|Bible Research > Womanhood > Suffrage|
Although the article below, first published in 1884, contests an issue which has long since been settled in the United States of America — that of the voting rights of women — I reproduce it here as an example of the way in which biblical principles have been applied to the question of women's involvement in political affairs. It has been scarcely more than one century since these biblical principles were widely acknowledged as the proper frame of reference for even such fundamental political questions as the right to vote.
The electronic text here is derived (and corrected) from the uncorrected scans of the text provided online in the Cornell University Library's digital library of primary sources in American social history: The Making of America. —M.D.M.
AMONG the social questions now under discussion, none is more important or more freighted with principles and issues that outreach present consequences and take hold of the very life of society, than that of Female Suffrage. The frequency and urgency with which this measure is pressed upon our legislative bodies by a certain class of reformers, encouraged by partial success in some of the newer states and territories, and the recent advocacy of it in full or limited form by some who have very largely the ear of the public, and the apparently increasing drift of public sentiment in this direction manifest in many quarters,—call for a sober and reflective revision not only of the reasons and supposed advantages of the so-called reform, but of the very serious issues and consequences involved in it. These issues are not immediate and do not lie on the surface. The question is one which cannot be solved on abstract principles, such as that so often urged, of the ‘right’ of women to vote; since nothing is more fallacious than the application of abstract theories to practical and political problems. The profound aphorism of Burke is specially applicable here,—that in proportion as such theories are logically true, they are practically and politically false. Nor can it be decided by its immediate advantages, supposing them to be real, such as the effect of women’s vote in temperance legislation and other politico-moral questions. Such temporary good, even if secured, may be purchased at too dear a price if it bring after it evils outweighing and outlasting the evil it is supposed to remedy. Illustrations of immediate advantages purchased at the cost of great and wide-sweeping evils are not wanting in our history. The admission of slavery into our Republic for the sake of union, and its subsequent ravages, ending in the war of the Rebellion, is one signal example. The exclusion of the Bible from our public schools as a concession to Roman Catholics and infidels, resulting in the secularization of our whole system of popular education, is another fearfully ominous fact, the end of which is not yet. Before committing ourselves to one more radical and irremediable error, and plunging blindly into this gulf of women’s suffrage, it will be well to pause and see whither we are going, and what this new movement, or ‘reform’ really signifies; whether it rests on a true principle or a shallow and pleasing fallacy, and whether its results are likely to be beneficial or disastrous.
We do not propose to discuss the question exhaustively, or as thoroughly as it really demands, but simply and briefly to expose a few points that seem to us to touch the heart of the subject, and which are very commonly overlooked in its discussion.
1. And first, this reform signifies nothing less than a radical and revolutionary change in our whole social system.
Society as at present constituted is based upon the Family as the social unit. The State is not an aggregation of individuals, but an organism, of which the family is an integral part. This social unit is represented by the constituted head of the family,—the husband, father, or householder, to whom the care and support and interests of the family are naturally intrusted. Whatever tends to disintegrate this organic family unity is a violation of the divine constitution, and can work only mischief, whether it be enforced celibacy, easy divorce, or female suffrage. Individualism is the bane of our modern social life, as is but too apparent in the theories and practices respecting marriage, which is fast becoming a mere contract, with reserved individual rights, dissolvable at the will of the parties, instead of that sacred and indissoluble union which is its divine idea. It is, whether applied to marriage, the family, or the State, an essentially infidel theory whose legitimate issue is the destruction of the family, of government, and the church, as divine institutions, and the exaltation and assertion of individual ‘rights’ under the flag of Each one for himself.
The practical tendency of women’s suffrage, as all must see, is to impair the unity of the family as a social organism, being itself a denial of it, and to create discord and rivalries between husband and wife, who by the divine ordinance are “no more twain but one flesh,” but by this act are legally declared to be not one but two. Besides, such suffrage is a tacit declaration that the husband and father cannot be trusted to protect the interests of wife and daughter in political as in domestic affairs, which is a sure method of relaxing his sense of responsibility and loosening the ties of family affection. Where there is true affection, the wife, if she vote at all, will vote with her husband, even against her own interest; and where there is not, the multiplying of causes of discord will not remedy but only aggravate the evil. The kind of rivalries that woman suffrage will introduce into the family is strikingly seen in an actual case reported in the papers some months ago. In one place in Wyoming it was stated that “Mr. Horatio Evans and his wife ran on opposite tickets for the same office, and Mr. Evans won.” The domestic consequences of this political strife in a house thus divided against itself are not reported, but may easily be imagined. In any case, woman suffrage strikes at the root of that which should be the first end of government to protect, the sacred unity of the Family.
