Debate on Woman Suffrage in the Senate of the United States, 2d Session, 49th Congress, December 8, 1886, and January 25, 1887 online

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State on account of sex.

SEC. 2. The Congress shall have power, by appropriate legislation,
to enforce the provisions of this article.

Fortunately for the perpetuity of our institutions and the prosperity
of the people, the Federal Constitution contains a provision for its
own amendment. The framers of that instrument foresaw that time and
experience, the growth of the country and the consequent expansion of
the Government, would develop the necessity for changes in it, and
they therefore wisely provided in Article V as follows:

The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it
necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on
the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several
States, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which in
either case shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part
of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of
three-fourths of the several States, or by conventions in
three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of
ratification may be proposed by the Congress.

Under this provision, at the first session of the First Congress, ten
amendments were submitted to the Legislatures of the several States,
in due time ratified by the constitutional number of States, and
became a part of the Constitution. Since then there have been added to
the Constitution by the same process five different articles.

To secure an amendment to the Constitution under this article requires
the concurrent action of two-thirds of both branches of Congress and
the affirmative action of three-fourths of the States. Of course
Congress can refuse to submit a proposed amendment to the Legislatures
of the several States, no matter how general the demand for such
submission may be, but I am inclined to believe with the senior
Senator from New Hampshire [Mr. BLAIR], in the proposition submitted
by him in a speech he made early in the present session upon the
pending resolution, that the question as to whether this resolution
shall be submitted to the Legislatures of the several States for
ratification does not involve the right or policy of the proposed
amendment. I am also inclined to believe with him that should
the demand by the people for the submission by Congress to the
Legislatures of the several States of a proposed amendment become
general it would he the duty of the Congress to submit such amendment
irrespective of the individual views of the members of Congress, and
thus give the people through their Legislative Assemblies power to
pass upon the question as to whether or not the Constitution should be
amended. At all events, for myself, I should not hesitate to vote to
submit for ratification by the Legislatures of the several States an
amendment to the Constitution although opposed to it if I thought the
demand for it justified such a course.

But I shall vote for the pending joint resolution because I am in
favor of the proposed amendment. I have been for many years convinced
that the demand made by women for the right of suffrage is just, and
that of all the distinctions which have been made between citizens in
the laws which confer or regulate suffrage the distinction of sex is
the least defensible.

I am not going to discuss the question at length at this time. The
arguments for and against woman suffrage have been often stated in
this Chamber, and are pretty fully set forth in the majority and
minority reports of the Senate committee upon the pending joint
resolution. The arguments in its favor were fully stated by the senior
Senator from New Hampshire in his able speech upon the question before
alluded to, and now the objections to it have been forcibly and
elaborately presented by the senior Senator from Georgia [Mr. BROWN].
I could not expect by anything I could say to change a single vote in
this body, and the public is already fully informed upon the question,
as the arguments in favor of woman suffrage have been voiced in every
hamlet in the land with great ability. No question in this country has
been more ably discussed than this has been by the women themselves.

I do not think a single objection which is made to woman suffrage is
tenable. No one will contend but that women have sufficient capacity
to vote intelligently.

Sir, sacred and profane history is full of the records of great deeds
by women. They have ruled kingdoms, and, my friend from Georgia to
the contrary notwithstanding, they have commanded armies. They have
excelled in statecraft, they have shone in literature, and, rising
superior to their environments and breaking the shackles with which
custom and tyranny have bound them, they have stood side by side with
men in the fields of the arts and the sciences.

If it were a fact that woman is intellectually inferior to man, which
I do not admit, still that would be no reason why she should not
be permitted to participate in the formation and control of the
Government to which she owes allegiance. If we are to have as a test
for the exercise of the right of suffrage a qualification based upon
intelligence, let it be applied to women and to men alike. If it be
admitted that suffrage is a right, that is the end of controversy;
there can no longer be any argument made against woman suffrage,
because, if it is her right, then, if there were but one poor woman
in all the United States demanding the right of suffrage, it would be
tyranny to refuse the demand.

