"Argument on Woman's Rights," by H.H. Van Amringe, as reprinted in the Proceedings of the 1850 Convention

.......... Peterboro', N. Y., Oct. 16, 1850.
Wm. Lloyd Garrison,

My Dear Sir: - I this evening received from my friend, H.H. Van Amringer, of Wisconsin, the accompanying Argument on Woman's Rights. It is written by himself. He is, as you are aware, a highly intellectual man.

Mr. Van Amringe wishes me to present this Argument to the Woman's Convention, which is to be held this month, in Worcester. Permit me to do so through yourself.

Much as I should love to listen to the debates of that Convention, I cannot attend it - nor can my wife. She is in New York, and sick. My excessive business compels me to refuse almost every invitation to attend public meetings, especially if they are not in my own county.

May Heaven's richest blessing be upon the Convention.

.......... Very respectfully,
.......... And fraternally yours,
.......... GERRIT SMITH.


[* The Committee of Publication regret that they have been compelled, by the limits of this pamphlet, to omit the first head of Mr. Van Amringe's Argument on the Bible Doctrine.]

It is commonly said by those who appeal to Reason against the equality of the rights of woman, that she has a sphere of her own, the sphere of tenderness, modesty, retirement, and usefulness. But the assertion thus made, proves nothing; for what " woman's sphere " IS, is the very matter in dispute. In different climates and among different races of men, and conditions of social progress, woman's sphere differs immensely. In a savage state, man assigns to her as her sphere, all hard, laborious, and repugnant work without thanks, extreme sufferings without pity, unremitting drudgery without reward. In China, her sphere is to drag the plough, while her husband sows the seed, and appropriates the crop. In India, her sphere is to be entirely subject to the will of her husband, during his life, and at his death, to be burnt upon his funeral pile. What is not the sphere of woman? Anything or everything as the varying caprice of power and of public opinion may determine. One fact, surely, is worthy of remark, - that precisely as a nation advances in intelligence, arts, science, and Christian character, the rights of women approach more nearly to those of men; and hence we may infer, that, when a true state of society shall be reached, their rights will be one and the same. By " spheres ," however, is properly meant the orbits or circuits of employment and action. These certainly will vary for the sexes, as they vary for different individuals, male or female, of the human race, according to organizations, relative endowments, or combinations of talent, education, and circumstances. But although each one has thus an individual sphere, our rights are not unequal.

Assuming to argue from reason, some persons also assert that woman is inferior in intellectual capacity to man, and therefore is not entitled to a share in government. This is a most absurd argument. It places the right to govern in the highest mental talent, and therefore exalts an Autocrat upon an unlimited throne, and subjects the entire nation, having inferior minds, to political slavery. But who must determine this talent? The strong hand, and talent for destruction? This is Tyranny.

Intellectual talent, however, is but one element in the qualifications for government. The moral and religious powers are even more essential than greatness of intellect. Place any plan of action, having regard to the government of the masses, before two persons, one having medium intellect, with large humanity and piety, and the other having large intellect, with small benevolence, sense of justice and reverence for the good and holy, and large destructive and selfish powers; can you be in doubt concerning their choice of measures, the policy which they would adopt? The selfish, strong mind would seek the advancement of his own power, the accumulation of gain, the aggrandisement of his family, and the destruction of those who might oppose his wishes. The pious, humane person, would pray the spirit of the Lord to help him in doing good, disseminating knowledge, securing freedom to all, and enlarging the happiness of the nation and of the world. Now it is most absurd to challenge for the selfish, carnal mind, a natural, divine right to govern the moral and religious. But the intellectual inferiority of woman must not be assumed. How the fact is, I pretend not to say; for there has never been a fair trial of her intellectual strength. In physical strength, and the energies of positive courage and destruction, man unquestionably exceeds her. Faculties are exercised by the actual performance of functions suited to them. The mere repetition of the words of a lesson will train language, but not the reflective powers. As woman has been debarred from the functions of many rights, she has been excluded from the education of the powers engaged in them. In the Patriarchal state, she held life or was consigned to death, at the will of the male head of the family. In the Barbarian age, force governed, and right was unknown. In the renowned chivalrous period, notwith-standing the flattering homage paid to "Ladies bright," the very term applied in law to a married woman, indicated the general violence exercised towards the sex. She was said to be femme covert; that is, as Blackstone informs us, a woman under the wing, PROTECTION, and shelter of a husband. Marriage was necessary as a protection; and the very name of the relation of the wife to the husband denoted protection. Women not married were victims of violence. And since the Feudal Ages, the rights of woman have remained so little known, that the rights of serfs are almost as tolerable to despotic ears. In fact, it appears not improbable that serfs will gain their rights before women. The rights of serfs have been won and established by force. Peasants can make themselves terrible to their masters. In this respect, woman is no candidate for equality.

