Library of Congress

Teachers

The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Lesson Plans > Women's Suffrage: Their Rights and Nothing Less

Back to Lesson Plans

Suffrage parade, New York City, May 6, 1912

[Detail] Suffrage parade, New York City, May 6, 1912

An appeal to the women of the United States by the National woman suffrage and educational committee, Washington, D.C.... (1871) (excerpt)

For Lesson Two

NOTE: This is an excerpt from An appeal to the women of the United States by the National woman suffrage and educational committee, Washington, D.C.... (1871) found in Votes for Women, 1848-1921.

{Excerpt Begins}

...
To the women of this country who are willing to unite with us in securing the full recognition of our rights, and to accept the duties and responsibilities of a full citizenship, we offer for signature the following Declaration and Pledge, in the firm belief that our children's children will with fond veneration recognize in this act our devotion to the great doctrines of liberty in their new and wider and more spiritual application, even as we regard with reverence the prophetic utterances of the Fathers of the Republic in their Declaration of Independence:

Declaration and Fledge of the Women of the United States concerning their Right to and their Use of the Elective Franchise.

"We, the undersigned, believing that the sacred rights and privileges of citizenship in this Republic were guaranteed to us by the original Constitution, and that these rights are confirmed and more clearly established by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, so that we can no longer refuse the solemn responsibilities thereof, do hereby pledge ourselves to accept the duties of the franchise in our several States, so soon as all legal restrictions are removed.

"And believing that character is the best safe-guard of national liberty, we pledge ourselves to make the personal purity and integrity of candidates for public office and first test of fitness.

"And lastly, believing in God, as the Supreme Author of the American Declaration of Independence, we pledge ourselves in the spirit of that memorable Act, to work hand in hand with our fathers, husbands, and sons, for the maintenance of those equal rights on which our Republic was originally founded, to the end that it may have, what is declared to be the first condition of just government, the consent of the governed."

You have no new issue to make, no new grievances to set forth. You are taxed without representation, tried by a jury not of your peers, condemned and punished by judges and officers not of your choice, bound by laws you have had no voice in making, many of which are specially burdensome upon you as women; in short, your rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are daily infringed, simply because you have heretofore been denied the use of the ballot, the one weapon of protection and defense under a republican form of government. Fortunately, however, you are not compelled to resort to force in order to secure the rights of a complete citizenship. These are provided for by the original Constitution, and by the recent amendments your are recognized as citizens of the United States, whose rights, including the fundamental right to vote, may not be denied or abridged by the United States, nor by any State. The obligation is thus laid upon you to accept or reject the duties of citizenship, and to your own consciences and your God you must answer if the future legislation of this country shall fall short of the demands of justice and equality.

In this country, which stands so specially on equal representation, it is hardly possible that the same equal suffrage would not be established by law if the matter were to be left merely to the progress of public sentiment and the ordinary course of legislation. But as we confidently believe, and as we have before stated, the right already exists in our national constitutions, and especially under the recent amendments. The interpretation of the Constitution which we maintain, we cannot doubt, will be ultimately adopted by the Courts, although, as the assertion of our right encounters a deep and prevailing prejudice, and judges are proverbially cautions and conservative, we must expect to encounter some adverse decisions. In the mean time it is of the highest importance that in every possible way we inform the public mind and educate public opinion on the whole subject of equal rights under a republican government, and that we manifest our desire for and willingness to accept all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, by asserting our right to be registered as voters and to vote at the Congressional elections. The original Constitution provides in express terms that the representatives in Congress shall be elected "by the PEOPLE of the several States"-with no restriction whatever as to the application of that term. This right, thus clearly granted to all the people, is confirmed and placed beyond reasonable question by the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. The act of May, 1870, the very title of which, " An Act to enforce the rights of citizens of the United States to vote," is a concession of all that we claim, provides that the officers of elections throughout the United States shall give an equal opportunity to all citizens of the United States to become qualified to vote by the registry of their names or other pre-requisite; and that where upon the application of any citizen such pre-requisite is refused, such citizens may vote without performing such pre-requisite; and imposes a penalty upon the officers refusing either the application of the citizen to be qualified or his subsequent application to vote. The constitution also provides that "each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications of its own members." When therefore the election of any candidate for the lower House is effected or defeated by the admission or rejection of the votes of women, the question is brought directly before the House, and it is compelled to pass at once upon the question of the right of women to vote under the Constitution. All this may be accomplished without the necessity of bringing suits for the penalty imposed upon public officers by the act referred to: but should it be thought best to institute prosecutions where the application of women to register and to vote is refused, the question would thereby at once be brought into the Courts. If it be thought expedient to adopt the latter course, it is best that some test case be brought upon full consultation with the National Committee, that the ablest counsel may be employed and the expenses paid out of the public fund. Whatever mode of testing the question shall be adopted, we must not be in the slightest degree discourage by adverse decisions, for the final result in our favor is certain, and we have besides great reason to hope that Congress at an early day will pass a Declaratory Act affirming the interpretation of the Constitution which we claim.

The present time is specially favorable for the earnest presentation before the public mind of the question of the political rights of women. There are very positive indications of the approaching disintegration and re-formation of political parties, and new and vital issues are needed by both the great parties of the country. As soon as the conviction possesses the public mind that women are to be voters at an early day, as they certainly are to be, the principles and the action of public parties will be shaping themselves with reference to the demands of this new constituency. Particularly in nominations for office will the moral character of candidates become a matter of greater importance.

To carry on this great work a Board of six women has been established, called "The National Woman Suffrage and Educational Committee," whose office at Washington it is proposed to make the centre of all action upon Congress and the country, and with whom through their Secretary, resident there, it is desired that all associations and individuals interested in the cause of woman suffrage should place themselves in communication. The committee propose to circulate the very able and exhaustive Minority Report of the House Judiciary Committee on the constitutional right of woman to the suffrage, and other tracts on the general subject of woman suffrage. They also propose ultimately, and as a part of their educational work, to issue a series of tracts on subjects vitally affecting the welfare of the country, that women may become intelligent and thoughtful on such subjects, and the intelligent educators of the next generation of citizens...

{Excerpt Ends}

Top