But our friends say that suffrage is not a right; that it is a matter
of grace only; that it is a privilege which is conferred upon or
withheld from individual members of society by society at pleasure.
Society as here used means man's government, and the proposition
assumes the fact that men have a right to institute and control
governments for themselves and for women. I admit that in the
governments of the world, past and present, men as a rule have assumed
to be the ruling classes; that they have instituted governments from
participation in which they have excluded women; that they have made
laws for themselves and for women, and as a rule have themselves
administered them; but that the provisions conferring or regulating
suffrage in the constitutions and laws of governments so constituted
determined the question of the right of suffrage can not be

Let us suppose, if we can, a community separated from all other
communities, having no organized government, owing no allegiance to
any existing governments, without any knowledge of the character
of present or past governments, so that when they come to form a
government for themselves they can do so free from the bias or
prejudice of custom or education, composed of an equal number of
men and women, having equal property rights to be defined and to
be protected by law. When such community came to institute a
government - and it would have an undoubted right to institute a
government for itself, and the instinct of self-preservation would
soon lead them to do so - will my friend from Georgia tell me by what
right, human or divine, the male portion of that community could
exclude the female portion, although equal in number and having equal
property rights with the men, from participation in the formation of
such government and in the enactment of laws for the government of the
community? I understand the Senator, if he should answer, would
say that he believes the Author of our existence, the Ruler of the
universe, has given different spheres to man and woman. Admit that;
and still neither in nature nor in the revealed will of God do I find
anything to lead me to believe that the Creator did not intend that a
woman should exercise the right of suffrage.

During the consideration by this body at the last session of the bill
to admit Washington Territory into the Union, referring to the
fact that in that Territory woman had been enfranchised, I briefly
submitted my views on this subject, which I ask the Secretary to read,
so that it may be incorporated in my remarks.

The Secretary read as follows:

Mr. President, there is another matter which I consider pertinent
to this discussion, and of too much importance to be left entirely
unnoticed on this occasion. It is something new in our political
history. It is full of hope for the women of this country and
of the world, and full of promise for the future of republican
institutions. I refer to the fact that in Washington Territory the
right of suffrage has been extended to women of proper age, and
that the delegates to the constitutional convention to be held
under the provisions of this bill, should it become a law, will,
under existing laws of the Territory, be elected by its citizens
without distinction as to sex, and the constitution to be
submitted to the people will be passed upon in like manner.

I do not intend to discuss the question of woman suffrage upon
this occasion, and I refer to it mainly for the purpose of
directing attention to the advanced position which the people of
this Territory have taken upon this question. I do not believe
the proposition so often asserted that suffrage is a political
privilege only, and not a natural right. It is regulated by
the constitution and laws of a State I grant, but it needs no
argument, it appears to me, to show that a constitution and laws
adopted and enacted by a fragment of the whole body of the people,
but binding alike on all, is a usurpation of the powers of

Government is but organized society. Whatever its form, it has its
origin in the necessities of mankind and is indispensable for
the maintenance of civilized society. It is essential to every
government that it should represent the supreme power of the
State, and be capable of subjecting the will of its individual
citizens to its authority. Such a government can only derive
its just powers from the consent of the governed, and can be
established only under a fundamental law which is self-imposed.
Every citizen of suitable age and discretion who is to be subject
to such a government has, in my judgment, a natural right to
participate in its formation. It is a significant fact that should
Congress pass this bill and authorize the people of Washington
Territory to frame a State constitution and organize a State
government, the fundamental law of the State will be made by all
the citizens of the State to be subject to it, and not by one-half
of them. And we shall witness the spectacle of a State government
founded in accordance with the principles of equality, and have a
State at last with a truly republican form of government.

The fathers of the Republic enunciated the doctrine "that all men
are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness." It is strange that any one in this
enlightened age should be found to contend that this declaration
is true only of men, and that a man is endowed by his Creator with
inalienable rights not possessed by a woman. The lamented Lincoln
immortalized the expression that ours is a Government "of the
people, by the people, and for the people," and yet it is far from
that. There can be no government by the people where one-half
of them are allowed no voice in its organization and control. I
regard the struggle going on in this country and elsewhere for
the enfranchisement of women as but a continuation of the great
struggle for human liberty which has, from the earliest dawn of
authentic history, convulsed nations, rent kingdoms, and drenched
battlefields with human blood. I look upon the victories which
have been achieved in the cause of woman's enfranchisement in
Washington Territory and elsewhere as the crowning victories of
all which have been won in the long-continued, still-continuing
contest between liberty and oppression, and as destined to exert a
greater influence upon the human race than any achieved upon the
battlefield in ancient or modern times.