The inferiority of woman is argued from her creation; she was formed, we are told, of a part of man. But I see no force in this view. We know that the Deity proceeded upwards in the scale of reason. Birds succeeded fishes; beasts came after birds; the male man after beasts, and woman last of all. Shall we suppose that the All-wise Creator here retrograded? Having proceeded upwards to man, did He then fall downwards below man? Was his last crowning work inferior to that which proceeded it? Was the being, in whose moral and religious endowments is peculiarly stamped the image of the Most High, inferior in dignity and glory to him in whom the carnal energies constitute the principal characteristics? Perhaps there is not poetry only, but philosophy also, in what Burns says about the " prentice hand; " but on the question of woman's inferiority or superiority, I express no opinion; -for I deem it not essential. I only say, that the traditional faith that woman was formed of organized matter, a part of Adam, and Adam of inorganized matter, namely dust, is an argument in favor of the superiority of woman, and not adverse to her.

Again, that woman was the first to transgress, is no proof of her inferiority. For it was not possible for the Deity to create a moral being with experience . Experience is the result of our voluntary actions. Adam and Eve, though of full stature, were necessarily without experience. They were mental and moral infants; and it happened to them as it does to infants. In the absence of experience, the very largeness of moral and religious endowments may lead a person astray by the temptation to be wise, to be god-like. The higher in dignity the constitution, probably the longer it is in attaining its proper development. If so, this would be an argument in favor of woman's dignity. I do not urge these considerations as having conclusive force. I am only suggesting them, by way of answers to dogmatic assertions. Of one truth, however, I feel convinced; although woman was the first to fall, - the first to lead the way from Eden, Adam will not return thither, unless Eve, - I will not say, precede him, - but at least go by his side.

But, I repeat, this question of intellectual superiority or inferiority in woman is not relevant. On the same principle you might as well argue in favor of despotism, and against the rights of man and self government, in domestic and political life. The real question is this:"Has the Deity formed one half of the human race, created in His image, incapable of self government; or rather so incapable as to be rightfully in subjection to a power independent of themselves?" Is it not most foolish, if not impious, to suppose so? Women, by the right of birth, or by some adventitious circumstance, have succeeded to thrones, as reigning Monarchs. Have the Isabellas, the Elizabeths, the Catherines, the Maria Theresas, displayed less talent than the Ferdinands, the Henrys, the Nicholases, the Francises? Is there a woman worthy the name, who does not feel that she has powers within her high, noble, which are not called into action by the frivolous pursuits to which women are mostly confined, by their exclusion from the general rights and duties of life? What are the great duties in the legislative branch of government? Are they not to determine what the relations shall be, or are, by nature and the appointment of Deity, between husband and wife, parent and child, guardian and ward, master and servant, creditor and debtor, the state and the citizen? Now, when questions come up for legislation upon these subjects, can a man do anything better than to go home and consult his mother, wife, and sisters, as to what the laws should be on points in which all are so deeply interested? And yet, most wonderful, the laws controlling these relations in society, so near and dear to the heart of woman, and upon which so vitally depend her liberty and happiness, are determined and adjudged by the independent wisdom of man alone, acting as the natural, divine lord and sovereign of the race; a claim not a whit better founded than that of the divine right of kings, who have assumed power over the masses!

If it be answered that there are many questions which arise in legislative bodies, such as questions of Peace and War, Slavery and Abolition, Tariff and Free Trade, etc. - concerning which, women, with their inexperience, would be unable to legislate wisely, I would reply in regard to those subjects, first, that the moral sentiments of women are especially demanded for their rightful decision and experience, and knowledge would soon be obtained; and secondly , that multitudes of men, in our country, are allowed to vote, and to be eligible to office, who, upon abstruse matters of legislation, are no more competent, from their inexperience, to give a sound opinion, than women.

It may be laid down as an indisputable axiom in government, that no people can safely be permitted to legislate for another people; no nation for another nation; no city for another city; and no employment for a distinct employment: and I will add, neither sex for the other sex. What is Ireland, legislated for by England? What would Boston be, legislated for by New York? What would be the condition of Farmers, legislated for by Manufacturers and Merchants? In respect to women, the fact of man's being related to them by blood and family interests, modifies the iniquity of a partial legislation. But still, it is evident that each phrenological organ should have its representation in the council chamber of freedom; each want should be heard; every affection should be consulted. If man's phrenological constitution is different from that of woman, then man cannot legislate for woman. If their constitutions are the same, but unlike in combinations, then the unlike combinations of the phrenological organization of the sexes should be represented, no less than the unlike combinations of men themselves. In proof of the fact, that man cannot safely be entrusted with legislation for woman, I appeal to the Statutes and Law Books.