But, it is said, a great many women are unmarried, and own property on which they pay taxes to the government; therefore justice requires that the right of suffrage be extended to them. Passing by the question whether the payment of taxes involves a right of representation, and this a right of voting,—which, though seemingly taken for granted, is a groundless assumption,—allowing the justness of the plea, we answer, that marriage is the normal status of woman; singleness is the exception and not the rule, and political institutions should be based on broad and general and not exceptional facts. Especially should great social interests not be sacrificed to those which are special and individual. The anomaly, if it be one, is not peculiar to woman, but is inseparable from any system of law and government. All male persons under twenty-one years of age are excluded from voting, although they have as much natural ‘right’ to the suffrage before as after this age. And many a young man is more capable of exercising this right than multitudes who do possess and abuse it. Again, all minors having property may not legally dispose of it, but are put under guardians till they arrive at mature age; although many have as much or more business knowledge and discretion at eighteen as others at forty. But government legislates on general principles for the general good, and not for exceptional cases.
If individual right is the question, what greater personal right may any one claim, than that which a woman has to her own name? Yet this name is lost or merged by marriage in that of her husband—signifying, what few in these days consider, that her person and all that appertains to it, including her political rights, if any such exist, are surrendered and merged in those of another, with whom she is morally and legally one. To be consistent, the female suffragists should demand that the wife retain her maiden name, coupled if need be with that of the husband, and thus declare, what the movement really signifies, that the marriage union is simply a copartnership, with “all rights reserved.” Under the accepted legal and Christian idea of marriage, all talk about the disfranchisement of women, and their degradation to the rank of children, or of idiots and criminals, is sheer nonsense, or the most transparent fallacy.
2. The demand for woman suffrage is based upon a radically false theory of civil and political rights.
The cry of “woman’s rights,” so shrilly and persistently sounded in our ears, needs to be weighed and analyzed more carefully than it is wont to be by those who raise and listen to it. No human being has any natural rights beyond what nature bestows, nor any political rights except what political expediency and the best interests of society prescribe. Natural rights are grounded in the nature which God has given us, and are the claims which that nature asserts in the name of God for fulfilling its true end. A right, as the word itself implies, is first of all a moral claim, implying obligation, as is seen in the highest and most sacred of all rights, those of conscience, which are rights only because it is man’s imperative duty to obey its dictates. Our boasted ‘inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ are not supreme or inalienable, since they may, each and all, be forfeited, and are in fact forfeited by and taken away from criminals and murderers, in the name of justice and for the protection of society. Not so with the really inalienable rights of conscience. Here, and here only, the individual is superior to the State, and is amenable to God alone. Such natural rights, involving duties or obligations commensurate with them, we recognize as implanted in the nature of man. But nowhere do we find in the human constitution a right of voting bound up with his other rights; nowhere an obligation to vote, or to take an active part in civil government; although Plato and Aristotle and other philosophers long ago observed that man’s nature is configured to the civil state and the condition of civil obligation.
To make the right of suffrage, or any other political right, absolute and grounded on first principles, is to fall into the error of the radical theorists and revolutionists of France, in opposition to the sound English doctrine recently affirmed by Matthew Arnold, “that all political rights are created by law, and are based on expediency and are alterable as the public advantage may require.” The same sound doctrine is expressed by an American writer: “No political right is absolute and of universal application. Each has its conditions, qualifications, and limitations. It is in the concrete and not in the abstract, that rights prevail in every sound and wholesome society. They are applied where they are applicable. Government by doctrines of abstract right, of which the French Revolution set the example and bore the fruits, involves enormous danger and injustice.” And yet it is upon this false and dangerous doctrine, claimed to be the foundation stone of all our institutions, that the woman suffrage movement is avowedly based. “The strength of the woman suffrage movement in the United States,” says one of its leading advocates, “lies in this, that every axiom, every position claimed originally as applicable to American men, proves on reflection to be applicable to women also. If there is any principle on which all our institutions rest in the popular mind, it is the right of every adult person, not laboring under special natural disqualification, to take part in the government of the country.” Such a right nowhere exists, or ever did exist, save in the brains of theorists. If this be the principle on which our institutions rest in the popular mind, it is by the same sophistry of radicalism that once made slavery to be the corner stone of the Republic, and State rights paramount over the sovereignty of the nation. The sooner the popular mind is dispossessed of such doctrines, before their fruits are ripened into revolutions, the better for our peace and safety.
