The History of Woman Suffrage Volume I Part 112

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WISCONSIN LEGISLATURE, 1857.

WISCONSIN REPORT ON THE SUFFRAGE QUESTION.--The following extract from the report on the extension of the right of suffrage in Wisconsin, we find in _The Milwaukee Free Democrat_:

"Perhaps no question ever submitted to a community would call forth so much of its mental activity, such a crusade into the realms of history, such a balancing of good and evil, of the past with the present, such an examination of the social and political rights and relations, as the question whether the right of suffrage ought to be extended to all citizens over the age of twenty-one, which would, of course, include both s.e.xes. The giddy devotee of fas.h.i.+on would be surprised in the midst of her frivolity, and be compelled to think and reason, in view of a new responsibility which is menacing her. Even if opposed to the proposition, she would be compelled to organize and inspire the public opinion necessary to defeat it. Whatever might be the event, woman's intellectual position would be changed, and changed forever, and with hers that of all other cla.s.ses....

"Let no one imagine that he can dispose of this question by a contemptuous fling at strong-minded women and hen-pecked husbands. The principle will gain more strength from the character of the arguments of its opponents than from any number of Bloomer conventions. The modern idea of the fas.h.i.+onable belle, floating like a bird of paradise through the soiree; the impersonation of motion and grace in the ball-room, indulging alternately in syncope and rapture over the marvelous adventures and despair of the hero of a mushroom romance, her rapid transition from one excitement to another, to fill up the dreary vacuum of life, provoking as it does the secret derision of sensible men; all this comes from that legislation, from that public opinion, which drives women away from real life; from the discussion of questions in which her happiness and destiny are involved. A senseless, though a false fondness, denies her a partic.i.p.ation in all questions of the actual world around her. The novel writers therefore create a fict.i.tious world, filled with fantastic and hollow characters, for her to range in. Awhile she believes she is an angel, till some unfortunate husband finds her to be a moth on his fortune, and a baleful shadow stretching across his pathway, without curiosity or interests in all those practical realities, which the world, outside of her charmed existence, is attending to. These are the abortions of a false public opinion. For ages they have been regarded as the natural results of female organism. Hence, woman has become famed as a gossip, because she would degrade herself by discussing Judge A.'s qualifications for Judge of Probate, though Judge A. may yet appoint a guardian for her children. In the sewing society, she sews scandal, or reads brocades, silks, and crinolines, because it would be extremely coa.r.s.e and vulgar in her to read the statutes of Wisconsin, where her rights of person and property, marriage and divorce, are regulated. In those statutes she would find that though $350,000 are appropriated to build a University, she is as effectually excluded from that inst.i.tution as though it was a convent of monks. So there is some inconvenience at last in being regarded as a _bona-fide_ angel, for angels have no use for Universities. Some indignant school-ma'am begins to suspect the hollow compliments of moon-struck admirers, and demands a direct voice in the laws which provide for the mutual improvement of her s.e.x. But the grave doctor of law puts on his spectacles, and tells her she is fully and exactly represented in man, only more so. When he eats, she eats; when he thinks, she thinks; when he gets drunk, she gets drunk; that it would be as absurd to provide for the board and education of one's own shadow as to provide a separate establishment for woman, who possesses all things, enjoys all things, and sways all things in man, as fully as though she did it herself. And a single woman, or widow, may pay taxes, but it would be outrageous for her to have a choice in the men who are to spend the money and then cry out for more. When married, ten years ago, her education was equal to her husband's, now she can not write a grammatical letter: her husband's mind has been enlarged by the influx of new ideas, and by contacts with the electric atmosphere of thought in the great world without; but denied as she has been the right of expressing her will by a direct vote, she has lost all interest in pa.s.sing events; the globe has dwindled to a half-acre lot and the village church. Her partner finds the match unequal, spends his time with more congenial society, and is out-and-out in favor of Moses' law of a galloping divorce. The old stager has filled the political arena with frauds and brawls, and bruises and blood; and having levelled the morals of the ballot-box with those of the race-ground or box-ring, he has yet virtue enough left to declare that woman shall not enter this moral Aceldama.

