Commonwealth Denial

[Editorial Note: One of the immediate outcomes of the 1850 and 1851 Conventions was a petition campaign to strike the word "male" from the Massachusetts state constitution. The Legislature referred the matter to its Committee on Qualifications of Voters who, after two hearings, returned the following response.]

Convention....No. 97.

Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In Convention, July 1, 1853.

The Committee on Qualifications of Voters, to whom was referred the petitions of Francis Jackson and others, that the word "male" may be stricken from the Constitution, and also of Abby B. Alcott and other women of Massachusetts, that they may be allowed to vote on the amendments that may be made to the Constitution,

That the petitioners have leave to withdraw.

The Committee feel that in making this report, they should not do justice to themselves or to the intelligent and respectable petitioners, if they did not frankly state the reasons on which their conclusion is founded.

The petitioners ask that women may be allowed the right of suffrage, in matters pertaining to political affairs. The request is a novel one, and so far as known to the Committee, the first ever presented to any government or other political organization.

At the request of the petitioners, a hearing was granted them at two different sittings of the Committee, and patient attention given to the arguments presented by persons of learning and ability of both sexes, who appeared in their behalf. These persons maintained the following propositions:

Of the truth or fallacy of these several positions, the Committee do not feel called upon to decide.

All questions involving the rights and interests of any part of the human family, should ever be determined by some well established and generally recognized principle or fundamental maxim of government; otherwise it cannot be expected that such decision will be regarded as reasonable or satisfactory.

Upon what principle, then, shall the present question be decided?

The Declaration of Independence asserts, that "all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." By the "consent of the governed," the Committee understand the consent, either express or implied, of the persons concerned. At the present time, there are, within the State of Massachusetts, not far from 200,000 women, over twenty-one years of age. Of these, less than 2,000 have asked to be admitted to the right of suffrage. From this fact, the Committee have a right to infer, and also from their personal knowledge of the views and feelings of the class of persons referred to, that a great majority of the women of Massachusetts, do willingly consent that the government of the State should be, as it hitherto has been, in the hands of their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons. Of the correctness of this conclusion, the Committee entertain no doubts.

It may be said, in reply to this, that it cannot be justly inferred from the silence of the women of Massachusetts, that they do consent to the present limitations of the right of suffrage. But the Committee do so infer, because they know that the women aforesaid, do now, and always have, enjoyed the right of petition, to the fullest extent, and have often exercised that right in behalf of the unfortunate and oppressed, and in aid of many noble and philanthropic objects of legislation. In one case, it is believed, that more than 50,000 women petitioned the General Court, for the enactment of a law for the suppression of the sale of intoxicating drinks.

It may be further urged, that by the same course of reasoning, it might be shown that those who are held in bondage, consent to the laws under which they live. But this is not true. Slaves have no right of petition. They cannot make known their wants to the government. They are speechless and helpless. Their whole existence is a stern and living protest against the wrongs they suffer, and they are kept in subjection only by the strong arm of power.

In view of these indisputable facts in relation to the right of petition, in this Commonwealth, enjoyed by all its inhabitants of both sexes, the Committee feel justified in deciding that a vast proportion of the women of Massachusetts do consent to their political condition, and therefore, that the powers exercised by the government of this Commonwealth, over that class of its population, are "just powers," and it is inexpedient for this Convention to take any action in relation thereto.

Amasa Walker, Chairman.