Rights, as we have said, are always correlative and commensurate with duties. A right to vote implies the duty to vote, and this carries with it in a free government the right to be elected to office, and a participation in all the duties and responsibilities of government. Indeed this is the avowed aim of the female suffragists, to open the whole sphere of politics and government to women equally with men. This is the issue fairly before us, and a graver and mightier one, or one more fraught with peril to society, to the family, and most of all to woman herself, it is impossible to conceive. And this leads us to say further,
3. The claim for woman suffrage rests upon a radically false conception of the relations and duties of the sexes.
If there is any law written in nature’s boldest and most legible hand and stamped indelibly on the human constitution, it is that which assigns different spheres and duties to the two sexes. Woman is made to be the complement and help-mate, not the rival of man. To the man is given physical strength, executive force, mastership, leadership,—in a word, headship in the family, in the field, and in the State. Hence government is his prerogative by nature. To the woman is given a finer and more delicate organization, not inferior but different in kind and quality, fitting her as manifestly for private and domestic life, and its not less responsible duties. To deny or ignore this law is to deny the plainest facts, and to fly in the face of nature itself. Nature and reason, no less than Scripture, declares man to be the “head of the woman” and of the family, and for the same reason he is the proper head and ruler of the State. The fact of female sovereigns and their often successful reigns, argues nothing against this, since every one knows that the real governing power in England and other female sovereignties is behind the throne, and is male, and not female. The equality of the sexes, in the only sense in which the term can be properly used, is perfectly consistent with subordination of rank and place, as even theology teaches in the doctrine of the Trinity, where the Son is subordinate and obedient to the Father, yet one with Him in all divine attributes.
This whole movement for female suffrage, is, at least in its motive and beginning, a rebellion against the divinely ordained position and duties of woman, and an ambition for independence and the honors of a more public life; as if any greater and diviner honor could be given to woman than those which God has assigned her; as if the sanctities of home and the sacred duties of wife and mother, with all their sacrifices, were not a higher sphere and a truer glory—a glory she shares with the world’s Redeemer—than the vulgar publicity of the polls and hustings, or even the Senate and the bar.
It has been argued by advocates of this reform that the social position of woman is different in this age from what it was in the preceding centuries, when woman was deemed and held subordinate to man. “It is the weakness of the stock arguments against woman suffrage,” says Mr. Higginson in the North American Review, “that they are, mainly based on the survival of a tradition after social facts are changed. ‘As manners make laws, manners likewise repeal them.’” But it is not social facts or traditional manners on which our arguments are based, but natural constitution and the laws written by the Creator on the nature of the two sexes, to which human laws ought to be conformed. St. Paul, in his chapter on the subordination of woman,—upon which so much shallow sophistry and irreverent wit has been expended,—appeals in his argument chiefly to nature and the original constitution of woman, which no social facts or customs can essentially change. It is not a social, but a natural fact that woman is shorter in stature, weaker in body, lighter and less forcible and less commanding in voice and movement and all that indicates authority and mastery, than man, notwithstanding a few abnormal exceptions. It is not a tradition, but a scientific fact or law, that the average weight of the brain of woman is one-tenth less than that of man, and differs from it also in structure,—indicating not that she is mentally inferior, but that certain spheres of thought and activity are specially adapted, and certain others not adapted to her mental, no less than to her bodily organization.
It is a psychological and not a social or traditional fact, that the logical and judicial faculties are in most women subordinate and inferior in strength to the intuitive and spiritual; that feeling enters more largely into her opinions and judgments than the lumen siccum of pure reason,—a fact which in some departments makes her a more true and acute discerner, and in others a more partial and prejudiced observer.
