List Of Contents | Contents of Female Suffrage, by Susan Fenimore Cooper
< < Previous Page    

revealed Word of God. In no position of their own devising can they
do that work half so well.

Political and social corruption are clearly the great evils to be
dreaded for our country. We have already gone far enough in the
path of universal manhood suffrage to feel convinced that no mere
enlargement of the suffrage has power to save us from those evils.
During half a century we have been moving nearer and nearer to a
suffrage all but universal, and we have, during the same period,
been growing more corrupt. The undisguised frauds at elections, the
open accusations of bribery in legislative assemblies, the
accusations of corruption connected with still higher offices--of these
we read daily in the public prints. And these accusations are not
disproved. They are generally believed. It is clear, therefore, that
something more effectual than universal manhood suffrage is needed
to stem the torrent. And it is simply ridiculous to suppose that
womanhood suffrage can effect the same task. Who can believe that
where men, in their own natural field, have partially failed to
preserve a healthful political atmosphere, an honest political
practice, that women, so much less experienced, physically so much
more feeble, so excitable, so liable to be misled by fancy, by feeling,
are likely, in a position foreign to their nature, not only to stand
upright themselves, but, like Atlas of old, to bear the weight of the
whole political world on their shoulders--like Hercules, to cleanse the
Augean stables of the political coursers--to do, in short, all that man
has failed to do? No; it is, alas! only too clear that something more
than the ballot-box, whether in male or female hands, is needed
here. And it is the same in social life. The public prints, under a free
press, must always hold up a tolerably faithful mirror to the society
about them. The picture it displays is no better in social life than in
political life. We say the mirror is tolerably faithful, since there are
heights of virtue and depths of sin alike unreflected by the daily
press. The very purest and the very foulest elements of earthly
existence are left out of the picture. But the general view can
scarcely fail to be tolerably correct. Take, then, the sketch of social
life as it appears in some half dozen of the most popular prints from
week to week. You will be sure to find the better features grievously
blended with others fearfully distorted by evil. There are blots black
as pitch in that picture. There are forms, more fiend-like than human,
photographed on those sheets of paper. Crimes of worse than brutal
violence, savage cruelty, crimes of treachery and cowardly cunning
and conspiracy, breach of trust, tyrannical extortion, groveling
intemperance, sensuality gross and shameless--the heart sickens at
the record of a week's crime! It is a record from which the Christian
woman often turns aside appalled. Human nature can read no
lessons of humility more powerful than those contained in the
newspapers of the day. They preach what may be called home truths
with most tremendous force. From this record of daily crime it is only
too clear that universal suffrage has had no power to purify the
society in which we live. If no worse, we can not claim to be better
than other nations, under a different political rule.

This admission becomes the more painful when we reflect that in
America this full freedom of fundamental institutions, this relief from
all needless shackles, is combined with a well-developed system of
intellectual education. We are an absolutely free nation. We are, on
the whole, and to a certain point, intellectually, an educated nation.
Yet vice and crime exist among us to an extent that is utterly
disgraceful. It is evident, therefore, that universal manhood suffrage,
even when combined with general education, is still insufficient for
the task of purifying either social or political life. The theoretical
infidel philosopher may wonder at this fact. Not so the Christian.
Great intellectual activity, and the abuse of that power for evil
purposes, are a spectacle only too common in this world. Look at the
present condition of the most civilized nations. Of all generations
that have lived on earth, our own is assuredly the most enlightened,
in an intellectual sense; mental culture has never been so generally
diffused as it is to-day, nor has it ever achieved so many conquests
as within the last half century; and yet mark how comparatively little
has this wonderful intellectual progress accomplished in the noble
work of improving the moral condition of the most enlightened
countries. To the mind humbled by Christian doctrine, living in the
light of a holy faith, these facts, though unspeakably painful, can not
cause surprise. We are prepared for them. We have already learned
that no mere legislative enactment and no mere intellectual training
can suffice to purify the human heart thoroughly. An element much
more powerful than mental culture is needed for that great work. For
this work light from on high is sent. A thorough MORAL EDUCATION
is required, and the highest form of that education can be reached in
one way only--by walking in the plain path of obedience to the will of
the Creator, as revealed in Holy Scripture. We must turn, not to Plato
and Aristotle, but to inspired Prophet and Apostle. We must open our
hearts to the spirit of the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount.
We must go to Sinai and to Calvary, and humbly, on bended knee,
receive the sublime lessons to be learned there.