Mr. DOLPH. Mr. President, the movement for woman suffrage has passed
the stage of ridicule. The pending joint resolution may not pass
during this Congress, but the time is not far distant when in every
State of the Union and in every Territory women will be admitted to
an equal voice in the government, and that will be done whether the
Federal Constitution is amended or not. The first convention demanding
suffrage for women was held at Seneca Falls, in the State of New York,
in 1848. To-day in three of the Territories of the Union women enjoy
full suffrage, in a large number of States and Territories they
are entitled to vote at school meetings, and in all the States and
Territories there is a growing sentiment in favor of this measure
which will soon compel respectful consideration by the law-making

No measure in this country involving such radical changes in our
institutions and fraught with so great consequences to this country
and to humanity has made such progress as the movement for woman
suffrage. Denunciation will not much longer answer for arguments by
the opponents of this measure. The portrayal of the evils to flow from
woman suffrage such as we have heard pictured to-day by the Senator
from Georgia, the loss of harmony between husband and wife, and the
consequent instability of the marriage relation, the neglect of
husband and children by wives and mothers for the performance of their
political duties, in short the incapacitating of women for wives and
mothers and companions, will not much longer serve to frighten the
timid. Proof is better than theory. The experiment has been tried
and the predicted evils to flow from it have not followed. On the
contrary, if we can believe the almost universal testimony, everywhere
where it has been tried it has been followed by the most beneficial

In Washington Territory, since woman was enfranchised, there have been
two elections. At the first there were 8,368 votes cast by women out
of a total vote of 34,000 and over. At the second election, which was
held in November last, out of 48,000 votes cast in the Territory,
12,000 votes were cast by women. The opponents of female suffrage
are silenced there. The Territorial conventions of both parties have
resolved in favor of woman suffrage, and there is not a proposition,
so far as I know in all that Territory, to repeal the law conferring
suffrage upon woman.

I desire also to inform my friend from Georgia that since women were
enfranchised in Washington Territory nature has continued in her
wonted courses. The sun rises and sets; there is seed-time and
harvest; seasons come and go. The population has increased with the
usual regularity and rapidity. Marriages have been quite as frequent,
and divorces have been no more so. Women have not lost their influence
for good upon society, but men have been elevated and refined. If we
are to believe the testimony which comes from lawyers, physicians,
ministers of the gospel, merchants, mechanics, farmers, and laboring
men, the united testimony of the entire people of the Territory, the
results of woman suffrage there have been all that could be desired by
its friends. Some of the results in that Territory have been seen
in making the polls quiet and orderly, in awaking a new interest in
educational questions and in questions of moral reform, in securing
the passage of beneficial laws and the proper enforcement of them;
and, as I have said before, in elevating men, and that without injury
to the women.

Mr. EUSTIS. Will the Senator allow me to ask him a question?

Mr. DOLPH. The Senator can ask me a question, if he chooses.

Mr. EUSTIS. If it be right and proper to confer the right of suffrage
on women, I ask the Senator whether he does not think that women ought
to be required to serve on juries?

Mr. DOLPH. I can answer that very readily. It does not necessarily
follow that because a woman is permitted to vote and thus have a voice
in making the laws by which she is to be governed and by which her
property rights are to be determined, she must perform such duty as
service upon a jury. But I will inform the Senator that in Washington
Territory she does serve upon juries, and with great satisfaction
to the judges of the courts and to all parties who desire to see an
honest and efficient administration of law.

Mr. EUSTIS. I was aware of the fact that women are required to serve
on juries in Washington Territory because they are allowed to vote.
I understand that under all State laws those duties are considered
correlative. Now, I ask the Senator whether he thinks it is a decent
spectacle to take a mother away from her nursing infant and lock her
up all night to sit on a jury?

Mr. DOLPH. I intended to say before I reached this point of being
interrogated that I not only do not believe that there is a single
argument against woman suffrage that is tenable, and I may be
prejudiced in the matter, but that there is not a single one that is
really worthy of any serious consideration. The Senator from Louisiana
is a lawyer, and he knows very well that under such circumstances, a
mother with a nursing infant, that fact being made known to the court
would be excused; that would be a sufficient excuse. He knows himself,
and he has seen it done a hundred times, that for trivial excuses
compared to that men have been excused from service on a jury.

Mr. EUSTIS. I will ask the Senator whether he knows that under the
laws of Washington Territory that is a legal excuse from serving on a

Mr. DOLPH. I am not prepared to state that it is; but there is no
question in the world but that any judge, that fact being made known,
would excuse a woman from attendance upon a jury. No special authority
would be required. I will state further that I have not learned that
there has been any serious objection on the part of any woman summoned
for jury service in that Territory to perform that duty. I have not
learned that it has worked to the disadvantage of any family in the
Territory; but I do know that the judges of the courts have taken
especial pains to commend the women who have been called to serve upon
juries for the manner in which they have discharged their duty.

I wish to say further that there is no connection whatever between
jury service and the right of suffrage. The question as to who shall
perform jury service, the question as to who shall perform military
service, the question as to who shall perform civil official duty in
a government is certainly a matter to be regulated by the community
itself; but the question of the right to participate in the formation
of a government which controls the life and the property and the
destinies of its citizens, I contend is a question of right that goes
back of these mere regulations for the protection of property and the
punishment of offenses under the laws. It is a matter of right which
it is tyranny to refuse to any citizen demanding it.