"Yet it may be that democracy, for self-preservation, will be compelled to invite women to the ballot-box, to restrain and overawe the ruffianism of man. Though man smiles with secret derision at the compet.i.tion of woman, in dress and show, yet he is too tender of her reputation to allow her the same field with himself wherein to exercise her powers. We believe that this contortion of character is justly attributable to the denial of the right of voting, the great mode by which the questions of the day are decided in this country.

Politics are our national life. As civilization advances, its issues will penetrate still deeper into social and every-day life of the people; and no man or woman can be regarded as an ent.i.ty, as a power in society, who has not a direct agency in governing its results.

Without a direct voice in molding the spirit of the age, the age will disown us.

"But the objection is argued seriously. Political rivalry will arm the wife against the husband; a man's foes will be those of his own household. But we believe that political equality will, by lending the thoughts and purposes of the s.e.xes, to a just degree, into the same channel, more completely carry out the designs of nature. Women will be possessed of a positive power, and hollow compliments and rose-water flatteries will be exchanged for a pure admiration and a well-grounded respect, when we see her n.o.bly discharging her part in the great intellectual and moral struggles of the age, that wait their solution by a direct appeal to the ballot-box. Woman's power is, at present, poetical and unsubstantial; let it be practical and real.

There is no reality in any power that can not be coined into votes.

The demagogue has a sincere respect and a salutary fear of the voter; and he that can direct the lightning flash of the ballot-box is greater than he who possesses a continent of vapor, gilded with moons.h.i.+ne.

"It is true, the right of voting would carry with it the right to hold office; but since it is true that the s.e.xes have appropriate spheres, the discretion of individual voters would recognize this fact, and seldom elect a woman to an office, for which she is unfitted by nature and education, as incompetent men are now elected. But the cruelty of our laws is seen in this--that where nature makes exceptions, the laws are inexorable.

"We have shown that woman is not correctly represented by man at the ballot-box. Could her voice be heard, it would alter the choice of public men and their character. With legislators compelled to respect her opinions, the law itself, const.i.tutions, and politics reflect, to a just extent, her peculiar views and interests. Nor is it for us to decide whether these would be for the better or worse. Let the majority rule. _Vox populi vox Dei._ Woman's intellect would enlarge with her more commanding political condition, and though she might blight the hopes of many a promising aspirant, yet the Union would not be dissolved under her administration. Believing the time has come when an appeal on her behalf to the voters of this State will not be in vain, we have prepared to submit the question to the people, by our amendment to the Senate bill.

"DAVID NOGGLE.

"J. T. MILLS.

"I altogether prefer the Committee's amendment to the Senate bill.

"_February 27, 1857_. HOPEWELL c.o.xE."

ONE YEAR'S WORK.--The following are a portion of the results of the Woman's Rights pet.i.tions, presented during the winter of 1856-7:

In Ohio and Wisconsin, Legislative Committees have reported favorably to the Right of Suffrage, and extracts from the reports are given above.

Ohio, Maine, Indiana, and Missouri have pa.s.sed laws giving to married women the right to control their own earnings. The Ohio and Maine statutes are printed below; also a Maine act, giving the husband t.i.tle to an allowance from a deceased wife's property, similar to that now given by the law to widows.

The memorial presented to the New York Legislature, owing to some mistake, was not offered till too late for action.

OHIO STATUTE.--Bill pa.s.sed by the Ohio Legislature, April 17, 1857.

Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the General a.s.sembly of the State of Ohio, that no married man shall sell, dispose of, or in any manner part with, any personal property, which is now, or may hereafter be, exempt from sale upon execution, without having first obtained the consent of his wife thereto.

Sec. 2. If any married man shall violate the provisions of the foregoing section, his wife may, in her own name, commence and prosecute to final judgment and execution, in civil action, for the recovery of such property or its value in money.

Sec. 8. Any married woman, whose husband shall desert her, or from intemperance or other cause become incapacitated, or neglect to provide for his family, may, in her own name, make contracts for her own labor and the labor of her minor children, and in her own name, sue for and collect her own or their earnings.

MAINE STATUTE.--At the recent session of the Legislature of Maine, the following acts were pa.s.sed:

"An Act relating to the property of deceased married women. Be it enacted," etc.

