearful reality. It is not many years since a scene took place in a Boston court-room, before Chief Justice Chapman, which was worse, in this respect, than that scene in St. Louis, inasmuch as the mother was present when the child was taken away, and the wrong was sanctioned by the highest judicial officer of the State. Two little girls, who had been taken from their mother by their guardian, their father being dead, had taken refuge with her against his wishes; and he brought them into court under a writ of habeas corpus, and the court awarded them to him as against their mother. "The little ones were very much affected," says the "Boston Herald," "by the result of the decision which separated them from their mother; and force was required to remove them from the court-room. The distress of the mother was also very evident."

There must have been some special reason, you say, for such a seeming outrage: she was a bad woman. No: she was "a lady of the highest respectability." No charge was made against her; but, being left a widow, she had married again; and for that, and that only, so far as appears, the court took from her the guardianship of her own children,--bone of her bone, and flesh of her flesh, the children for whom she had borne the deepest physical agony of womanhood,--and awarded them to somebody else. You say, "But her second husband might have misused the children." Might? So the guardian might, and that where they had no mother to protect them. Had the father been left a widower, he might have made a half-dozen successive marriages, have brought stepmother after stepmother to control these children, and no court could have interfered. The father is recognized before the law as the natural guardian of the children. The mother, even though she be left a widow, is not. The consequence is a series of outrages of which only a few scattered instances come before the public; just as in slavery, out of a hundred little girls sold away from their parents, only one case might ever be mentioned in any newspaper.

This case led to an alteration of the law in Massachusetts, but the same thing might yet happen in some States of the Union. The possibility of a single such occurrence shows that there is still a fundamental wrong in the legal position of woman. And the fact that most women do not know it only deepens the wrong--as Dr. Channing said of the contentment of the Southern slaves. The mass of men, even of lawyers, pass by such things, as they formerly passed by the facts of slavery.

There is no lasting remedy for these wrongs, except to give woman the political power to protect herself. There never yet existed a race, nor a class, nor a sex, which was noble enough to be trusted with political power over another sex, or class, or race. It is for self-defence that woman needs the ballot. And in view of a single such occurrence as I have given, I charge that woman who professes to have "all the rights she wants," either with a want of all feeling of motherhood, or with "ignorance, madam, pure ignorance."


There is one special point on which men seem to me rather insincere toward women. When they speak to women, the objection made to their voting is usually that they are too angelic. But when men talk to each other, the general assumption is, that women should not vote because they have not brains enough-- or, as old Theophilus Parsons wrote a century ago, have not "a sufficient acquired discretion."

It is an important difference. Because, if women are too angelic to vote, they can only be fitted for it by becoming more wicked, which is not desirable. On the other hand, if there is no objection but the want of brains, then our public schools are equalizing that matter fast enough. Still, there are plenty of people who have never got beyond this objection. Listen to the first discussion that you encounter among men on this subject, wherever they may congregate. Does it turn upon the question of saintliness, or of brains? Let us see.

I travelled the other day upon the Boston and Providence Railroad with a party of mechanics, mostly English and Scotch. They were discussing this very question, and, with the true English habit, thought it was all a matter of property. Without it a woman certainly should not vote, they said; but they all favored, to my surprise, the enfranchisement of women of property. "As a general rule," said the chief speaker, "a woman that's got property has got sense enough to vote."

There it was! These foreigners, who had found their own manhood by coming to a land which not only the Pilgrim Fathers but the Pilgrim Mothers had settled, and subdued, and freed for them, were still ready to disfranchise most of the daughters of those mothers, on the ground that they had not "sense enough to vote." I thanked them for their blunt truthfulness, so much better than the flattery of most of the native-born.

My other instance shall be a conversation overheard in a railway station near Boston, between two intelligent citizens, who had lately listened to Anna Dickinson. "The best of it was," said one, "to see our minister introduce her." "Wonder what the Orthodox churches would have said to that ten years ago?" said the other. "Never mind," was the answer. "Things have changed. What I think is, it's all in the bringing up. If women were brought up just as men are, they'd have just as much brains." (Brains again!) "That's what Beecher says. Boys are brought up to do business, and take care of themselves: that's where it is. Girls are brought up to dress and get married. Start 'em alike! That's what Beecher says. Start 'em alike, and see if girls haven't got just as much brains."

"Still harping on my daughter," and on the condition of her brains! It is on this that the whole question turns, in the opinion of many men. Ask ten men their objections to woman suffrage. One will plead that women are angels. Another fears discord in families. Another points out that women cannot fight,-- he himself being very likely a non-combatant. Another quotes St. Paul for this purpose,--not being, perhaps, in the habit of consulting that authority on any other point. But with the others, very likely, everything will turn on the question of brains. They believe, or think they believe, that women have not sense enough to vote. They may not say so to women, but they habitually say it to men. If you wish to meet the common point of view of masculine voters, you must find it here.

