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Reconstruction and Rights
Proceedings of the First Anniversary of the American Equal Rights Association

The following document is a speech presented by Parker Pillsbury at the First Anniversary of the American Equal Rights Association, a group that included many abolitionists as well as workers for women's suffrage. The group debated whether it should support suffrage for black men if women - both black and white - were not included. What position does Pillsbury take on this question? What arguments does Pillsbury make in support of suffrage for black Americans? For women? Which arguments are most persuasive to you? Why?

View the entire document from Votes for Women, 1848-1921. Use Back Button to return to this point.


The right of suffrage is as old, as sacred and as universal as the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is indeed the complement and safeguard of these and all civil and political rights to every citizen. The right to life would be nothing without the right to acquire and possess the means of its support. So it were mockery to talk of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, until the ballot in the hand of every citizen seals and secures it.

The right of the black man to voice in the government was not earned at Olustee or Port Hudson. It was his when life began, not when life was paid for it under the battle-axe of war. It was his with Washington and Jefferson, Jams Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln. Not one of them could ever produce a higher, holier claim. Nor can any of us.

We are prating about giving right of suffrage to black male citizens, are complacently as we once gave our compassion and corn to famishing Ireland. But this famine of freedom and justice exists because we have produced it. Had our fleets and armies robbed Ireland of its last loaf, and left its myriads of inhabitants lean, ghastly skeletons, our charity would not have been more a mockery when we sent them bread to preserve them alive, than it is now when w talk of giving the ballot to those whom God created free and equal with ourselves.

And in the plenitude of our generosity, we even propose to extend the gift to woman also. It is proposed to make educated, cultivated, refined, loyal, tax-paying, government-obeying woman equal to the servants who groom her horses, and scour the pots and pans of her kitchen. Unfortunate beings, without property, and scarcely knowing the English tongue, or any other, are entreated to grant to women, the superior of all the queens of the old world, the right to cooperate with them in the affairs of State. Women here in New York worth thousands and hundreds of thousands in gold, and whose money is the meanest part of their real value in society, are humbly petitioning their coachmen, their footmen and gardeners, the discharged State-prison convicts, the idiots and lunatics, all of whom may and often do exercise the right of the ballot, to permit them also to share with them in making and executing the laws.

Our Maria Mitchells, our Harriet Hosmers, Harriet Beecher Stowes, Lydia Maria Childs,and Lucretia Motts, with millions of the mothers and matrons of quiet homes, where they preside with queenly dignity and grace, are begging of besotted, debauched white male citizens, legal voters, soaked in whiskey, simmered in tobacco, and parboiled in every shameless vice and sin, to recognized them also as human, and graciously accord to them the rights of intelligent beings!

And, singularly enough, in some of the States, it is proposed to grant the prayer. But the wisest and best men have no idea that they are only restoring what they have so long held by force, based on fraud and falsehood. They only propose to give woman the boon which they claim was theirs by heavenly inheritance. But they are too late with their generosity. For God gave that when he gave life and breath, passions, emotions, conscience and will. Give gold, give lands, give honors, give office, give title of nobility, if you must; but talk not giving natural, inalienable and heaven-derived endowments. God alone bestows these. He alone has them to give.

Our trade in right of suffrage is contraband. It is bold buccaneering on the commerce of the moral universe. If we have our neighbor's right of suffrage and citizenship in our keeping, no matter of what color, or race, or sex, then we have stolen goods in our possession; and God's search-warrant will pursue us forever, if those goods be not restored.

And the we impudently assert that "all just governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed." But when was the consent of woman ever asked to one single act on all the statute books?

We talk of "trial by jury of our peers!" In this country of ours, women have been fined, imprisoned, scourged, branded with red hot irons and hung; but when, or where, or for what crime or offence, was ever woman tried by a jury of her peers?

Suffrage was never in the hands of tyrants or of governments, but by usurpation. It was never given by them to any of us. We brought it; not bought it; nor conquered it; nor begged it; nor earned it; nor inherited it. It was man's inalienable, irrepealable, inextinguishable right from the beginning. It is so still; the same yesterday, to-day and while earthly governments last.

It came with the right to see and hear; to breathe and speak; to think and feel; to love and hate; to choose and refuse; or it did not come at all....

And has not also the moral and spiritual nature its inalienable rights? Have the mere bodily organs, which are but the larder of worms, born of the dust, and dust their destiny-have they power and prerogative that are denied to the reasons, the understanding, the conscience, the will, those attributes which constitute responsibility, accountability and immortality?

Or shall God give the power to choose, or refuse obedience to his law and reign, leaving the human will free as his own; and must mortal man, the mushroom of yesterday and perished to-morrow, usurp a higher and more dreadful prerogative, and compel support of and submission to laws in which the subject has no voice in making, executing or even consenting, on pain of perpetual imprisonment, banishment or death?

Must a brave soldier fight and bleed for the government, and, pruned of limbs, plucked of eyes. and scarred all over with the lead and iron hail of war-must he now hobble on his crutches up to a Republican, Democratic, yes, and a Christian throne, and beg the boon of a ballot in that government, in defence of which he perilled all, and lost all but bare life and breath, only because an African instead of a more indulgent sun looked upon him or his ancestors in their allotment of life? And then, when the claim of immortal manhood is superadded, the inalienable rights of the soul, in and of themselves, the rights of the reason, the understanding, the conscience, the will-what desperation is that which treads down all these claims, and rushes into seats of higher authority than were ever claimed by the eternal God, and denies him that right altogether!

No white male citizens was ever born with three ballots in his hand, one his own by birthright, and to be used without restraint, the others to be granted, given to women and to colored men at his pleasure or convenience! Such an idea should never have outraged our common humanity. And any bill or proposal for what is called "manhood suffrage" while it ignores womanhood suffrage, whether coming from the President or the Republican party and sanctioned by the Anti-Slavery Society, should be repudiated as at war with the whole spirit and genius of a true Democracy, and a deadly stab into the very heart of justice itself.
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