List Of Contents | Contents of Female Suffrage, by Susan Fenimore Cooper
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hand and the left, both belonging to one body, moved by common
feeling, guided by common reason. The left hand may at times be
required to do the work of the right, the right to act as the left. Even
in this world there are occasions when the last are first, the first
last, without disturbing the general order of things. These
exceptional cases temper the general rule, but they can not abrogate
that rule as regards the entire sex. Man learns from them not to
exaggerate his superiority--a lesson very often needed. And woman
learns from them to connect self-respect and dignity with true
humility, and never, under any circumstances, to sink into the mere
tool and toy of man--a lesson equally important.

Such until the present day has been the general teaching and
practice of Christendom, where, under a mild form, and to a limited
point, the subordination of woman has been a fact clearly
established. But this teaching we are now called upon to forget, this
practice we are required to abandon. We have arrived at the days
foretold by the Prophet, when "knowledge shall be increased, and
many shall run to and fro." The intellectual progress of the race
during the last half century has indeed been great.  But admiration is
not the only feeling of the thoughtful mind when observing this
striking advance in intellectual acquirement. We see that man has
not yet fully mastered the knowledge he has acquired. He runs to
and fro. He rushes from one extreme to the other. How many
chapters of modern history, both political and religious, are full of
the records of this mental vacillation of our race, of this illogical and
absurd tendency to pass from one extreme to the point farthest from

An adventurous party among us, weary of the old paths, is now
eagerly proclaiming theories and doctrines entirely novel on this
important subject. The EMANCIPATION OF WOMAN is the name
chosen by its advocates for this movement. They reject the idea of
all subordination, even in the mildest form, with utter scorn. They
claim for woman absolute social and political equality with man. And
they seek to secure these points by conferring on the whole sex the
right of the elective franchise, female suffrage being the first step in
the unwieldy revolutions they aim at bringing about. These views are
no longer confined to a small sect. They challenge our attention at
every turn. We meet them in society; we read them in the public
prints; we hear of them in grave legislative assemblies, in the
Congress of the Republic, in the Imperial Parliament of Great Britain.
The time has come when it is necessary that all sensible and
conscientious men and women should make up their minds clearly on
a subject bearing upon the future condition of the entire race.

There is generally more than one influence at work in all public
movements of importance. The motive power in such cases is very

simple. So it has been with the question of female suffrage. The
abuses inflicted on woman by legislation, the want of sufficient
protection for her interests when confided to man, are generally
asserted by the advocates of female suffrage as the chief motives
for a change in the laws which withhold from her the power of voting.
But it is also considered by the friend of the new movement that to
withhold the suffrage from half the race is an inconsistency in
American politics; that suffrage is an inalienable right, universal in
its application; that women are consequently deprived of a great
natural right when denied the power of voting. A third reason is also
given for this proposed change in our political constitution. It is
asserted that the entire sex would be greatly elevated in intellectual
and moral dignity by such a course; and that the effect on the whole
race would therefore be most advantageous, as the increased
influence of woman in public affairs would purify politics, and elevate
the whole tone of political life. Here we have the reason for this
movement as advanced by its advocates. These are the points on
which they lay the most stress:

FIRST. The abuse of legislative power in man, by oppressing the sex.

SECONDLY. The inalienable natural right of woman to vote; and
imperatively so in a country where universal suffrage is a great
political principle.

THIRDLY. The elevation of the sex, and the purification of politics
through their influence.

Let us consider each of these points separately.


In some countries of Europe much of wrong is still done to woman,
at the present day, by old laws owing their existence to a past state
of things, and which have not yet been repealed or modified to suit
existing circumstances. But we are writing now to American women,
and, instead of the evils existing in the other hemisphere, we are
looking at a very different state of society. Let us confine ourselves,
therefore, to the subject as it affects ourselves.

To go into all the details which might be drawn together from the
statute books of the different States of the Union bearing on this
point, and to do them full justice, would require volumes. Such a
course is not necessary. The question can be decided with truth and
justice on general principles--on generally admitted facts. We admit,
then, that in some States--perhaps in all--there may be laws in
which the natural and acquired rights of woman have not been fairly
considered; that in some cases she has needed more legal protection
and more privileges than she has yet received. But while this
admission is made, attention is at the same time demanded for a
fact inseparably connected with it; namely, the marked and generous
liberality which American men have thus far shown in the considerate
care and protection they have, as a general rule, given to the
interests of women. In no country, whether of ancient or modern
times, have women had less to complain of in their treatment by
man than in America. This is no rhetorical declamation; it is the
simple statement of an undeniable fact. It is a matter of social
history. Since the days of early colonial life to the present hour--or,
in other words, during the last two hundred and fifty years--such has
been the general course of things in this country. The hardest tasks
have been taken by man, and a generous tenderness has been
shown to women in many of the details of social life, pervading all
classes of society, to a degree beyond what is customary even in the
most civilized countries of Europe. Taking these two facts together--
that certain abuses still exist, that certain laws and regulations need
changing and that, as a general rule, American women have thus far
been treated by their countrymen with especial consideration, in a
legal and in a social sense--the inference becomes perfectly plain. A
formidable and very dangerous social revolution is not needed to
correct remaining abuses. Any revolution aiming at upsetting the
existing relations of the sexes--relations going back to the earliest
records and traditions of the race--can not be called less than
formidable and dangerous. Let women make full use of the
influences already at their command, and all really needed changes
may be effected by means both sure and safe--means already
thoroughly tried. Let them use all the good sense, all the
information, all the eloquence, and, if they please, all the wit, at
their command when talking over these abuses in society. Let them
state their views, their needs, their demands, in conscientiously
written papers. Let them appeal for aid to the best, the wisest, the
most respected men of the country, and the result is certain. Choose
any one real, existing abuse as a test of the honesty and the
liberality of American men toward the women of the country, and we
all know before-hand what shall be the result.*