Now this marked difference of organization, both physical and mental, certainly indicates some difference of design and end touching the sphere and functions of the two sexes. What this difference is; which shall be the head, the primordial and governing force in all things pertaining to public and political life; and which shall be the heart, the inward and retired, but not less powerful spiritual force which animates and warms and cheers the domestic and social life; the controller of this interior world within the outer one of business and politics, like the heart in the physical system sustaining, shaping and building the body by its vital chemistry, pouring life and health through all the veins and arteries and so feeding and vitalizing the whole, the head and brain no less than the lowest members,—this surely ought not to be a question in dispute, and cannot be to any level and true-seeing mind. Indeed this question whether women shall vote, and the issues connected with it, recalls the old fable of the belly and the members. It looks to us like the question, whether the heart shall usurp the function of the head, and assert its right to be at the top instead of at the center of the body; i. e. whether it shall govern and direct the external movements of the man, or animate and vitalize, and so inwardly control, the man himself. In this view there is a look of absurdity in the claim for woman suffrage which has not escaped the notice of some who have written on the subject. Prof. Phelps speaks in bold and convincing language of “the absurdity of thrusting upon one-half of the human race a privilege which they have never asked for, and their desire for which is a thing not proved; the absurdity of imposing upon one-half of the race a duty, the gravest that organized society creates, but which they have no power to defend in an emergency; the absurdity of holding woman to military service, as she must be held if she is to stand on any fair terms of equality with man in the possession of this natural right; the absurdity of the intermingling of the gravest duties of the court room and the senate chamber with those of the nursery—these and other like things involved in the proposed revolution and its sequences, we claim to have the look of absurdity to the average sense of mankind. Yet they are commonly treated either flippantly or passionately in the attempt at rejoinder; and once and again we are told that the revolution is right because it is right; and it must succeed because it will succeed. We ask for a reverent answer to St. Paul’s reasoning, and we are informed that St. Paul was a bachelor. We ask what to do with the apostle’s inspired command to wives, so marked in its distinction from his commands to husbands, and we are reminded that the apostle was a Jew. We urge the impossibility of woman’s defending the ballot by force of arms; and we are answered that woman is a slave. We argue the incongruity of the duties of maternity with those of the jury box and the bar; and we are instructed gravely that men are tyrants, usurpers, brutes. We speak of the dignity of marriage, and the sacredness of motherhood; and we are met with the discovery that woman has a mission.”
4. The reform in question is a violation of woman’s truest and deepest instincts, and so is truly a “reform against nature.”
It is not implied by this there are not women who delight in publicity and who have a talent for affairs, and even for government and leadership in the State; strong-minded and masculine women, as their very presence and boldness of address declare. Such are most of the leaders in this movement, generally single women thrown out of their true sexual relation by the abnormal force and independence of their nature, and seeking to find or make a place for their uncomfortable and irrepressible energies. The very names of some of these leaders give one an inward shudder when thought of in the relation of wife. But these, happily, are exceptions to the sex and do not represent woman as God made her to be, and as most women are. Such, when left to their own womanly instincts, and not forced out of them by sophistry or ambition, disclaim all sympathy with the movement, and would not vote if they could. Not assuming to be wiser than St. Paul, or stronger than nature, they acknowledge the headship of the husband as the ordinance of God, finding in it not tyranny but strength and peace. One of the best and noblest women we ever knew, whose clearness and strength of intellect was equaled only by her strength and purity of affection—once said, “Women like to be controlled; it is woman’s nature to he governed, and not to govern;” giving utterance to what every true woman knows in her inmost heart to be true. Said the late Prof. Maurice to a lady who was protesting against the required promise in the marriage service, to honor and obey her husband, “My dear Madam, you little know the blessedness of obedience.” It is one of the chief mischiefs of the modern woman’s rights doctrine, that it ignores and violates the deepest instincts of her nature, and calls subordination subjection (as in J. Stuart Mills’ book entitled “The Subjection of Women,”) obedience servility, and headship tyranny.
