Stanton, Elizabeth Cady: Primary Sources

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SOURCE: Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. "Address: First Women's Rights Convention." In Elizabeth Cady Stanton Unpublished Manuscript Collection. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1848.

In the following essay, originally delivered as a speech before the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls on July 19, 1848, Stanton demands freedom and political representation of women. Stanton calls women to the task of fighting for equality and to protest unjust laws.

We have met here today to discuss our rights and wrongs, civil and political, and not, as some have supposed, to go into the detail of social life alone. We do not propose to petition the legislature to make our husbands just, generous, and courteous, to seat every man at the head of a cradle, and to clothe every woman in male attire. None of these points, however important they may be considered by leading men, will be touched in this convention. As to their costume, the gentlemen need feel no fear of our imitating that, for we think it in violation of every principle of taste, beauty, and dignity; notwithstanding all the contempt cast upon our loose, flowing garments, we still admire the graceful folds, and consider our costume far more artistic than theirs. Many of the nobler sex seem to agree with us in this opinion, for the bishops, priests, judges, barristers, and lord mayors of the first nation on the globe, and the Pope of Rome, with his cardinals, too, all wear the loose flowing robes, thus tacitly acknowledging that the male attire is neither dignified nor imposing. No, we shall not molest you in your philosophical experiments with stocks, pants, high-heeled boots, and Russian belts. Yours be the glory to discover, by personal experience, how long the kneepan can resist the terrible strapping down which you impose, in how short time the well-developed muscles of the throat can be reduced to mere threads by the constant pressure of the stock, how high the heel of a boot must be to make a short man tall, and how tight the Russian belt may be drawn and yet have wind enough left to sustain life.

But we are assembled to protest against a form of government existing without the consent of the governed—to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love; laws which make her the mere dependent on his bounty. It is to protest against such unjust laws as these that we are assembled today, and to have them, if possible, forever erased from our statute books, deeming them a shame and a disgrace to a Christian republic in the nineteenth century. We have met to uplift woman's fallen divinity upon an even pedestal with man's.

And, strange as it may seem to many, we now demand our right to vote according to the declaration of the government under which we live. This right no one pretends to deny. We need not prove ourselves equal to Daniel Webster to enjoy this privilege, for the ignorant Irishman in the ditch has all the civil rights he has. We need not prove our muscular power equal to this same Irishman to enjoy this privilege, for the most tiny, weak, ill-shaped stripling of twenty-one has all the civil rights of the Irishman. We have no objection to discuss the question of equality, for we feel that the weight of argument lies wholly with us, but we wish the question of equality kept distinct from the question of rights, for the proof of the one does not determine the truth of the other. All white men in this country have the same rights, however they may differ in mind, body, or estate.

The right is ours. The question now is: how shall we get possession of what rightfully belongs to us? We should not feel so sorely grieved if no man who had not attained the full stature of a Webster, Clay, Van Buren, or Gerrit Smith could claim the right of the elective franchise. But to have drunkards, idiots, horse-racing, rum-selling rowdies, ignorant foreigners, and silly boys fully recognized, while we ourselves are thrust out from all the rights that belong to citizens, it is too grossly insulting to the dignity of woman to be longer quietly submitted to. The right is ours. Have it, we must. Use it, we will. The pens, the tongues, the fortunes, the indomitable wills of many women are already pledged to secure this right. The great truth that no just government can be formed without the consent of the governed we shall echo and re-echo in the ears of the unjust judge, until by continual coming we shall weary him

There seems now to be a kind of moral stagnation in our midst. Philanthropists have done their utmost to rouse the nation to a sense of its sins. War, slavery, drunkenness, licentiousness, gluttony, have been dragged naked before the people, and all their abominations and deformities fully brought to light, yet with idiotic laugh we hug those monsters to our breasts and rush on to destruction. Our churches are multiplying on all sides, our missionary societies, Sunday schools, and prayer meetings and innumerable charitable and reform organizations are all in operation, but still the tide of vice is swelling, and threatens the destruction of everything, and the battlements of righteousness are weak against the raging elements of sin and death. Verily, the world waits the coming of some new element, some purifying power, some spirit of mercy and love. The voice of woman has been silenced in the state, the church, and the home, but man cannot fulfill his destiny alone, he cannot redeem his race unaided. There are deep and tender chords of sympathy and love in the hearts of the downfallen and oppressed that woman can touch more skillfully than man.

The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation, because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source. It is vain to look for silver and gold from mines of copper and lead. It is the wise mother that has the wise son. So long as your women are slaves you may throw your colleges and churches to the winds. You can't have scholars and saints so long as your mothers are ground to powder between the upper and nether millstone of tyranny and lust. How seldom, now, is a father's pride gratified, his fond hopes realized, in the budding genius of his son! The wife is degraded, made the mere creature of caprice, and the foolish son is heaviness to his heart. Truly are the sins of the fathers visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation. God, in His wisdom, has so linked the whole human family together that any violence done at one end of the chain is felt throughout its length, and here, too, is the law of restoration, as in woman all have fallen, so in her elevation shall the race be recreated.