{FOOTNOTE by SFC} * There is an injustice in the present law of
guardianship in the State of New York, which may be named as one
of those abuses which need reformation. A woman can not now, in
the State of New York, appoint a guardian for her child, even though
its father be dead. The authority for appointing a guardian otherwise
than by the courts is derived from the Revised statutes, p. 1, title 3,
chapter 8, part 2, and that passage gives the power to the father
only. The mother is not named. It has been decided in the courts
that a mother can not make this appointment--12 Howard's Practical
Reports, 532. This is certainly very unjust and very unwise. But let
any dozen women of respectability take the matter in hand, and, by
the means already at their command, from their own chimney-
corners, they can readily procure the insertion of the needful clause.
And so with any other real abuse. Men are now ready to listen, and
ready to act, when additional legislation is prudently and sensibly
asked for by their wives and mothers. How they may act when
women stand before them, armed CAP-A-PIE, and prepared to
demand legislation at the point of the bayonet, can not yet be

If husbands, fathers, brothers, are ready any day to shed their
heart's blood for our personal defense in

the hour of peril, we may feel perfectly assured that they will also
protect us, when appealed to, by legislation. When they lay down
their arms and refuse to fight for us, it will then be time to ask them
to give up legislation also. But until that evil hour arrives let men
make the laws, and let women be content to fill worthily, to the very
best of their abilities, the noble position which the Heavenly Father
has already marked out for them. There is work to be done in that
position reaching much higher, going much farther, and penetrating
far deeper, than any mere temporary legislation can do. Of that work
we shall speak more fully a moment later.


This second proposition of the advocates of female suffrage is of a
general character. It does not point to particular abuses, it claims
the right of woman to vote as one which she should demand,
whether practically needed or not. It is asserted that to disqualify
half the race from voting is an abuse entirely inconsistent with the
first principles of American politics. The answer to this is plain. The
elective franchise is not an end; it is only a means. A good
government is indeed an inalienable right. Just so far as the elective
franchise will conduce to this great end, to that point it becomes
also a right, but no farther. A male suffrage wisely free, including all
capable of justly appreciating its importance, and honestly
discharging its responsibilities, becomes a great advantage to a
nation. But universal suffrage, pushed to its extreme limits, including
all men, all women, all minors beyond the years of childhood, would
inevitably be fraught with evil. There have been limits to the
suffrage of the freest nations. Such limits have been found necessary
by all past political experience. In this country, at the present hour,
there are restrictions upon the suffrage in every State. Those
restrictions vary in character. They are either national, relating to
color, political, mental, educational, connected with a property
qualification, connected with sex, connected with minority of years,
or they are moral in their nature.*

[FOOTNOTE by SFC} *In connection with this point of moral
qualification we venture to ask a question. Why not enlarge the
criminal classes from whom the suffrage is now withheld? Why not
exclude every man convicted of any degrading legal crime, even petty
larceny? And why not exclude from the suffrage all habitual
drunkards judicially so declared? These are changes which would do
vastly more of good than admitting women to vote. {END

This restriction connected with sex is, in fact, but one of many other
restrictions, considered more or less necessary even in a democracy.
Manhood suffrage is a very favorite term of the day. But, taken in
the plain meaning of those words, such fullness of suffrage has at
the present hour no actual existence in any independent nation, or in
any extensive province. It does not exist, as we have just seen,
even among the men of America. And, owing to the conditions of
human life, we may well believe that unrestricted fullness of
manhood suffrage never can exist in any great nation for any length
of time. In those States of the American Union which approach
nearest to a practical manhood suffrage, unnaturalized foreigners,
minors, and certain classes of criminals, are excluded from voting.
And why so? What is the cause of this exclusion? Here are men by
tens of thousands--men of widely different classes and conditions--
peremptorily deprived of a privilege asserted to be a positive
inalienable right universal in its application. There is manifestly
some reason for this apparently contradictory state of things. We
know that reason to be the good of society. It is for the good of
society that the suffrage is withheld from those classes of men. A
certain fitness for the right use of the suffrage is therefore deemed
necessary before granting it. A criminal, an unnaturalized foreigner, a
minor, have not that fitness; consequently the suffrage is withheld
from them. The worthy use of the vote is, then, a qualification not
yet entirely overlooked by our legislators. The State has had, thus
far, no scruples in withholding the suffrage even from men, whenever
it has believed that the grant would prove injurious to the nation.

Here we have the whole question clearly defined. The good of society
is the true object of all human government. To this principle suffrage
itself is subordinate. It can never be more than a means looking to
the attainment of good government, and not necessarily its corner-
stone. Just so far is it wise and right. Move one step beyond that
point, and instead of a benefit the suffrage may become a cruel
injury. The governing power of our own country--the most free of all
great nations--practically proclaims that it has no right to bestow the
suffrage wherever its effects are likely to become injurious to the
whole nation, by allotting different restrictions to the suffrage in
every State of the Union. The right of suffrage is, therefore, most
clearly not an absolutely inalienable right universal in its application.
It has its limits. These limits are marked out by plain justice and
common-sense. Women have thus far been excluded from the
suffrage precisely on the same principles--from the conviction that to
grant them this particular privilege would, in different ways, and
especially by withdrawing them from higher and more urgent duties,
and allotting to them other duties for which they are not so well
fitted, become injurious to the nation, and, we add, ultimately
injurious to themselves, also, as part of the nation. If it can be
proved that this conviction is sound and just, founded on truth, the
assumed inalienable right of suffrage, of which we have been hearing

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