A most significant and hopeful sign in connection with this woman suffrage agitation, is the fact that so few women are in favor of the reform, or avail themselves of the limited suffrage allowed them in certain states and territories. A recent number of the New York Tribune, speaking of the reported working of woman suffrage in Wyoming Territory, says: “The most striking point in connection with woman suffrage is seen in Wyoming as well as elsewhere—the indifference of women themselves to the right. Even in school matters, in which those who do not favor a general suffrage for women would be glad to see them interest themselves, they do not seem to be active. In New York and Massachusetts, where women have a limited suffrage in school matters, the number exercising the right has been very small. In Vermont 15,000 tax-paying women have had the same rights for three years, but few have availed themselves of them. Only eight women voted in Burlington this year against sixteen the first year of the law, and a similar indisposition to take part even in school politics is reported from other quarters of the state. The advocates of woman suffrage are rejoicing over the probable approval by the Governor of Washington Territory of a woman suffrage law already passed, but Dakota, which will probably come first into the family of States, refused to put it into the proposed Constitution. The great obstacle everywhere, however, seems to be, the indifference or unwillingness of women rather than the opposition of men.”
This proves conclusively that woman’s instincts, always wiser than her reasonings, are against this theoretical reform advocated by the few whose instincts have been repressed and conquered by their will.
5. Apart from all physical disqualification for the duties of government and the so-called right of suffrage—which is too obvious to dwell upon—there is one argument grounded in woman’s mental and moral constitution that is unanswerable. This is what may be termed the attraction of personality inseparable from her nature. Woman is nothing if not a respecter of persons. All questions to her are personal questions. This propensity is so well described by Mr. Hamerton in his Intellectual Life, that we quote his words: “A woman,” he says, “can rarely detach her mind from questions of persons to apply it to questions of fact. She does not think simply, ‘Is that true of such a thing?’ but she thinks, ‘Does he love me, or respect me?’ This feeling in woman is far from being wholly egoistic. They refer everything to persons, but not necessarily to their own persons. Whatever you affirm as a fact, they find means of interpreting as loyalty or disloyalty to some person whom they either venerate or love, to the head of religion, or of the State, or of the family. Hence it is always dangerous to enter upon intellectual discussion of any kind with women, for you are almost certain to offend them by setting aside the sentiments of veneration, affection, love, which they have in great strength, in order to reach accuracy in matters of fact, which they neither have nor care for.”
It is easy to see how this characteristic, which all must acknowledge to be true, disqualifies woman for impartial judgment of questions to be decided by the ballot, for sitting on juries, for the bench, and for almost all political action where measures and policies and not men are in question. It is no discredit to woman that this is so. It does not argue an inferior, but only a different type of mind and nature. Being formed for man, and not for the State, for clinging affection, and not for legislation or debate, persons are everything to her, and all questions and policies are of interest only in their individual and personal bearings. As Milton truly describes this difference:
“Not equal, as their sex not equal seemed:
For contemplation he and valor formed,
For softness she, and sweet attractive grace;
He for God only, she for God in him.”
A good deal of shallow criticism has been expended on this last line, as well as on the argument of St. Paul touching the subordination of woman. But nowhere does the great poet show more clearly his deep insight into the nature of woman, and the divine philosophy of religion, than here. The attraction of personality of which we have spoken, woman’s natural indifference to the abstract, the absolute, and the remote, and her craving for the personal and the concrete, together with the all-dominating sway of her affections, renders the one object of her love and reverence the natural medium of her religious adoration. This may explain, if not justify the old formula in the English marriage service—“With my body I thee worship,” —taken doubtless from the 45th psalm: “For he is thy lord and worship thou him.”
6. A last argument against woman suffrage is its practical consequences, or the evil results that will naturally follow such a social revolution. Only a few of these can be hinted at rather than described.