We should never have expected moral progress as an inevitable
consequence of free institutions and mere intellectual education, had
it not been that, like other nations, we indulge in idolatries, and
among our "gods many" are the suffrage and mental activity. We are
gravely told by philosophers that, with the vote in the hands of
woman, the moral elevation of the race is secured forever! "Great is
Diana of the Ephesians!" The feeling is common in America that to
doubt the omnipotence of universal suffrage in its extreme
development is not only treason, but a sort of blasphemy. And this
feeling is now leading many minds, unconsciously, perhaps, to shrink
from opposing the present movement in favor of womanhood
suffrage. They bow the knee to the common idol. They dare not
believe it possible for the suffrage to be carried too far. For
ourselves we have no sympathies whatever with idolatry. We
fearlessly declare our opinion, therefore, that no political institutions
whatever, neither despotic, nor monarchical, nor aristocratic, nor yet
the most free, are capable, in themselves, of achieving moral
education for a people. Neither do we believe it more possible for
abstract intellectual culture to gain this most important of all ends.
Institutions wisely free are a very great blessing. Let us be fervently
thankful for them. Intellectual education is equally important and
desirable. These are both noble and admirable means to work with,
provided we still look above and beyond them for a further
development of the race--for fullness of MORAL CIVILIZATION. In
fact, if we wish for a vigorous, healthful, lasting development of
republican institutions, we must necessarily unite with these not
only intellectual teaching, but also a sound MORAL EDUCATION. This
is a fact to which men, in the whirl of their political or commercial
struggles, too often willfully shut their eyes. They are quite ready to
acknowledge the truth of the assertion in a general way, but they
choose to forget its vast importance in political or commercial
practice. They recklessly lower the moral standard themselves,
whenever that standard is at a height inconvenient for the attaining
of some particular object toward which they are aiming. They are
lacking in faith. Unlike women, who carry faith with them in private
life, men act as if faith were not needed in everyday public life. At
least the great majority of men, nominal Christians, fail to carry
Christian principle with them into common business or politics. Faith,
in the heart of women, is connected with love; consequently it is
less easily stifled. They more frequently carry this principle with
them in daily practice--not to the extent that they should do, but far
more so than most men do. And here, Christian women, is your great
advantage. It is the Lord's work to which we would urge you. The
work of true faith, however lowly, is sure of a blessing. With faith
unfeigned in your hearts, giving purity to your lives, you have it in
your power to render most effectual service to the nation in your own
natural sphere, far beyond what you could possibly accomplish by the
path of common politics. You have never, as yet, done full justice to
the advantages of your own actual position in this respect. You have
overlooked the great work immediately before you. We have no
magic talisman to offer you in carrying out that work. We shall not
flatter you with the promise of unlimited success; we shall not
attempt to gratify any personal ambition of public honors. We have
no novel theories or brilliant illusions with which to dazzle your

There is absolutely no principle so sorely needed in the civilized
world to-day as this. We live in an age of false and inflated ambitions.
Simple moral truths fare badly in our time. Imposing theories,
brilliant novelties, subtle sophistries, exaggerated development,
arrogant pretensions--these too often crowd simple moral truths out
of sight, out of mind. And yet, without that class of duties in
healthful action, corruption more or less general is inevitable.

Truth of word, honesty of action, integrity of character, temperance,
chastity, moderation, sincerity, subordination to just authority,
conjugal fidelity, filial love and honor--these duties, and others
closely connected with them, bear old and homely names. But,
Christian women, you can not ask for a task more noble, more truly
elevating, for yourselves and your country, than to uphold these
plain moral principles, first by your own personal example, and then
by all pure influences in your homes and in the society to which you
belong. In no other mode can you so well forward the great work of
Christian civilization as by devoting yourselves to the daily personal
practice, and to the social cultivation, by example and influence, of
these plain moral duties. Your present domestic position is
especially favorable to this task. You have more time for thought on
these subjects; you have more frequent opportunities for influence
over the young nearest to you; you have more leisure for prayer, for
invoking a blessing on your efforts, however humble they may he. It
is not enough to set a decent example yourselves. You must go to
the very root of the matter. You must carry about with you hearts
and minds very deeply impressed with the incalculable importance of
a sound morality; you must be clearly convinced of the misery, the
shame, the perils of all immorality.

In this nineteenth century the civilization of a country must
necessarily prove either heathen or Christian in its spirit. There is no
neutral ground lying between these boundaries. Faith or infidelity,
such is the choice we must all make, whether as individuals or as
nations. Thanks be to God we are not only in name, but also partially
in character, a Christian nation. Faith is not entirely wanting. We all
in a measure feel its good effects. Even the avowed infidel living in
our midst is far more under its influences, though indirectly so, than
he is aware of. And where there is life, there we have hope of
growth, of higher development. To cherish that growth, to further
that higher development by all gracious and loving and generous
influences, is a work for which women are especially adapted. They
work from within outwardly. Men work chiefly by mental and physical
pressure from without. Men work by external authority; women work
by influences. Men seek to control the head. Women always aim at
touching the heart. And we have the highest of all authority for
believing that this last is the most efficient mode of working.

"Out of the heart are the issues of life." This, therefore, Christian
women, is your especial  task. Use all the happy womanly influences
in your power to forward the moral education, the Christian
civilization, of the country to which you belong. Be watchful, with the
unfeigned humility of the Christian, over your own personal course,
and the example connected with it. Aim at keeping up, on all
occasions, a high practical standard of sound morality at all points.
Cultivate every germ of true moral principle in your own homes, and
in the social circle about you. Let the holy light of truth, honor,
fidelity, honesty, purity, piety, and love brighten the atmosphere of
your homes.

What heathen civilization means we know from many sources, more
especially from the records of Rome under the empire, in the days of
St. Paul, when it had reached its highest development.

What Christian civilization means we learn from the Apostle: "Let
him that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever
things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report--think on
these things."

< < Previous Page    

Other sites: