Consistent Democracy

What are the various reasons men might welcome women’s political participation?
How would Robin Morgan and other “women’s libbers” respond to these men? Would they accept them as allies?

Proponents of women’s rights often spoke and wrote about men as their oppressors or, at best, as opponents in their fight for equality. Yet many prominent men supported the movement for gender equality throughout the nineteenth century and lent the weight of their public positions and authority to the movement in speeches and editorials. This short pamphlet gathered together twenty-five “testimonies” in support of woman suffrage. Among the “prominent men” included were Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887), William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1889), Horace Greeley (1811–1872), Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823–1911), Samuel J. May (1797–1871), Theodore Parker (1810–1860), Wendell Phillips (1811–1884), Gerrit Smith (1797–1874), William H. Channing (1810–1884), the Ohio Senate, and the Wisconsin legislature.

—Sarah A. Morgan Smith

Source: Consistent Democracy. The Elective Franchise for Women. Twenty-Five Testimonies of Prominent Men (Worcester, 1858), 4 pp., Susan B. Anthony Collection and National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, Library of Congress,

H. B. Anthony, Ex-Governor of Rhode Island (Editor of the Providence Journal)

A collection of women arguing for political rights, and for the privileges usually conceded only to the other sex, is one of the easiest things in the world to make fun of. There is no end to the smart speeches and the witty remarks that may be made on the subject. But when we seriously attempt to show that a woman who pays taxes ought not to have a voice in the manner in which the taxes are expended, that a woman whose property and liberty and person are controlled by the laws, should have no voice in framing those laws, it is not so easy. If women are fit to rule in monarchies, it is difficult to say why they are not qualified to vote in a republic; nor can there be greater delicacy in a woman going up to the ballot box, than there is in woman opening a legislature or issuing orders to an army. We do not say that women ought to vote; but we say that it is a great deal easier to laugh down the idea than to argue it down.

Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

We need the participation of woman in the ballot box. It is idle to fear that she will meet with disrespect or insult at the polls. Let her walk up firmly and modestly to deposit her vote, and all men will make way for her, and if any one ventures to molest her, the crowd will swallow him up as the whale swallowed Jonah!

Rev Wm. H. Channing

Our whole plan of government is a hypocritical farce, if one-half the people can be governed by the other half, without their consent being asked or granted. Conscience and common sense alike demand the equal rights of women.

Rev. Dr. Follen

Woman, though possessed of that rational and moral nature which is the foundation of all rights, enjoys among us fewer legal and civil rights than under the law of continental Europe.

O. S. Fowler

Politics and government require the participation of women, in some form, as much as of man; and till it has that, to all intents and purposes, will it be marred by all the imperfections of the old bachelor.

Wm. Lloyd Garrison

Women have the whole ground conceded to them at the beginning. “All government arises from the consent of the governed.” Our fathers hold that doctrine as self-evident, and the men of this country have conceded the whole ground. Those who are ruled by law should have the power to say what shall be the laws, and who the law-makers. Women are as much interested in legislation as men, and entitled to representation.

Horace Greely

As to woman’s voting or holding office, I defer implicitly to herself. If the women of this or any other country believe that their rights would be better secured and their happiness protected by the assumption on their part, of the political franchises and responsibilities of men, I, a Republican in principle, shall certainly interpose no objection. . . . I apprehend that whenever women shall generally and really desire an equality of political franchise with men, they will meet with little impediment from the latter.

Hon. Wm. Hay, Saratoga, N.Y.

I am convinced that until the individual and social right of our whole race, without distinction of caste or sex, shall have been universally recognized, the tyrannies of earth will cease from it. The Woman’s Rights reform may yet lead to the practical adoption, here, of Jefferson’s elementary truth (almost self-evident, yet treated as theory) that government derives its just powers from suffrage—consent of all (not half) the governed. Partial consent can confer only unjust power.

Hon. E. P. Hurlbut of New York

If woman’s mental characteristics are essentially the same as man’s, the same reasons which uphold universal suffrage for the male sex must extend it also to the female. . . . Suppose (on the other hand) her character to vary essentially from man’s, admit her to have peculiar views, peculiar interest, and moral wants; this but enhances the necessity for a peculiar representation of her moral interests in the legislature. Man, then, cannot properly represent her. . . . There would seem to be no escape from the claims of woman to the full rights of citizenship, whether she is considered as possessing the same nature with man, or one peculiar and different. In the one case, she can claim to exercise the elective franchise of common right, and in the other, from a peculiar necessity.—Essay on Human Rights and Their Political Guaranties.

Rev. T. W. Higginson

If anything caps the sum of the argument for the political rights of woman, it is the fact of those domestic duties which some foolishly array against these rights. What has a man at stake in society? His own personal interest. A man invests himself in society; woman invests infinitely more, for she throws in her child. The man can run away to California, with his interests and from his duties; the woman is anchored to her home. It is important to him, you say, whether the community provides, by its legislation, schools or dram shops. Then how vast, how unspeakable, the importance to her. Deprive every man in the nation of the ballot, if you will but demand, on demand, its protection for the wife and mother!

Rev. Dr. Mahan, President of Oberlin College

If the women of this state wish for the elective franchise, they can have it. I do not think it is in the heart of man to refuse it. Only speed the truth, and when the people are once convinced that her claim is just, it will be allowed.

Rev. Samuel J. May

What we see to be perfect in the individual would be also perfect in the community, that is, the entire union of male and female. The true family is the type of the true state. It is the absence of the feminine from the conduct of the governments of the earth that makes them more or less savage. The state is now in a condition of half orphanage. There are fathers of the state, but no mothers.

John Neal

You must oblige man to pay women better wages. But how! There is only one way. Give her the right of suffrage—and up go her wages, with the wages of other people. In other words, give to every female, as to every male, at the age of twenty-one, the sacred right of citizenship.

It is a fact capable of demonstration, that the right of suffrage is worth fifty cents a day to the common laborer of our country, and would be worth more, upon an average, to all the women of our country.

Rev. Theodore Parker

In America, woman has no political rights, is not a citizen in full; she has no voice in making or administering the laws, none in electing the rulers or administrators. She can hold no office—cannot be [on the governing] committee of a primary school, overseer of the poor, or guardian to a public lamp post. But any man with conscience enough to keep out of jail, mind enough to escape the poor-house, and body enough to drop his ballot into the box, he is a voter. He may have no character, even no money; that is no matter, he is a voter. But the noblest woman has no voice in the state. Men make laws disposing of her property, her person, her children—still she must bear it.

Rev. John Pierpont

Why should not woman vote? The essence of all republicanism is that they who feel the pressure of the law shall have a voice in its enactment. Taxation without representation was the very cause which drove our fathers to make a stand against the power of Great Britain. But in the making of laws property is not the whole consideration, personal protection and rights are also to be regarded. I maintain that whenever any human being has attained the age of maturity, that human individual has a right—not a privilege, not a favor, but a right—to a voice in making the laws.

Wendell Phillips

I take it, America never gave any better principle to the world than the safety of letting every human being have the power of protection in its own hands. I claim it for woman. It is the beginning and end of my Woman’s Rights speeches. The moment she has the ballot, I shall think the cause is won. Education, employment, equality, genius, the fine arts, places in college and everywhere else follow in the train. They are written, they are endorsed upon the back of the ballot. They will come by necessity, the moment you give her that. The moment you give women the ballot, the wealth of Wall Street will give bonds that she shall have every other right, in order that she may constitute a safe trustee of its own prosperity.

James Redpath, Editor of Kansas Crusader of Freedom

The American Revolution was merely a successful rebellion, if the principle “no taxation without representation” is to be forever confined to one sex only. We believe that to grant the right of suffrage to women would purify politics more than any plan that could be adopted.

“True, every word of it.”—Kansas News, edited by P. B. Plumb.

Hon. Sam’l E. Sewall, of Massachusetts

The question of the right of suffrage for women is a very simple one, and easy of solution. I look upon it merely in the light of right. What is the right of women in this respect? Why, I ask, have women any less right to vote than men? I can see no sufficient answer. . . . The argument of the incompetency of women, and the argument that men will take care of women, are the arguments that tyrants have always urged in cases of this kind. It is always urged that the bulk of the people are inferior; that they cannot legislate for themselves; that the higher classes in the community can take better care of them than they can of themselves. Now, what has been the result? The history of the world shows that the rights of the inferior classes, or the classes that are governed by others, are never protected; that aristocracies always legislate for their own class.

Hon. C. C. Sholes, of Wisconsin

The question of female suffrage is merely a question of time, and is as sure to triumph as God is just.

Gerrit Smith

I ask no favor, no grace for woman, nothing but her rights. All will admit that a woman has a right to herself and her earnings. You admit these two rights. Yet you will not admit her right to the ballot.

But the other rights must be held by a very precarious tenure, if she does not exercise this right. If the men who make and administer the laws, see that females are their constituents, they will not be very likely to fail to pay due regard to the rights of woman. This is the first great right which guarantees all other rights.

H. H. Van Amringe

The real question is this. Has the Deity formed one-half the human race, created in his image, incapable of self-government—or rather so incapable as to be rightfully in subjection to a power independent of themselves? Is it not foolish if not impious to suppose so?

Hon. Amasa Walker, of Massachusetts

Are we prepared to say that the time may never come, or that it ought never to come, when women shall have any more political influence, in some form or other, than she now has? Are we certain that the female mind has arrived at its highest point, so far as influence is concerned, and is never destined to go beyond what it is at present? I think not. I think that we should leave that question for the future to determine, and that will eventually become a serious question, I have no manner of doubt. We are schooling our females too well, if we do not intend they shall rise in social position and influence.

I suppose a time may come, and a state of things may exist, in which they may enjoy political rights, and perform political duties, without, in any respect, compromising either their dignity or their delicacy.

Hon. Timothy Walker, of Ohio

With regard to political rights, females form an exception to the general rule of equality. They have no part or lot in the administration of government. They cannot vote or hold office. We require them to contribute, in the way of taxes to the support of government, but allow them no voice in its direction. We hold them amenable to the laws when made, but allow them no share in making them. This language applied to males would be the exact definition of political slavery; applied to females, custom does not teach us so to regard it.—Introduction to American Law.

Ohio Senate Report, 1857

Your Committee believe that the prayer of the petitioners ought to be granted. Our opinion is founded both on principle and expediency.

To declare that a voice in the government is the right of all , and then give it only to a part, is to renounce even the appearance of principle. As ought to have been foreseen, the class of persons thus cut off from self-protection, have become victims of unequal and excessive legislation, which runs through our whole code. We first bind the hands, by the organic law, and then proceed with deliberate safety, by the statute, to spoil the good of the victim. . . . The constitutional prohibition of female suffrage is not only a violation of natural right, but equally at war with the fundamental principles of the government.

Wisconsin Legislative Report, 1857

Politics are our national life. As civilization advances, its issues will spread still deeper into the social and every-day life of the people, and no man or woman can be regarded as an entity, as a power in the state, who has not a direct agency in governing its results. Political equality will, by leading the thoughts and purposes of the sexes, in a just degree, into the same channel, more completely carry out the designs of Nature. Woman 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.

Teacher Programs

Conversation-based seminars for collegial PD, one-day and multi-day seminars, graduate credit seminars (MA degree), online and in-person.

Our Core Document Collection allows students to read history in the words of those who made it. Available in hard copy and for download.