Not the least disastrous result would be the intolerable burden thrust upon women’s shoulders by imposing political questions and duties in addition to those already borne. Domestic and social duties, never so onerous and distracting as now, the care and nurture of children, with the high and sacred responsibilities involved in these, are enough, and more than enough for most women in this age. To add to these the cares of public life and the turbulent excitements of politics, would be indeed to break the bruised reed. As has been well and truly said by a recent writer: “There is no country in which women enjoy such large and various liberty as with us; but it would be bold to say that American women as a whole are superior to those of other leading nations. In spite of these advantages a vast proportion of them fall immensely short of the influence and consideration that ought to belong to them. This proceeds from a variety of causes—an overstrained and nervous activity, an incessant tension of nerves, bred partly by climate, but incomparably more by the peculiar social conditions of a country where all kinds of competition, spurred by all kinds of stimulus, keep mind and body always on the stretch. The men feel them in the struggles of active life; the women in the ambitions, anxieties and worries of a social existence where emulation prevails from the highest to the lowest. And they, as the more susceptible, and more easily deranged, suffer more than the men ... Worn as many of our women are by this morbid action and reaction of body and mind, it is impossible for them to reach that full womanhood than which the world has nothing more beneficent or more noble. In this condition of things what do certain women demand for the good of their sex? To add to the excitements that are wasting them, other and greater excitements, and to cares too much for their strength, other and greater cares. Because they cannot do their own work, to require them to add to it the work of men, and launch them into the turmoil where the most robust sometimes fail. It is much as if a man in a state of nervous exhaustion were told by his physician to enter at once for a foot-race or a boxing match.” The result of such a cruel and intolerable burden, if imposed, would be either utter prostration and distraction, or evasion of one or the other class of duties. Which would be evaded would depend on the character and conscience of those compelled to choose. With the increasing disposition on the part of many women to get above domestic duties instead of seeking to rise to a proper discharge of them, and the alarming tendency in the higher circles toward the decay if not the extinction of the family, the effect of this new temptation may be conceived.
The secularization of the home by the intrusion of political questions and disputes, is another impending evil consequence. Our home-life cannot afford to have any new secularizing or dissipating elements. Politics in the pulpit is more than many good men can endure. What then must it be to have the sanctuary of home profaned and its peace disturbed by partisan strifes and political divisions? What the effect on the strength of the marriage bond, already so fearfully relaxed, of this new disturbing and strife breeding element?
But the effect upon woman herself of the proposed reform is, perhaps, the worst evil to be apprehended. What this effect will be may be partially inferred from the effect witnessed in some of our female agitators and politicians. That they have proved themselves able and eloquent champions, equal to statesmen of the other sex in all but the moderation of true wisdom, is really an argument against them. For in proportion as women resemble men in masculine traits and abilities, in just that degree are they repulsive as women. A woman with a beard, or of masculine size and muscles, is no more an anomaly to her sex than one loud and positive and even eloquent in debate. Woman’s voice, if nothing else, indicates that she was not made for public speaking; and her native delicacy and modesty no less plainly declare that public life and government are contrary to her nature. The very qualities which by a perverse culture will fit her for the rostrum and the bar, will unfit her for her true place and influence in the home, and destroy that chivalrous love and devotion which is accorded to a true woman only as she keeps herself unspotted from the world. Hitherto only the stronger and more capable class of women have pressed into the public arena, and their superior abilities have disguised the anomaly under the charm of novelty. But when the door is fully opened by unlimited female suffrage, we shall see very different exhibitions both of speech and conduct made by the coarser and more unprincipled classes.
But we are told that the effect of allowing women’s suffrage—and this is one great argument of its advocates— will be to purify politics and restrain the coarseness and corruption which now so largely characterize public life. To a certain extent this may be allowed, so far as outward decency and decorum is concerned, and so far as the better class of women avail themselves of their “rights.” The presence of a pure and noble woman in a political assembly may act as a restraint on vulgarity, as the presence of a pure and virtuous statesman may do. But moral and political corruption is too deep a malady to be cured by gallantry or sentimental respect in the legislative hall any more than in the parlor or the soiree. The “barbarism” which such statesmen as Adams and Webster and Sumner were unable to repress, but only to provoke and make more violent, will hardly be controlled by a few misplaced women, however wise and good.
But the practical working of the scheme will be vastly different from the theory. It will not be the good, the wise, and virtuous who will chiefly influence politics, or exercise the right of suffrage, but the ignorant, the vulgar and unprincipled classes. From the fact that the reform in question is against nature and in violation of woman’s truest instincts, it will fail to carry those in whom these instincts are most pronounced, the higher and better class, and be left to those of coarser mould. Some may at first deny their instincts and go to the polls from principle, as many good women have unsexed themselves by bold and unseemly acts through zeal in the temperance reform. But nature and instinctive modesty will finally prevail, and they will quietly stay at home, and leave voting and politics to those who are less modest and more ambitious.