It is fortunate that it is so. Of all points, this is the easiest to settle; for every intelligent woman, even if she be opposed to woman suffrage, helps to settle it. Every good lecture by a woman, every good book written by one, every successful business enterprise carried on, helps to decide the question. Every class of girls that graduates from every good school helps to pile up the argument on this point. And the vast army of women, constituting nine out of ten of the teachers in our American schools, may appeal as logically to their pupils, and settle the argument based on brains. "If we had sense enough to educate you," they may say to each graduating class of boys, "we have sense enough to vote beside you."

"The ladies actively working to secure the cooperation of their sex in caucuses and citizens' conventions are not actuated by love of notoriety, and are not, therefore, to be classed with the absolute woman suffragists."--Boston Daily Transcript, Sept. 1, 1879.


When the eloquent colored abolitionist, Charles Remond, once said upon the platform that George Washington, having been a slaveholder, was a villain, Wendell Phillips remonstrated by saying, "Charles, the epithet is not felicitous." Reformers are apt to be pelted with epithets quite as ill-chosen. How often has the charge figured in history, that they were "actuated by love of notoriety"! The early Christians, it was generally believed, took a positive pleasure in being thrown to the lions, under the influence of this motive; and at a later period there was a firm conviction that the Huguenots consented readily to being broken on the wheel, or sawed in pieces between two boards, and felt amply rewarded by the pleasure of being talked about. During the whole anti-slavery movement, while the abolitionists were mobbed, fined, and imprisoned,--while they were tabooed by good society, depleted of their money, kept out of employment, by the mere fact of their abolitionism,--there never was a moment when their motive was not considered by many persons to be the love of notoriety. Why should the advocates of woman suffrage expect any different treatment now?

It is not necessary, in order to dispose of this charge, to claim that all reformers are heroes or saints. Even in the infancy of any reform, it takes along with it some poor material; and unpleasant traits are often developed by the incidents of the contest. Doubtless many reformers attain to a certain enjoyment of a fight, at last: it is one of the dangerous tendencies which those committed to this vocation must resist. But, so far as my observation goes, those who engage in reform for the sake of notoriety generally hurt the reform so much that they render it their chief service when they leave it; and this happy desertion usually comes pretty early in their career. The besetting sin of reformers is not, so far as I can judge, the love of notoriety, but the fate of power and of flattery within their own small circle,--a temptation quite different from the other, both in its origin and its results.

Notoriety comes so soon to a reformer that its charms, whatever they may be, soon pall upon the palate, just as they do in case of a popular poet or orator, who is so used to seeing himself in print that he hardly notices it. I suppose there is no young person so modest that he does not, on first seeing his name in a newspaper, cut out the passage with a certain tender solicitude, and perhaps purchase a few extra copies of the fortunate journal. But when the same person has been battered by a score or two of years in successive unpopular reforms, I suppose that he not only would leave the paper uncut or unpurchased, but would hardly take the pains even to correct a misstatement, were it asserted that he had inherited a fortune or murdered his grandmother. The moral is that the love of notoriety is soon amply filled, in a reformer's experience, and that he will not, as a rule, sacrifice home and comfort, money and friends, without some stronger inducement. This is certainly true of most of the men who have interested themselves in this particular movement, the "weak-minded men," as the reporters, with witty antithesis, still describe them; and it must be much the same with the "strong-minded women" who share their base career.

And it is to be remembered, above all, that, considered as an engine for obtaining notoriety, the woman-suffrage agitation is a great waste of energy. The same net result could have been won with far less expenditure in other ways. There is not a woman connected with it who could not have achieved far more real publicity as a manager of charity fairs or as a sensation letter-writer. She could have done this, too, with far less trouble, without the loss of a single genteel friend, without forfeiting a single social attention, without having a single ill-natured thing said about her--except perhaps that she bored people, a charge to which the highest and lowest forms of prominence are equally open. Nay, she might have done even more than this, if notoriety was her sole aim: for she might have become a "variety" minstrel or a female pedestrian; she might have written a scandalous novel; she might have got somebody to aim at her that harmless pistol, which has helped the fame of so many a wandering actress, while its bullet somehow never hits anything but the wall. All this she might have done, and obtained a notoriety beyond doubt. Instead of this, she has preferred to prowl about, picking up a precarious publicity by giving lectures to willing lyceums, writing books for eager publishers, organizing schools, setting up hospitals, and achieving for her sex something like equal rights before the law. Either she has shown herself, as a seeker after notoriety, to be a most foolish or ill-judging person,-- or else, as was said of Washington's being a villain, "the epithet is not felicitous."