Formerly, it was the avowed law that a husband might chastise his wife with a rod; she owed him obedience as a servant. The common law, in these respects, is not altered; but a better feeling has sprung up, and the law is inoperative. A woman, whose personal property may constitute the sole wealth of her husband, cannot, without his consent, when she is on her death bed, the victim of his severity and unfaithfulness, bequeath the smallest sum to her children, to protect them from the cruel bitterness of a step-dame, although she may anticipate that her husband's guilty associate will fill that station after her own death. Her husband, dying first, may, by his will, leave her and her children pennyless. He may, during life, control the custody of her children, and, at his death, appoint testamentary guardians for them, and separate them from their mother. He becomes, under certain circumstances, tenant for life of the whole real estate of the wife, receiving the profits without accountability; but she, by survivorship, is entitled, by dower, to a third only of his. At the death of the wife, the husband surviving her, the family remains together, unbroken, as the law recognizes the man as the sole head of the house. But at the death of a husband, leaving a wife, the law dissolves the family, treating her as a nullity, dividing the estate, and assigning the children to the care of guardians. Yet, not impossibly, during the life of the husband, the woman was the better person of the two, more diligent, more prudent, more intelligent. The fortunes of the family are at the mercy of an improvident husband; and, except in some rare instances, the wife and children may be driven, simply by his act, either directly or indirectly through the intervention of law, from the shelter of Home, the sanctuary of the hearth-stone! But why enlarge upon these inequalities of legislation? If resistance to a nominal tax, without representation, be inscribed on the pages of history as a meritorious instance of a noble, praiseworthy spirit in our fathers, are we so insensible to consistency as to insist on the right of one half of the race, not only to tax the others without representation, not only to determine their rights to property, but to adjudge, as by a sovereign, inherent authority, the nearest and dearest relations of life, to say what relation the woman shall sustain to her husband, what to her child, what to the persons engaged in domestic offices in the house? Talk of freedom, with one half of our people in this subjection! Surely, our eyes are not yet open to the dawn of liberty.

Now listen to the objections urged against the co-equal rights of women.

* 1. Would you have them, - it is asked, - elected to office? How would a woman look in the office of President, or Governor?
I answer, such an event would indicate, more than almost any other, the near approach of the reign of peace and righteousness. Women in Europe may fill the throne, as reigning Monarchs. Shall they who are thought worthy of the highest station, in hereditary monarchies, be deemed unworthy of election to office, by the suffrages of a free people? If women, placed in the administration of great and vast national affairs, by the mere accident of birth, have acted wisely, much more might we expect not wisdom only, but integrity in the government of women, selected by free citizens, with a view to mental and moral fitness.
* 2. But the men might be unruly, boisterous, and turbulent, at elections! So then, it seems, the abuse by man of his rights, is to be a cause of forfeiture of the rights of woman! But the remedy is easy. Divide the election districts, and have separate windows for receiving the ballots of women, as at post offices, until men become humanized. Besides, character is an effect . Modify circumstances, and you will modify character. Persons having the right to vote, possess influence. Witness the influence of catholics and others, who, from the fact of their having the right of voting, secure an important weight in party politics and in legislation. But a class of people, cut off from the right of voting, cannot bring their grievances, with any effectual power, before the public. If woman's rights were once practically acknowledged, you would immediately experience a happy reformation,in many of the evils which now afflict large portions of the sex, and in the misconduct of men at the polls.
* 3. If women exercised the elective franchise, their votes would be but duplicates of those of their husbands, fathers, and brothers. Besides, many of them are in very dependent conditions and would not vote freely. Should they vote contrary to their male relations, disputes would arise in families. Only think of the party bitterness arising between husband and wife, if one were a Whig and the other a Democrat!
A sufficient reply to this class of objections is, that husbands, fathers, and brothers, would be as likely to vote in accordance with the sentiments of their wives, mothers, and sisters. The influence of knowledge and moral truth, is not a pernicious one in elections; because the avowed and just object of canvassing for elections is to apply an influence of that kind. If mere pecuniary dependence is to disfranchise persons, then we must go through our factories, workshops, and counting-rooms, and deprive all the subordinates of their votes. Members of the same firm, may be some Democrats, others Whigs, without quarrelling; and so it often is among members of the same family. The effect of similar divisions in regard to political subjects, on the females of the same family, would be to purge politics of mere partyism, and to infuse into political agitations more morality, candor, philanthropy, and moderation.
* 4. It is further insisted, that if women held office, they might be scandalized by the brutal attacks sometimes committed in legislative bodies, with bowie knives and pistols. The best way to dispel such ruffianly exhibitions, is by the presence of women, as members of such bodies. If men meet together, without women, at a dance, a party, an assembly, they are apt to be boisterous and unmannered. The presence of woman, not as a spectator or auditor, in a gallery, where her appearance might but excite the love for display of some ostentatious Senator, but as a member of the body, insulted by the violation of decorum, and interested in the preservation of order, would soon change the character of the scenes in our Senate Chambers. In Asia, women are excluded from general society. In Europe, they are admitted. In Europe, general society, refined by the presence of woman, is immensely superior to society in Asia. In the United States, at the meetings of some of the political parties, - the Land Reformers and the Abolitionists, - women are invited to be present and to participate in the proceedings. I have remarked that the proceedings of these meetings are more orderly, and the harangues of the speakers are addressed to nobler sentiments of the human heart, than the proceedings or addresses of the meetings of other parties from which women are excluded. If a disturbance arise, it is, most probably, originated by a person or persons from parties which exclude women. If these remarks are correct, as I believe them to be, then we are taught a useful lesson concerning order and decorum in public meetings. When the rights of woman shall be practically and generally recognized, then public meetings will be to party meetings, of the present day, what a refined and courteous assembly in a parlor is to a rowdy gathering in a bar-room.
* 5. The last objection which I shall notice is, that if women vote and hold office, they should bear arms also. No one should participate in the elective and official franchises who cannot render service to their country in defence against invasion.