"When a wife dies intestate and insolvent, her surviving husband shall be ent.i.tled to an allowance from her personal estate, and a distributive share in the residue thereof, in the same manner as a widow is in the estate of her husband; and if she leaves issue he shall have the use of one-third, if no issue, one-half of her real estate for life, to be received and a.s.signed in the manner and with the rights of dower." Approved April 13, 1857.

"An Act in relation to the rights of married women.

"Any married woman may demand and receive the wages of personal labor performed other than for her own family, and may hold the same in her own right against her husband or any other person, and may maintain an action therefore in her own name." Approved April 17, 1857.

FEMALE SUFFRAGE IN KENTUCKY.--Kentucky Revised Statutes, 1852, ch. 88.

"Schools and Seminaries." Art. 6, Sec. 1:

"An election shall be held at the school-house of each school district, from nine o'clock in the morning till two o'clock in the evening, of the first Sat.u.r.day of April of each year, for the election of three Trustees for the District for one year, and until others are elected and qualified. The qualified voters in each District shall be the electors, and _any widow having a child between six and eighteen years of age, may also vote in person or by written proxy_."

[But if the suffrage is not limited to _widows_ who have a child between six and eighteen, but extended to _unmarried, married_, and _childless_ men, why not give it to women in those positions also?

Such a partial concession, though valuable as recognizing a principle, is not likely to be extensively used. For in this case, as in that of women who are stockholders in corporations, the female voters will be deterred by their own small numbers and by the prejudices of society.

But give woman the equal right of suffrage, and the prejudice will soon be swept away].

FEMALE SUFFRAGE IN CANADA.--[The following is the Canadian law under which women vote. The omission of the word _male_ was intentional, and was done to secure the weight of the Protestant property in the hands of women, against the Roman Catholic aggressions and demands for separate schools. The law works well. "A friend of mine in Canada West told me," said Lucy Stone recently, "that when the law was first pa.s.sed giving women who owned a certain amount of property, or who paid a given rental, a right to vote, he went trembling to the polls to see the result. The first woman who came was a large property holder in Toronto; with marked respect the crowd gave way as she advanced. She spoke her vote and walked quietly away, sheltered by her womanhood. It was all the protection she needed."]

XVIII. and XIV. VICTORIA, CAP 48.--An Act for the better establishment and maintenance of Common Schools in Upper Canada. Pa.s.sed July 24, 1850.

Sec. 1. Preamble--Repeals former acts.

Sec. 2. Enacts that the election of School Trustees shall take place on the second Wednesday of January in each year.

Sec. 22. And be it enacted, that in each Ward, into which any City or Town is or shall be divided according to Law, two fit and proper persona shall be elected School Trustees by a majority of all the _taxable inhabitants_.

Sec. 25. Enacts that on the second Wednesday in January there shall be a meeting of all the taxable inhabitants of every incorporated village, and at such meeting six fit and proper persons, from among the resident householders, shall be elected School Trustees.

Sec. 5. Provides that in all _Country_ School Districts _three_ trustees shall be similarly elected by a majority of _the freeholders or householders_ of such school section.

"THE EMANc.i.p.aTION OF WOMEN."--A very curious controversy, on paper, is going on at present in the _Reveu Philosophique et Religieuse_, between M. Proudhon and Mme. Jenny D'Hericourt. The latter defends, with great warmth, the moral, civil, and political emanc.i.p.ation of woman. Proudhon, in reply, declares that all the theories of Mme.

D'Hericourt are inapplicable, in consequence of the inherent weakness of her s.e.x. The periodical in which the contest is going on was founded and is conducted by the old St. Simoniens.

REPORT OF THE SELECT COMMITTEE OF THE OHIO SENATE, ON GIVING THE RIGHT OF SUFFRAGE TO FEMALES.

COLUMBUS, 1858.

The following pet.i.tion, numerously signed by both men and women, citizens of this State, was, at the first session of the Legislature, referred to the undersigned Select Committee:

"WHEREAS, The women of the State of Ohio are disfranchised by the Const.i.tution solely on account of their s.e.x;

"We do, respectfully, demand for them the right of suffrage--a right which involves all other rights of citizens.h.i.+p--one that can not, justly, be withheld, as the following admitted principles of government show:

"First. 'All men are born free and equal.'

"Second. 'Government derives its just power from the consent of the governed.'

"Third. 'Taxation and representation are inseparable.'

The History of Woman Suffrage Volume I Part 112

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