"The Saturday Review," in an article which denounces all equality in marriage laws and all plans of woman suffrage, admits frankly the practical obstacles in the way of the process of voting. "Possibly the presence of women as voters would tend still further to promote order than has been done by the ballot." It plants itself wholly on one objection, which goes far deeper, thus:--

"If men choose to say that women are not their equals, women have nothing to do but to give in. Physical force, the ultimate basis of all society and all government, must be on the side of the men; and those who have the key of the position will not consent permanently to abandon it."

It is a great pleasure when an opponent of justice is willing to fall back thus frankly upon the Rob Roy theory:--

"The good old rule

Sufficeth him, the simple plan

That they should take who have the power,

And they should keep who can."

It is easy, I think, to show that the theory is utterly false, and that the basis of civilized society is not physical force, but, on the contrary, brains.

In the city where the "Saturday Review" is published, there are three regiments of "Guards" which are the boast of the English army, and are believed by their officers to be the finest troops in the world. They have deteriorated in size since the Crimean war; but I believe that the men of one regiment still average six feet two inches in height; and I am sure that nobody ever saw them in line without noticing the contrast between these magnificent men and the comparatively puny officers who command them. These officers are from the highest social rank in England, the governing classes; and if it were the whole object of this military organization to give a visible proof of the utter absurdity of the "Saturday Review's" theory, it could not be better done. There is no country in Europe, I suppose, where the hereditary aristocracy is physically equal to that of England, or where the intellectual class has so good a physique. But set either the House of Lords or the "Saturday Review" contributors upon a hand-to-hand fight against an equal number of "navvies" or "coster-mongers," and the patricians would have about as much chance as a crew of Vassar girls in a boat-race with Yale or Harvard. Take the men of England alone, and it is hardly too much to say that physical force, instead of being the basis of political power in any class, is apt to be found in inverse ratio to it. In case of revolution, the strength of the governing class in any country is not in its physical, but in its mental power. Rank and money, and the power to influence and organize and command, are merely different modifications of mental training, brought to bear by somebody.

In our country, without class distinctions, the same truth can be easily shown. Physical power lies mainly in the hands of the masses: wherever a class or profession possesses more than its numerical share of power, it has usually less than its proportion of physical vigor. This is easily shown from the vast body of evidence collected during our civil war. In the volume containing the medical statistics of the Provost Marshal General's Bureau, we have the tabulated reports of about 600,000 persons subject to draft, and of about 500,000 recruits, substitutes, and drafted men; showing the precise physical condition of more than a million men.

It appears that, out of the whole number examined, rather more than 257 in each 1000 were found unfit for military service. It is curious to see how generally the physical power among these men is in inverse ratio to the social and political prominence of the class they represent. Out of 1000 unskilled laborers, for instance, only 348 are physically disqualified; among tanners, only 216; among iron-workers, 189. On the other hand, among lawyers, 544 out of 1000 are disqualified; among journalists, 740; among clergymen, 954. Grave divines are horrified at the thought of admitting women to vote, since they cannot fight; though not one in twenty of their own number is fit for military duty, if he volunteered. Of the editors who denounce woman suffrage, only about one in four could himself carry a musket; while of the lawyers who fill Congress, the majority could not be defenders of their country, but could only be defended. If we were to distribute political power with reference to the "physical basis" which the "Saturday Review" talks about, it would be a wholly new distribution, and would put things more hopelessly upside down than did the worst phase of the French Commune. If, then, a political theory so utterly breaks down when applied to men, why should we insist on resuscitating it in order to apply it to women? The truth is that as civilization advances the world is governed more and more unequivocally by brains; and whether those brains are deposited in a strong body or a weak one becomes a matter of less and less importance. But it is only in the very first stage of barbarism that mere physical strength makes mastery; and the long head has controlled the long arm since the beginning of recorded time.

And it must be remembered that even these statistics very imperfectly represent the case. They do not apply to the whole male sex, but actually to the picked portion only, to the men presumed to be of military age, excluding the very old and the very young. Were these included, the proportion unfit for military duty would of course be far greater. Moreover, it takes no account of courage or cowardice, patriotism or zeal. How much all these considerations tell upon the actual proportion may be seen from the fact that in the town where I am writing, for instance, out of some twelve thousand inhabitants and about three thousand voters, there are only some three hundred who actually served in the civil war,--a number too small to exert a perceptible influence on any local election. When we see the community yielding up its voting power into the hands of those who have actually done military service, it will be time enough to exclude women for not doing such service. If the alleged physical basis operates as an exclusion of all non-combatants, it should surely give a mo

nopoly to the actual combatants.