With the prevalence of women’s suffrage a new power will be introduced into politics, and its character and results will be vastly different from what its advocates imagine. With the better class of women refusing to vote, and the lower, the corrupt, and venal class, swarming to swell the majority of their favorites or their patrons, politics instead of being purified will become tenfold more corrupt by the corruption added to it of this new element. The example of the Mormon women voting in a body in the interest of that institution which degrades and enthralls them, shows what the vote of a certain class of women will be even on questions of temperance and morality. And this illustrates the fact already mentioned, that women are influenced less by abstract than by personal considerations. Their vote, like their opinions on any question, will be carried not by the truth or reason or wisdom of the measure, but by its effect on certain persons whom they like or dislike, and this even against their own interest. How much more when favor and interest are combined. The working of this principle may be imagined, when favoritism and personal charms and female intrigue on the one hand are met by flattery and reward on the other, and the social corruption of the court is added to that of political ambition.
The chief peril to our institutions, it is generally acknowledged, comes from the overwhelming tide of ignorant and unprincipled voters, under our present system of suffrage. When this tide is constantly increasing and thoughtful men are pondering the question whether universal suffrage is not a failure, is it wise or safe to augment this peril by opening still wider the door of suffrage to admit a larger and more incalculable element. Is it anything but blind infatuation to rush headlong into a revolutionary measure which at best is doubtful, and whose possible evil consequences, when once upon us, can neither be measured nor repaired?
It may be urged that the effects here indicated are imaginary, or at most theoretical, and cannot be held up as actually or practically true. It is claimed that “in England 600,000 women owning real estate, or paying rent, exercise the right of municipal suffrage without provoking revolution or social disturbance.” But the experiment as yet, both in England and the United States, is too recent and on too limited a scale to exhibit its full grown fruits. The first fruits, however, of the woman’s rights movement and the kind of character produced by it are already too apparent in modern society. The most recent testimony on this subject is the republication in London of the Social Essays written by Mrs. Linton, author of The Girl of the Period. This famous satire has lost none of its truth and application since its first appearance in the Saturday Review. The author declares herself now more than ever convinced that she has struck the right chord of condemnation, and advocated the best virtues and most valuable characteristics of women. Says Mrs. Linton:
“One of the modern phases of womanhood—hard, unloving, mercenary, ambitious, without domestic faculty and devoid of healthy natural instincts,—is still to me a pitiable mistake and a grave national disaster. And I think now, as I thought when I wrote these papers, that a public and professional life for women is incompatible with the discharge of their highest duties or the cultivation of their noblest qualities. I think now, as I thought then, that the sphere of human action is determined by the fact of sex, and that there does exist both natural limitation and natural direction. This creed which summarizes all that I have said in extenso, I repeat with emphasis, and maintain with the conviction of long years of experience.” And this creed, thus sincerely and courageously uttered, not by a man, but by a woman of sense and culture and of wide experience and observation, we commend to the “shrieking sisterhood” of strong minded women in pursuit of what they call their rights.
We have already exceeded our limits in this discussion and have aimed to touch only on fundamental points of the question. But as Mr. Joseph Cook in his “Prelude” to one of his late Boston lectures, has adduced several practical arguments in favor of woman suffrage in the interests of morality and temperance, it may be well to notice very briefly some of these so far as they have not been already answered by anticipation.
He says, “Women have more reasons for attachment to the home, and hence if they have the power, may be expected to defend the interests of home more carefully than men have done.” The same argument would require woman to build the house, and to furnish all the supplies of the family. The cooperation of woman in all that concerns home interests does not imply executive action, or the taking of all domestic matters into her own hands. The fallacy of this whole style of reasoning rests on the deeper fallacy of individualism. If the head of the family, the husband and father, cannot be trusted to protect its domestic interests, much less can the civil government, and all social unity is at an end. How much wiser is the divine constitution which makes man and woman one, and the family an organic unity, whose head being made responsible for its welfare, is thereby, if by any means, made capable and worthy of so sacred a trust.