Now, Mr. President, I shall close by saying: God speed the day when
not only in all the States of the Union and in all the Territories,
but everywhere, woman shall stand before the law freed from the last
shackle which has been riveted upon her by tyranny and the last
disability which has been imposed upon her by ignorance, not only in
respect to the right of suffrage, but in every other respect the peer
and equal of her brother, man.

* * * * *

Mr. VEST. Mr. President, any measure of legislation which affects
popular government based on the will of the people as expressed
through their suffrage is not only important but vitally so. If this
Government, which is based on the intelligence of the people, shall
ever be destroyed it will be by injudicious, immature, or corrupt
suffrage. If the ship of state launched by our fathers shall ever be
destroyed, it will be by striking the rock of universal, unprepared
suffrage. Suffrage once given can never be taken away. Legislatures
and conventions may do everything else; they never can do that. When
any particular class or portion of the community is once invested with
this privilege it is used, accomplished, and eternal.

The Senator who last spoke on this question refers to the successful
experiment in regard to woman-suffrage in the Territories of Wyoming
and Washington. Mr. President, it is not upon the plains of the
sparsely-settled Territories of the West that woman suffrage can be
tested. Suffrage in the rural districts and sparsely settled regions
of this country must from the very nature of things remain pure when
corrupt everywhere else. The danger of corrupt suffrage is in the
cities, and those masses of population to which civilization tends
everywhere in all history. Whilst the country has been pure and
patriotic, the cities have been the first cancers to appear upon the
body-politic in all ages of the world.

Wyoming Territory! Washington Territory! Where are their large cities?
Where are the localities in these Territories where the strain upon
popular government must come? The Senator from New Hampshire, who is
so conspicuous in this movement, appalled the country some months
since by his ghastly array of illiteracy in the Southern States. He
proposes that $77,000,000 of the people's money be taken in order to
strike down the great foe to republican government, illiteracy. How
was that illiteracy brought upon this country? It was by giving the
suffrage to unprepared voters. It is not my purpose to go back into
the past and make any partisan or sectional appeal, but it is a fact
known to every intelligent man that in one single act the right of
suffrage was given without preparation to hundreds of thousands of
voters who to-day can scarcely read. That Senator proposes now to
double, and more than double, that illiteracy. He proposes to give the
negro women of the South this right of suffrage, utterly unprepared as
they are for it.

In a convention some two years and a half ago in the city of
Louisville an intelligent negro from the South said the negro men
could not vote the Democratic ticket because the women would not live
with them if they did. The negro men go out in the hotels and upon the
railroad cars. They go to the cities and by attrition they wear
away the prejudice of race; but the women remain at home, and their
emotional natures aggregate and compound the race-prejudice, and when
suffrage is given them what must be the result?

Mr. President, it is not my purpose to speak of the inconveniences,
for they are nothing more, of woman suffrage. I trust that as a
gentleman I respect the feelings of the ladies and their advocates. I
am not here to ridicule. My purpose only is to use legitimate argument
as to a movement which commands respectful consideration, if for no
other reason than because it comes from women. But it is impossible
to divest ourselves of a certain degree of sentiment when considering
this question.

I pity the man who can consider any question affecting the influence
of woman with the cold, dry logic of business. What man can, without
aversion, turn from the blessed memory of that dear old grandmother,
or the gentle words and caressing hand of that blessed mother gone to
the unknown world, to face in its stead the idea of a female justice
of the peace or township constable? For my part I want when I go to my
home - when I turn from the arena where man contends with man for what
we call the prizes of this paltry world - I want to go back, not to be
received in the masculine embrace of some female ward politician, but
to the earnest, loving look and touch of a true woman. I want to go
back to the jurisdiction of the wife, the mother; and instead of a
lecture upon finance or the tariff, or upon the construction of the
Constitution, I want those blessed, loving details of domestic life
and domestic love.

I have said I would not speak of the inconveniences to arise from
woman suffrage - I care not - whether the mother is called upon to
decide as a juryman or jury-woman rights of property or rights of
life, whilst her baby is "mewling and puking" in solitary confinement
at home. There are other considerations more important, and one of
them to my mind is insuperable. I speak now respecting women as a sex.
I believe that they are better than men, but I do not believe they are

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Online LibraryVariousDebate on Woman Suffrage in the Senate of the United States, 2d Session, 49th Congress, December 8, 1886, and January 25, 1887 → online text (page 5 of 16)