The tendency of modern society is not to concentrate power in the hands of the few, but to give a greater and greater share to the many. Read Froissart's Chronicles, and Scott's novels of chivalry, and you will see how thoroughly the difference between patrician and plebeian was then a difference of physical strength. The knight, being better nourished and better trained, was apt to be the bodily superior of the peasant, to begin with; and this strength was reinforced by armor, weapons, horse, castle, and all the resources of feudal warfare. With this greater strength went naturally the assumption of greater political power. To the heroes of "Ivanhoe," or "The Fair Maid of Perth," it would have seemed as absurd that yeomen and lackeys should have any share in the government, as it would seem to the members in an American legislature that women should have any such share. In a contest of mailed knights, any number of unarmed men were but so many women. As Sir Philip Sidney said, "The wolf asketh not how many the sheep may be."

But time and advancing civilization have tended steadily in one direction. "He giveth power to the weak, and to them who have no might He increaseth strength." Every step in the extension of political rights has consisted in opening them to a class hitherto humbler. From kings to nobles, from nobles to burghers, from burghers to yeomen; in short, from strong to weak, from high to low, from rich to poor. All this is but the unconscious following out of one sure principle,--that legislation is mainly for the protection of the weak against the strong, and that for this purpose the weak must be directly represented. The strong are already protected by their strength: it is the weak who need all the vantage-ground that votes and legislatures can give them. The feudal chiefs were stronger without laws than with them. "Take care of yourselves in Sutherland," was the anxious message of the old Highlander: "the law has come as far as Tain." It was the peaceful citizen who needed the guaranty of law against brute force.

But can laws be executed without brute force? Not without a certain amount of it, but that amount under civilization grows less and less. Just in proportion as the masses are enfranchised, statutes execute themselves without crossing bayonets. "In a republic," said De Tocqueville, "if laws are not always respectable, they are always respected." If every step in freedom has brought about a more peaceable state of society, why should that process stop at this precise point? Besides, there is no possibility in nature of a political division in which all the men shall be on one side and all the women on the other. The mutual influence of the sexes forbids it. The very persons who hint at such a fear refute themselves at other times, by arguing that "women will always be sufficiently represented by men," or that "every woman will vote as her husband thinks, and it will merely double the numbers." As a matter of fact, the law will prevail in all English-speaking nations: a few men fighting for it will be stronger than many fighting against it; and if those few have both the law and the women on their side, there will be no trouble.

The truth is that in this age cedant arma togae: it is the civilian who rules on the throne or behind it, and who makes the fighting-men his mere agents. Yonder policeman at the corner looks big and formidable: he protects the women and overawes the boys. But away in some corner of the City Hill there is some quiet man, out of uniform, perhaps a consumptive or a dyspeptic or a cripple, who can overawe the burliest policeman by his authority as city marshal or as mayor. So an army is but a larger police; and its official head is that plain man at the White House, who makes or unmakes, not merely brevet- brigadiers, but major-generals in command,--who can by the stroke of the pen convert the most powerful man of the army into the most powerless. Take away the occupant of the position, and put in a woman, and will she become impotent because her name is Elizabeth or Maria Theresa? It is brains that more and more govern the world; and whether those brains be on the throne, or at the ballot- box, they will soon make the owner's sex a subordinate affair. If woman is also strong in the affections, so much the better. "Win the hearts of your subjects," said Lord Burleigh to Queen Elizabeth, "and you will have their hands and purses."

War is the last appeal, and happily in these days the rarest appeal, of statesmanship. In the multifarious other duties that make up statesmanship we cannot spare the brains, the self-devotion, and the enthusiasm of woman. One of the most important treaties of modern history, the peace of Cambray, in 1529, was negotiated, after previous attempts had failed, by two women,--Margaret, aunt of Charles V., and Louisa, mother of Francis I. Voltaire said that Christina of Sweden was the only sovereign of her time who maintained the dignity of the throne against Mazarin and Richelieu. Frederick the Great said that the Seven Years' War was waged against three women,--Elizabeth of Russia, Maria Theresa, and Mme. Pompadour. There is nothing impotent in the statesmanship of women when they are admitted to exercise it: they are only powerless for good when they are obliged to obtain by wheedling and flattery a sway that should be recognized, responsible, and limited.


