When Victoria Woodhull launched her campaign for the presidency, women were still fifty years away from having the right to vote. Throughout her life, however, Woodhull had pushed back against the limitations American society placed on women. With her sister, Tennessee Claflin, she owned a successful stock brokerage; shortly after announcing her intention to seek the office of the presidency, the two began editing and publishing a weekly newspaper to provide coverage of her campaign. Two years after her announcement, Woodhull was officially nominated to be the presidential candidate for the Equal Rights Party, with Frederick Douglass as her vice president. Although Woodhull’s presidential bid was ultimately unsuccessful, her candidacy raised the profile of woman’s rights as an issue to be taken seriously by other national political parties.
Source: Victoria Woodhull, “The Coming Woman,” March 29, 1870, New York Herald, p. 8. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/6836678/victoria_woodhull_announces_her/
TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD:—
The disorganized condition of parties in the United States at the present time affords a favorable opportunity for a review of the political situation and for comment on the issues which are likely to come up for settlement in the Presidential election in 1872. As I happen to be the most prominent representative of the only unrepresented class in the republic, and perhaps the most practical exponent of the principles of equality; I request the favor of being permitted to address the public through the medium of the Herald. While others of my sex devoted themselves to a crusade against the laws that shackle the women of the country, I asserted my individual independence; while others prayed for the time coming, I worked for it; while others argued the equality of woman with man, I proved it by successfully engaging in business; while others sought to show that there was no valid reason why woman should be treated socially and politically as a being inferior to man, I boldly entered the arena of politics and business and exercised the rights I already possessed. I therefore claim the right to speak for the unenfranchised women of the country, and believing as I do that there will be
MORE FEMALE OFFICEHOLDERS THAN FEMALE VOTERS
for some time to come, and that the prejudices that still exist in the popular mind against women in public life will soon disappear, I now announce myself as a candidate for the Presidency. I am quite well aware that in assuming this position I shall evoke more ridicule than enthusiasm at the outset. But this is an epoch of sudden changes and startling surprises[:] What may appear absurd to-day will assume a serious aspect to-morrow. I am content to wait until my claim for recognition as a candidate shall receive the calm consideration of the press and the public. The blacks were cattle in 1800; a negro now sits in Jeff Davis’ seat in the United States Senate. The sentiment of the country was, even in 1863, against negro suffrage; now the negro’s right to vote is acknowledged by a majority of the States, and will soon be recognized by the Constitution of the United States. Let those, therefore, who ridiculed the negro’s claim to exercise the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and lived to see him vote and hold high public offices, ridicule the aspirations of the women of the country after equality with the blacks as much as they please. They cannot roll back the rising tide of reform.
THE WORLD MOVES.
That great governmental changes were to follow the enfranchisement of the negro I have long foreseen. While the curse of slavery covered the land progress was enchained, but when it was swept away in the torrent of war the voice of justice was heard, and it became evident that the last weak barrier against complete political and social equality must soon give way. All that has been said and written hitherto in support of
EQUALITY FOR WOMEN
has had its proper effect on the public mind, just as the anti-slavery speeches before secession were effective; but a candidate and a policy are required to prove it. Lincoln’s election showed the strength of the feeling against the peculiar institution; my candidacy for the Presidency will, I confidently expect, develop the fact that the principles of equal rights for all have taken deep root. The advocates of political equality for women have, besides a respectable known strength, a great undercurrent of unexpected power, which is only awaiting a fit opportunity to show itself. By the general and decided test, I propose we shall be able to understand the woman question aright, or at least shall have done much toward presenting
THE ISSUE INVOLVED
in proper shape. I claim to possess the strength and courage to be the subject of that test and look forward confidently of a triumphant issue of the canvass.
The present position of political parties is anomalous. They are not inspired by any great principles of policy or economy. Political preachers paw the air; there is no live issue up for discussion. The only seemingly distinctive feature upon which a complete and well-defined diversion exists is on the dead issue of negro equality, and this is to the political leaders
A HARP OF A THOUSAND STRINGS.
The minor questions of the hour do not affect parties as such, and no well-defined division of sentiment exists. A great national question is wanted to prevent a descent into pure sectionalism. The simple issue whether women should not have political equality with the negro is the only one to be tried, and none more important is likely to arise before the Presidential election. But beside the question of equality others of great magnitude are necessarily included. The platform that is to succeed in the coming election must enunciate the general principles of
ENLIGHTENED JUSTICE AND ECONOMY.