Again, he says: “Women as a class are more free from intemperance and immorality than men, and hence may be expected to cast a purer vote for the reform of cities.” We answer, not among the lower classes, for reasons already shown; while the better class would generally refrain from voting, thus diminishing instead of increasing the purer vote.
Again: “By endowment of heaven, women are more attached to children in their tenderest years than men are, and care more for the moral interests of fathers, sons, brothers and husbands; and so may be expected to purify the vote of cities in the interest of its households.” This supposes that woman’s vote outside of the household can do more for virtue and morality than her legitimate influence within it,—a most preposterous fallacy. Let woman exert the power which is hers ‘by endowment of heaven’ in the training and strengthening of the moral sentiments, and her vote will be needless, as now it would be ineffectual in most cases.
Again, be tells us: “Municipal suffrage for tax-paying women has worked well for many years in England; and a general right of female suffrage has worked well, for fourteen years in Wyoming.” There are doubtless two sides, or two verdicts on this question—an outside and an inside view. We hear only, or chiefly, from the former, from parties interested to report success. Other and very different reports have also come. Besides, the experiment is too recent to develop as yet all its results, especially among a different class of population yet to come.
“Voting,” we are informed, “would increase the intelligence of women, and be a powerful stimulus to female education.” It is the opinion of some judicious persons,—educators and physicians included,—that women in this age and country are receiving all the stimulus to education which they can safely bear; and that the kind and quality of intelligence that voting would promote, would not be in the line most needful or most useful to women. The principles of civil government are already taught, or should be, in all our schools and seminaries, but the newspaper discussions of party politics and rival candidates, which with the daily list of crimes and casualties, form the chief reading, if not education, of most male voters, are a wretched substitute for the intellectual and literary culture which many women do and all might attain, if no additional stimulus of political duties and ambitions were thrust upon them.
Again, he tells us: “It would enable women to protect their own industrial, social, moral and educational rights.” It is here assumed that the rights of women are not and cannot be sufficiently protected by men; an assumption disproved by the recent history of legislation in behalf of women, and by the admission of Mr. Cook himself, who says: “The industrial, educational and social rights of women have been advanced immensely in the last generation;” —and this without women’s suffrage! There is not one legitimate right of woman sought to be secured or protected by her ballot, which cannot be more effectually secured by petition. Where then is the need of taking the law into her own hands and asserting her political independence?
“Limited municipal suffrage,” he admits, “would be an experiment, and if this experiment should not work well, it could be discontinued.” Such experiment, as all must see, is designed as an entering wedge to draw after it the whole reform and revolution. Suffrage once granted to any class would be difficult, if not impossible, to be withdrawn.
His supreme argument is the last. “The whisky rings and other corrupt classes fear nothing so much as municipal suffrage for women; and that points out the most effective weapon that can be used against them.” They fear it because they look only at immediate possible results. But the true legislator is bound to look beyond these to the ultimate effect on society and the family, which have interests outweighing and outlasting even the cause of temperance legislation.
Two fundamental errors underlie this whole movement, the correction of which would forestall and answer all arguments for women’s suffrage yet adduced. The first is an exaggerated idea of the power of the ballot and of legislation to remedy moral and social evils. These evils are deeper than the outward surface of life, which is all that the law can reach, and can be remedied only by moral and spiritual agencies. What the law cannot do both for individuals and for society, can be done and is done by Christianity with its slow working grace and truth. Moral sentiment is before legislation and must become a power in society before it can be embodied in law, or enforced by civil authority. And to form this sentiment, to exercise this moral and spiritual sway, is pre-eminently the work and privilege of woman. Here is her true sovereignty.
The second error is a false conception of the nature and sphere and true glory of woman, and of what are called her political rights. This is connected with the false doctrine of individualism already mentioned, or the denial of the divine idea of the family and the State. The nature and constitution of woman is before the modern doctrines respecting her, and will survive them and determine her place and duties in society, however for the time she may lose her true dignity and the respect which belongs to her by blindly striving against them. The family, too, is before civil government; and its constitutive idea, its organic unity, and its sacred interests, must not be sacrificed to it, or practically violated in blind obedience to a false theory of natural or individual rights.
H. M. Goodwin, “Women’s Suffrage,” New Englander and Yale review, Volume 43, Issue 179 (March 1884), pp. 193-213.
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