There is in Boswell's "Life of Johnson" a correspondence which is well worth reading by both advocates and opponents of woman suffrage. Boswell, who was of an old Scotch family, had a difference of opinion with his father about an entailed estate which had descended to them. Boswell wished the title so adjusted as to cut off all possibility of female heirship. His father, on the other hand, wished to recognize such a contingency. Boswell wrote to Johnson in 1776 for advice, urging a series of objections, physiological and moral, to the inheritance of a family estate by a woman; though, as he magnanimously admits, "they should be treated with great affection and tenderness, and always participate of the prosperity of the family."

Dr. Johnson, for a wonder, took the other side, defended female heirship, and finally summed up thus: "It cannot but occur that women have natural and equitable claims as well as men, and these claims are not to be capriciously or lightly superseded or infringed. When fiefs inspired military service, it is easily discerned why females could not inherit them; but the reason is at an end. As manners make laws, so manners likewise repeal them."

This admirable statement should be carefully pondered by those who hold that suffrage should be only coextensive with military duty. The position that woman cannot properly vote because she cannot fight for her vote efficiently is precisely like the position of feudalism and of Boswell, that she could not properly hold real estate because she could not fight for it. Each position may have had some plausibility in its day, but the same current of events has made each obsolete. Those who in these days believe in giving woman the ballot argue precisely as Dr. Johnson did in 1776. Times have changed, manners have softened, education has advanced, public opinion now acts more forcibly; and the reference to physical force, though still implied, is implied more and more remotely. The political event of the age, the overthrow of American slavery, would not have been accomplished without the "secular arm" of Grant and Sherman, let us agree: but neither would it have been accomplished without the moral power of Garrison the non-resistant, and Harriet Beecher Stowe the woman. When the work is done, it is unfair to disfranchise any of the participants. Dr. Johnson was right: "When fiefs [or votes] implied military service, it is easily discerned why women should not inherit [or possess] them; but the reason is at an end. As manners make laws, so manners likewise repeal them."

Under the feudal system it would have been absurd that women should hold real estate, for the next armed warrior could dispossess her. By Gail Hamilton's reasoning, it is equally absurd now: "One man is stronger than one woman, and ten men are stronger than ten women; and the nineteen millions of men in this country will subdue, capture, and execute or expel the nineteen millions of women just as soon as they set about it." Very well: why, then, do not all the landless men in a town unite, and take away the landed property of all the women? Simply because we now live in civilized society and under a reign of law; because those men's respect for law is greater than their appetite for property; or, if you prefer, because even those landless men know that their own interest lies, in the long-run, on the side of law. It will be precisely the same with voting. When any community is civilized up to the point of enfranchising women, it will be civilized up to the point of sustaining their vote, as it now sustains their property rights, by the whole material force of the community. When the thing is once established, it will no more occur to anybody that a woman's vote is powerless because she cannot fight, than it now occurs to anybody that her title to real estate is invalidated by the same circumstance.

Woman is in the world; she cannot be got rid of: she must be a serf or an equal; there is no middle ground. We have outgrown the theory of serfdom in a thousand ways, and may as well abandon the whole. Women have now a place in society: their influence will be exerted, at any rate, in war and in peace, legally or illegally; and it had better be exerted in direct, legitimate, and responsible methods, than in ways that are dark, and by tricks that have not even the merit of being plain.


One of the few plausible objections brought against women's voting is this: that it would demoralize the suffrage by letting in very dangerous voters; that virtuous women would not vote, and vicious women would. It is a very unfounded alarm.

For, in the first place, our institutions rest--if they have any basis at all--on this principle, that good is stronger than evil, that the majority of men really wish to vote rightly, and that only time and patience are needed to get the worst abuses righted. How any one can doubt this, who watches the course of our politics, I do not see. In spite of the great disadvantage of having masses of ignorant foreign voters to deal with,--and of native black voters, who have been purposely kept in ignorance,--we certainly see wrongs gradually righted, and the truth by degrees prevail. Even the one great, exceptional case of New York city has been reached at last; and the very extent of the evil has brought its own cure. Now, why should this triumph of good over evil be practicable among men, and not apply to women also?

It must be either because women, as a class, are worse than men,--which will hardly be asserted,--or because, for some special reason, bad women have an advantage over good women such as has no parallel in the other sex. But I do not see how this can be. Let us consider.

It is certain that good women are not less faithful and conscientious than good men. It is generally admitted that those most opposed to suffrage will very soon, on being fully enfranchised, feel it their duty to vote. They may at first misuse the right through ignorance, but they certainly will not shirk it. It is this conscientious habit on which I rely without fear. Never yet, when public duty required, have American women failed to meet the emergency; and I am not afraid of it now. Moreover, when they are once enfranchised and their votes are needed, all the men who now oppose or ridicule the demand for suffrage will begin to help them to exercise it. When the wives are once enfranchised, you may be sure that the husbands will not neglect those of their own household: they will provide them with ballots, vehicles, and policemen, and will contrive to make the voting-places pleasanter than many parlors, and quieter than some churches.

