Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Courtesy of Women’s Rights National Historical Park Website
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) moved to Seneca Falls, NY in 1847 with her husband Henry B. Stanton and three small boys under the age of five. The following year Lucretia Mott visited the area and revived a friendship and bond that had formed at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London while Stanton was on her honeymoon with her husband who was one of the convention delegates. With the help of Jane C. Hunt and Mary Ann M’Clintock, the women organized the first Woman’s Rights Convention in America. In July, 1848, Stanton read the 18-point Declaration of Sentiments to demand that women “have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States”—including the vote.
Motherhood prevented Stanton from attending any of the National Woman’s Rights Conventions with the births of Theodore in 1851, Margaret in 1852, Harriot in 1856, and Robert in 1859. From her home Stanton inspired the audiences with powerful messages in letters to the conventions. This letter was read at the 1850 convention held in Worcester, MA.
From Mrs. Elizabeth C. Stanton.
Seneca Falls, Sunday, Oct. 20.
My Dear Friend: As you have handed over to me the case of those women who have fears in regard to the propriety of woman's exercising her political rights, I would gladly embrace this opportunity to address them through your Convention.
No one denies our right to the elective franchise, unless we except those who go against all human governments, and the non-resistant, who condemns a government of force, though I think the latter might consistently contend for the right, even if she might not herself choose to exercise it. But to those who believe in having a government - to those who believe that no just government can be formed without the consent of the governed - to them would I appeal, and of them do I demand some good reason why one half of the citizens of this Republic have no voice in the laws which govern them.
The right is one question, and the propriety of exercising it quite another. The former is undeniable, and against the latter I have never heard one solid objection that would not apply equally to man and woman.
Some tell us that if woman should interest herself in political affairs, it would destroy all domestic harmony. What, say they, would be the consequence, if husband and wife should not agree in their views of political economy? Because, forsooth, husband and wife may chance to differ in their theological sentiments, shall woman have no religion? Because she may not choose to worship at the same altar with her liege lord, must she of necessity do up all her worshipping in private, in her own closet? Because she might choose to deposit her vote for righteous rulers - such as love justice, mercy, truth, and oppose a husband, father, or brother, who would, by their votes, place political power in the hands of unprincipled men, swearing, fighting, leaders of armies, rumsellers and drunkards, slaveholders and prating northern hypocrites, who would surrender the poor panting fugitive from bondage into the hands of his blood-thirsty pursuers - shall she not vote at all? It is high time that men learned to tolerate independence of thought and opinion in the women of their household.
It would not make much difference in man's every day life, in his social enjoyments, whether his wife differed with him as to the locality of hell, the personality of the devil, or the comparative altitude of the saintships of Peter and Paul; as to one's right to as much air, water, light, and land as he might need for his necessities; as to the justice of free trade, free schools, the inviolable homestead, and personal freedom - provided the husband had a great head and heart, and did not insist upon doing up all the thinking and talking in the establishment himself, or the wife was not a miserable formalist, like Mrs. Swisshelm's Deborah Elmsley. Much of this talk about domestic harmony is the sheerest humbug. Look around among your whole circle of friends, and tell me, you who know what transpires behind the curtain, how many truly harmonious households have we now. Quiet households we may have, but submission and harmony produce very different states of quietness. There is no true happiness where there is subordination - no harmony without freedom.
But, say some, would you have women vote? What, refined, delicate women at the polls, mingling in such scenes of violence and vulgarity! By all means, where there is so much to be feared for the pure, the innocent, the noble, the mother surely should be there to watch and guard her sons who are to encounter such stormy, dangerous scenes at the tender age of twenty-one. Much is said of woman's influence: might not her presence do much toward softening down this violence, refining this vulgarity? Depend upon it, that places which, by their impure atmosphere, are rendered unfit for woman cannot but be dangerous to her sires and sons. But if woman claims all the rights of a citizen, will she buckle on her armor and fight in defence of her country? Has not woman already often shown herself as courageous in the field, as wise and patriotic in counsel, as man? Have you not had the brave Jagello in your midst, and vied with each other to touch but the hem of her garment? But for myself, I believe all war sinful; I believe in Christ; I believe that the command, "Resist not evil," is divine; I would not have man go to war; I can see no glory in fighting with such weapons as guns and swords, while man has in his possession the infinitely superior and more effective ones of righteousness and truth.
But if woman votes, would you have her hold office? Most certainly would we have woman hold office. We would have man and woman what God intended they should be, companions for each other, always together, in counsel, government, and every department of industry. If they have homes and children, we would have them stay there, educate their children, provide well for their physical wants, and share in each other's daily trials and cares. Children need the watchful care and wise teachings of fathers as well as of mothers. No man should give up a profitable business, leave his wife and children month after month, and year after year, and make his home desolate for any false ideas of patriotism, for any vain love of display or ambition for fame and distinction. The highest, holiest duty of both father and mother is to their children and each other, and when they can show to the world a well-developed, wisely-governed family, then let the State profit by their experience. Having done their duty at home, let them together sit in our national councils. The violence, rowdyism, and vulgarity which now characterize our Congressional Halls, show us clearly that "it is not good for man to be alone." The purifying, elevating, softening influence of woman is a most healthful restraint on him at all times and in all places. We have many noble women in our land, free from all domestic incumbrances, who might grace a Senate chamber, and for whose services the country might gladly forego all the noise, bluster, and folly of one-half the male dolts who now flourish there and pocket their eight dollars a day.
The most casual observer can see that there is some essential element wanting in the political organization of our Republic. The voice of woman has been silenced, but man cannot fulfill his destiny alone - he cannot redeem his race unaided. There must be a great national heart, as well as head; and there are deep and tender chords of sympathy and love that woman can touch more skillfully than man. The earth has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation, for woman has never yet stood the equal with man. As with nations, so with families. It is the wise mother who has the wise son, and it requires but little thought to decide, that as long as the women of this nation remain but half developed in mind and body, so long shall we have a succession of men dwarfed in body and soul. So long as your women are mere slaves, you may throw your colleges to the wind - there is no material to work upon. It is in vain to look for silver and gold from mines of copper and brass. How seldom now is the father's pride gratified in the budding genius of his son? The wife is degraded, made the mere creature of his tyranny and caprice, and now the foolish son is heaviness to his heart. Truly are the sins of the father visited upon the children. God, in his wisdom, has so linked together the whole human family, that any violence done at one end of the chain is felt throughout its length.
E. C. STANTON.
Women’s Rights National Historical Park. National Park Service.