I need not refer to the law, declared by David, in answer to the sons of Belial, who were for excluding the men at Besor, from a share of the spoils taken from the enemy, - "For who," saith he, "will hearken unto you in this matter? but as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike." Military service is by no means the greatest act of patriotism that a man or woman can render to their nation. In fact, military service is often performed by officers and soldiers, from a passion of ambition, a love of glory, a desire for carnage, and as a means of subsistence. So far from the duty to serve in war being the foundation of the rights to vote and to hold office, some persons, as judges, physicians, teachers, and preachers, are exempt from such service, for the very reason that they do hold offices or discharge employments in society, of a civil and social character. But whether as nurse, teacher, physician, or priest, who renders more service to the people and to the Commonwealth than woman? She nurses our helpless infancy. She instils the first and most abiding lessons of truth, and moral and religious sentiment. Her aid to health in domestic life, through diet, clothing, cleanliness, and attendance, are even of greater value than those of the medical practitioner. Her consolations and instructions in the hour of sickness frequently sink deeper into the heart than the prayers of the ecclesiastic; and when the spirit wings its flight to the judgment seat, her blessing attends it. If the employments of priests, teachers, physicians, and judges, are causes of exemption from military service, then this objection, in regard to women, is utterly insignificant; and perhaps, when made, is offered not in earnest.

In conclusion, permit me to say that the world is waiting for the establishment of the entire Free Equal Rights of Woman in Church and State, before it can proceed to its highest destiny. A wise architect adapts his means to the end. In machinery, we frame a governor for equalizing motion and accumulating power. The power thus accumulated is applied to the accomplishment of effects, for which the machine, without this help, would be incompetent. Thus the Supreme Architect, created in woman a mighty moral and religious power, as a MEET and necessary HELP for the accomplishment of the great purposes of righteousness, which constitute at once the duty and the privilege of our race. The time, we have some hope, is near at hand, when armies of construction shall go forth to other nations, and not armies of destruction; when we must send not a few, but multitudes of missionaries to the nations and tribes of the world, not to conquer and plunder, but to instruct them in the arts of peace, in husbandry, in education, in the Gospel. Only thus can we obtain the dominion granted and foretold by the Lord. The constitution of man's mind alone, unaided by the help created by the Deity, in the phrenological constitution of woman, would be inadequate to this great duty.

The providences of the Most High are awaiting the regeneration, by the Divine Spirit, of that new man , male and female, in the image of God, as promised to the seed of the woman. Let us, therefore, no longer retard the operations of the Word of God, but proclaim the entire and Christian doctrines of truth, peace, and liberty. Away with lordship of the strong over the weak, with sovereignty of the HUSBAND, BROTHER, and SON, over the WIFE, MOTHER, and SISTER.