On the other hand, it seems altogether probable that the very worst women, so far from being ostentatious in their wickedness upon election day, will, on the contrary, so disguise and conceal themselves as to deceive the very elect, and, if it were possible, the very policemen. For whatever party they may vote, they will contribute to make the voting-places as orderly as railway stations. These covert ways are the very habit of their lives, at least by daylight; and the women who have of late done the most conspicuous and open mischief in our community have done it, not in their true character as evil, but, on the contrary, under a mask of elevated purpose.

That women, when they vote, will commit their full share of errors I have always maintained. But that they will collectively misuse their power seems to me out of the question; and that the good women are going to stay at home, and let bad women do the voting, appears quite as incredible. In fact, if they do thus, it is a fair question whether the epithets "good" and "bad" ought not, politically speaking, to change places. For it naturally occurs to every one, on election day, that the man who votes, even if he votes wrong, is really a better man, so far as political duties go, than the very loftiest saint who stays at home and prays that other people may vote right And it is hard to see why it should be otherwise with women.


It is often said that when women vote their votes will make no difference in the count, became they will merely duplicate the votes of their husbands and brothers. Then these same objectors go on and predict all sorts of evil things for which women will vote quite apart from their husbands and brothers. Moreover, the evils thus predicted are apt to be diametrically opposite. Thus Goldwin Smith predicts that women will be governed by priests, and then goes on to predict that women will vote to abolish marriage; not seeing that these two predictions destroy each other.

On the other hand, I think that the advocates of woman suffrage often err by claiming too much,--as that all women will vote for peace, for total abstinence, against slavery, and the rest. It seems better to rest the argument on general principles, and not to seek to prophesy too closely. The only thing which I feel safe in predicting is that woman suffrage will be used, as it should be, for the protection of woman. Self-respect and self-protection,--these are, as has been already said, the two great things for which woman needs the ballot.

It is not in the nature of things, I take it, that a class politically subject can obtain justice from the governing class. Not the least of the benefits gained by political equality for the colored people of the South is that the laws now generally make no difference of color in penalties for crime. In slavery times there were dozens of crimes which were punished more severely by the statute if committed by a slave or a free negro than if done by a white. I feel very sure that under the reign of impartial suffrage we should see fewer such announcements as this, which I cut from a late New York "Evening Express:"--

"Last night Capt. Lowery, of the Twenty-seventh Precinct, made a descent upon the dance-house in the basement of 96 Greenwich Street, and arrested fifty-two men and eight women. The entire batch was brought before Justice Flammer, at the Tombs Police Court, this morning. Louise Maud, the proprietoress, was held in five hundred dollars bail to answer at the Court of General Sessions. The fifty-two men were fined three dollars each, all but twelve paying at once; and the eight women were fined ten dollars each, and sent to the Island for one month."

The italics are my own. When we reflect that this dance-house, whatever it was, was unquestionably sustained for the gratification of men, rather than of women; when we consider that every one of these fifty-two men came there, in all probability, by his own free will, and to spend money, not to earn it; and that probably a majority of the women were driven there by necessity or betrayal, or force or despair,--it would seem that even an equal punishment would have been cruel injustice to the women. But when we observe how trifling a penalty was three dollars each to these men, whose money was likely to go for riotous living in some form, and forty of whom had the amount of the fine in their pockets; and how hopelessly large an amount was ten dollars each to women who did not, probably, own even the clothes they wore, and who were to be sent to prison for a month in addition,--we see a kind of injustice which would stand a fair chance of being righted, I suspect, if women came into power. Not that they would punish their own sex less severely; probably they would not: but they would put men more on a level as to the penalty.

It may be said that no such justice is to be expected from women; because women in what is called "society" condemn women for mere imprudence, and excuse men for guilt. But it must be remembered that in "society" guilt is rarely a matter of open proof and conviction, in case of men: it is usually a matter of surmise; and it is easy for either love or ambition to set the surmise aside, and to assume that the worst reprobate is "only a little wild." In fact, as Margaret Fuller pointed out years ago, how little conception has a virtuous woman as to what a dissipated young man really is! But let that same woman be a Portia, in the judgment-seat, or even a legislator or a voter, and let her have the unmistakable and actual offender before her, and I do not believe that she will excuse him for a paltry fine, and give the less guilty woman a penalty more than quadruple.

Women will also be sure to bring special sympathy and intelligent attention to the wrongs of children. Who can read without shame and indignation this report from "The New York Herald"?