A complete reform in our system of prison discipline, having specially in view the welfare of the families of criminals, whose labor should not be lost to them; the rearrangement of the system and control of internal improvements; the adoption of some better means for caring for the helpless and indigent; the establishment of strictly mutual and reciprocal relations with all foreign Powers who will unite to better the condition of the productive class, and the adoption of such principles as shall recognize this class as
THE TRUE WEALTH OF THE COUNTRY
and give it a just position beside capital, thus introducing a practical plan for universal government—these important changes can only be expected to follow a complete departure from the beaten tracks of political parties and their machinery; and this, I believe, my canvass of 1872 will effect.
That the people are sick of the present administration is a proposition, I think, that does not require to be argued; but as I have now taken a decided stand against its continuance for another term of four years, and offered myself as a candidate for the Presidential succession, a few preliminary observations on the general management of
OUR HOME AND FOREIGN POLICY
will not be out place. The administration of General Grant then, has been a failure from the beginning; weak, vacillating and deficient in moral courage, it commands neither the respect nor admiration of foreign Powers nor receives the active support of its party. The general management of our foreign and domestic affairs does not seem to me to have risen to the dignity of a policy, though it be allowed to have been consistent in its various parts. It has been destitute of that decision and firmness that characterize the victorious soldier who is now President. A decided Cuban policy would not only have settled at once the inevitable destiny of that island, but would also have given republican sentiment in Spain an impetus, strengthened the South American republics and exercised a healthy influence in Mexico and Canada. But instead of this we have to submit to the consequences of
A POLICY OF COWARDICE
American citizens abroad are murdered by Spanish cutthroats, our consuls are insulted, our flag is disgraced. This is unworthy of the American nation, and the people will hold Grant accountable. A giant who never shows his strength is neither feared nor respected. On the important questions of taxation, the tariff and the public debt the administration seems to have no settled policy. Taxation, whether for the support of the government or the payment of the debt, should in all cases be general and never special. No special interest, nor several special interests, should be singled out to sustain an extra proportion of taxation. And in regard to the tariff the same principle should be enforced. Whether the public debt be a blessing or a curse, it exists. Created to save the republic, it must be paid strictly according to both the spirit and the letter of the law. But there is no immediate necessity for paying it off. By a proper policy its payment might be made to extend through a hundred years, for even beyond that time will the benefits its creation produced be felt and appreciated. In older countries the pressure of national debt becomes a heavier charge and a more mighty burden every succeeding year, but with us the very reverse is the case. The development of our magnificent resources will render the gradual payment of our indebtedness easy of accomplishment.
ALL OTHER QUESTIONS,
whether of a foreign or domestic nature, stand illustrated by the Cuban policy of the administration. A bold, firm and, withal, consistent national policy, if not at all times strictly within the conservative limits of international law will always command the respect and support of the people.
With the view of taking the people into my confidence I have written several papers on governmental questions of importance and will submit them in due time. For the present the foregoing must suffice. I anticipate criticism; but however unfavorable the comment this letter may evoke I trust that my sincerity will not be called in question. I have deliberately and of my own accord placed myself before the people as a candidate for the Presidency of the United States, and saving the means, courage, energy and strength necessary for the race intend to contest it to the close.
- 1. Woodhull refers to the fact that while women were often explicitly precluded from voting, many statutes listing the qualifications for office were silent on the question of sex. Women’s rights advocates therefore began to run for elected offices in the 1850s in part to highlight the absurdity of being able to vote for a woman in an election where no woman could cast a vote. Interestingly, these enterprising female candidates were occasionally successful: see the database compiled by Wendy E. Chmielewski, Jill Norgren, and Kristen Gwinn-Becker, “Her Hat Was In The Ring: U.S. Women Who Ran for Political Office before 1920,” at http://www.herhatwasinthering.org/.
- 2. Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827– 1901) represented Mississippi in the US Senate from 1870 to 1871. A Republican, he was the first African American to serve in Congress.
- 3. Woodhull refers here to the Virginius Affair in which an American ship was hired by Cuban insurrectionists to send men and munitions to Cuba to make war on the Spanish. The ship was captured by the Spanish and fifty-three men were executed before Britain intervened and stopped the killings.