Peter Hallock, committed on a charge of abducting Lena Dinser, a young girl thirteen years old, whom, it was alleged, her father, George Dinser, had sold to Hallock for purposes of prostitution, was again brought yesterday before Judge Westbrook in the Supreme Court Chambers, on the writ of habeas corpus previously obtained by Mr. William F. Howe, the prisoner's counsel. Mr. Howe claimed that Hallock could not be held on either section of the statute for abduction. Under the first section the complaint, he insisted, should set forth that the child was taken contrary to the wish and against the consent of her parents. On the contrary, the evidence, he urged, showed that the father was a willing party. Under the second section, it was contended that the prisoner could not be held, as there was no averment that the girl was of previous chaste character. Judge Westbrook, a brief counter argument having been made by Mr. Dana, held that the points of Mr. Howe were well taken, and ordered the prisoner's discharge.

Here was a father who, as the newspapers allege, had previously sold two other daughters, body and soul, and against whom the evidence seemed to be in this case clear. Yet through the defectiveness of the statute, or the remissness of the prosecuting attorney, he goes free, without even a trial, to carry on his infamous traffic for other children. Grant that the points were technically well taken and irresistible,--though this is by no means certain,--it is very sure that there should be laws that should reach such atrocities with punishment, whether the father does or does not consent to his child's ruin; and that public sentiment should compel prosecuting officers to be as careful in framing their indictments where human souls are at stake as where the question is of dollars only. It is upon such matters that the influence of women will make itself felt in legislation.


As the older arguments against woman suffrage are abandoned, we hear more and more of the final objection, that the majority of women have not yet expressed themselves on the subject. It is common for such reasoners to make the remark, that if they knew a given number of women--say fifty, or a hundred, or five hundred--who honestly wished to vote, they would favor it. Produce that number of unimpeachable names, and they say that they have reconsidered the matter, and must demand more,--perhaps ten thousand. Bring ten thousand, and the demand again rises. "Prove that the majority of women wish to vote, and they shall vote." "Precisely," we say: "give us a chance to prove it by taking a vote;" and they answer, "By no means."

And, in a certain sense, they are right. It ought not to be settled that way,--by dealing with woman as a class, and taking the vote. The agitators do not merely claim the right of suffrage for her as a class: they claim it for each individual woman, without reference to any other. If there is only one woman in the nation who claims the right to vote, she ought to have it. In Oriental countries all legislation is for classes, and in England it is still mainly so. A man is expected to remain in the station in which he is born; or, if he leaves it, it is by a distinct process, and he comes under the influence, in various ways, of different laws. If the iniquities of the "Contagious Diseases" act in England, for instance, had not been confined in their legal application to the lower social grades, the act would never have passed. It was easy for men of the higher classes to legislate away the modesty of women of the lower classes; but if the daughter of an earl could have been arrested, and submitted to a surgical examination at the will of any policeman, as the daughter of a mechanic might be, the law would not have stood a day. So, through all our slave States, there was class legislation for every person of negro blood: the laws of crime, of punishment, of testimony, were all adapted to classes, not individuals. Emancipation swept this all away, in most cases: classes ceased to exist before the law, so far as men at least were concerned; there were only individuals. The more progress, the less class in legislation. We claim the application of this principle as rapidly as possible to women.

Our community does not refuse permission for women to go unveiled till it is proved that the majority of women desire it; it does not even ask that question: if one woman wishes to show her face, it is allowed. If a woman wishes to travel alone, to walk the streets alone, the police protects her in that liberty. She is not thrust back into her house with the reproof, "My dear madam, at this particular moment the overwhelming majority of women are indoors: prove that they all wish to come out, and you shall come." On the contrary, she comes forth at her own sweet will: the policeman helps her tenderly across the street, and waves back with imperial gesture the obtrusive coal-cart. Some of us claim for each individual woman, in the same way, not merely the right to go shopping, but to go voting; not merely to show her face, but to show her hand.

There will always be many women, as there are many men, who are indifferent to voting. For a time, perhaps always, there will be a larger percentage of this indifference among women. But the natural right to a share in the government under which one lives, and to a voice in making the laws under which one may be hanged,--this belongs to each woman as an individual; and she is quite right to claim it as she needs it, even though the majority of her sex still prefer to take their chance of the penalty, without perplexing themselves about the law. The demand of every enlightened woman who asks for the ballot--like the demand of every enlightened slave for freedom--is an individual demand; and the question whether they represent the majority of their class has nothing to do with it. For a republic like ours does not profess to deal with classes, but with individuals; since "the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, for the common good," as the constitution of Massachusetts says.

And, fortunately, there is such power in an individual demand that it appeals to thousands whom no abstract right touches. Five minutes with Frederick Douglass settled the question, for any thoughtful person, of that man's right to freedom. Let any woman of position desire to enter what is called "the lecture- field," to support herself and her children, and at once all abstract objections to women's speaking in public disappear: her friends may be never so hostile to "the cause," but they espouse her individual cause; the most conservative clergyman subscribes for tickets, but begs that his name may not be mentioned. They do not admit that women, as a class, should speak,--not they; but for this individual woman they throng the hall. Mrs. Dahlgren abhors politics: a woman in Congress, a woman in the committee-room,--what can be more objectionable? But I observe that when Mrs. Dahlgren wishes to obtain more profit by her husband's inventions all objections vanish: she can appeal to Congressmen, she can address committees, she can, I hope, prevail. The individual ranks first in our sympathy: we do not wait to take the census of the "class." Make way for the individual, whether it be Mrs. Dahlgren pleading for the rights of property, or Lucy Stone pleading for the rights of the mother to her child.


After one of the early defeats in the War of the Rebellion, the commander of a Massachusetts regiment wrote home to his father: "I wish people would not write us so many letters of condolence. Our defeat seemed to trouble them much more than it troubles us. Did people suppose there were to be no ups and downs? We expect to lose plenty of battles, but we have enlisted for the war."

It is just so with every successful reform. While enemies and half-friends are proclaiming its defeats, those who advocate it are rejoicing that they have at last got an army into the field to be defeated. Unless this war is to be an exception to all others, even the fact of having joined battle is a great deal. It is the first step. Defeat first; a good many defeats, if you please: victory by and by.

William Wilberforce, writing to a friend in the year 1817, said, "I continue faithful to the measure of Parliamentary reform brought forward by Mr. Pitt. I am firmly persuaded that at present a prodigious majority of the people of this country are adverse to the measure. In my view, so far from being an objection to the discussion, this is rather a recommendation." In 1832 the reform bill was passed.

In the first Parliamentary debate on the slave trade, Colonel Tarleton, who boasted to have killed more men than any one in England, pointing to Wilberforce and others, said, "The inspiration began on that side of the house;" then turning round, "The revolution has reached to this also, and reached to the height of fanaticism and frenzy." The first vote in the House of Commons, in 1790, after arguments in the affirmative by Wilberforce, Pitt, Fox, and Burke, stood, ayes, 88; noes, 163: majority against the measure, 75. In 1807 the slave trade was abolished, and in 1834 slavery in the British colonies followed; and even on the very night when the latter bill passed, the abolitionists were taunted by Gladstone, the great Demerara slaveholder, with having toiled for forty years and done nothing. The Roman Catholic relief bill, establishing freedom of thought in England, had the same experience. It passed in 1829 by a majority of a hundred and three in the House of Lords, which had nine months before refused by a majority of forty-five to take up the question at all.

The English corn laws went down a quarter of a century ago, after a similar career of failures. In 1840 there were hundreds of thousands in England who thought that to attack the corn laws was to attack the very foundations of society. Lord Melbourne, the prime minister, said in Parliament, that "he had heard of many mad things in his life, but, before God, the idea of repealing the corn laws was the very maddest thing of which he had ever heard." Lord John Russell counselled the House to refuse to hear evidence on the operation of the corn laws. Six years after, in 1846, they were abolished forever.

How Wendell Phillips, in the anti-slavery meetings, used to lash pro-slavery men with such formidable facts as these,--and to quote how Clay and Calhoun and Webster and Everett had pledged themselves that slavery should never be discussed, or had proposed that those who discussed it should be imprisoned,-- while, in spite of them all, the great reform was moving on, and the abolitionists were forcing politicians and people to talk, like Sterne's starling, nothing but slavery!

We who were trained in the light of these great agitations have learned their lesson. We expect to march through a series of defeats to victory. The first thing is, as in the anti-slavery movement, so to arouse the public mind as to make this the central question. Given this prominence, and it is enough for this year or for many years to come. Wellington said that there was no such tragedy as a victory, except a defeat. On the other hand, the next best thing to a victory is a defeat, for it shows that the armies are in the field. Without the unsuccessful attempt of to-day, no success to-morrow.

When Mrs. Frances Anne Kemble came to this country, she was amazed to find Americans celebrating the battle of Bunker Hill, which she had always heard claimed as a victory for King George. Such it was doubtless called; but what we celebrated was the fact that the Americans there threw up breastworks, stood their ground, fired away their ammunition,--and were defeated. Thus the reformer, too, looking at his failures, often sees in them such a step forward, that they are the Bunker Hill of a new revolution. Give us plenty of such defeats, and we can afford to wait a score of years for the victories. They will come.

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