"Voices" were the visitors and advisers of Joan of Arc. Do not "voices" come to us daily from the haunts of poverty, sorrow, degradation, and despair, already too long unheeded. Now is the time for the women of this country, if they would save our free institutions, to defend the right, to buckle on the armor that can best resist the keenest weapons of the enemy—contempt and ridicule. The same religious enthusiasm that nerved Joan of Arc to her work nerves us to ours. In every generation God calls some men and women for the utterance of truth, a heroic action, and our work today is the fulfilling of what has long since been foretold by the Prophet—Joel 2:28: "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy." We do not expect our path will be strewn with the flowers of popular applause, but over the thorns of bigotry and prejudice will be our way, and on our banners will beat the dark storm clouds of opposition from those who have entrenched themselves behind the stormy bulwarks of custom and authority, and who have fortified their position by every means, holy and unholy. But we will steadfastly abide the result. Unmoved we will bear it aloft. Undauntedly we will unfurl it to the gale, for we know that the storm cannot rend from it a shred, that the electric flash will but more clearly show to us the glorious words inscribed upon it, "Equality of Rights."


SOURCE: Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. "Dare to Question." In Elizabeth Cady Stanton Unpublished Manuscript Collection. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, n.d.

In the following essay, originally delivered as a speech before the Liberal League, Stanton challenges those who would prevent others from questioning popular theology. The speech was transcribed from the author's handwritten notes.

Though we have passed beyond the Inquisition, the stake, the rack and the thumb screw, yet those who dare publicly question the popular theology, are as effectually persecuted to day, as ever. Though in different ways, from the coarse, brutal modes of the past, we have more refined methods of torturing the spirit rather than the flesh. Go into any community, and if there is a person or family who does not belong to some one of the leading sects, who expresses doubts as to the truth of any of the dogmas, traditions, and superstitions of the popular theology and you will invariably find such a person or family, ignored, ostracized, slandered, unless by great wealth, and genius they conquer by power, the positions denied them by right.

Hence Liberal Leagues are needed to make all forms of religion, all shades of thought equally respectable. We occasionally hear, even in our country at this late day, of physical inflictions for opinion's sake, as the recent case in Texas proves. It was stated in the leading Journals that a respectable physician who was supposed to entertain liberal theological opinions, was taken from his home, severely beaten, tarred and feathered:—the assailants declaring that all infidels in that state should be similarly dressed and treated.

When Col. Robert Ingersoll lectured in the chief cities of New York last winter, the press, the pulpit at once put him in the pillory of abuse and denunciation. Bishop Doane of Albany wrote a protest against him as a dangerous man unfit to be heard! and tried to secure the signatures of all the leading clergy. None declined. The people crowded to hear him, were enchained with his eloquence and in spite of Bishop Doane's protest [Ingersoll] was invited there a second time. The clergy throughout the state attacked him fiercely, and treated him with as much arrogance as if the constitution of the United States had not said in its first amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech." The question naturally arises, shall the clergy in this land be permitted to do by clamor, what Congress is forbidden to do by law? It may be a small matter to denounce one man in every pulpit from Maine to Texas, but if the principle of free speech and free thought be questioned and religious persecution tolerated, we have rung the death knell of American liberties. We cannot watch with too jealous an eye the slightest aggression on individual rights by the church, remembering that the moral wrongs, oppressions and persecutions inflicted on humanity through the centuries have all been in the name of religion.…

The preference is invariably given to those who sustain the popular faith. With all his resources in himself, he [the freethinker] is often made to feel painfully conscious of his isolation from human sympathy. One of the most touching chapters in the Autobiography of Theodore Parker is that in which he describes his sense of loneliness. While conscious of his own unflinching integrity to principle, his lofty aspirations for all that is good, true in a noble mankind, his devotion to the best interests of humanity, he was traduced and shunned; almost to the end of his life, beyond human sympathy. Many who read his great thoughts now, would not have dared to listen to the living voice that first uttered them.

I recently met a young woman just ordained in the Universalist Church and installed over a congregation. She is as grand a type of womankind as I ever met. Well developed in body and mind, beautiful to look upon, a charming companion, and effective preacher, a woman whose influence in any community must be most desirable. In expressing for her the enthusiasm I felt to the wife of a clergyman, a very inferior type of womanhood, narrow, bigoted, morose, ah! she replied, "Miss K. is a very dangerous woman. She does not believe in the personality of the Devil, in hell and eternal punishment. She is a Universalist, and my one regret is that she is so ladylike, so charming, so unexceptional in thought, word and deed; for that only makes her the more dangerous." And thus everywhere we find character, influence, development, all made secondary to belief in unimportant dogmas. A mere speculative faith of what lies beyond our earthly horizon of which no mortal can possibly know anything, is made primal to all the great facts of existence which we do know, and for the right use of which we are responsible. When we sum up all that the generations have lost in development, and suffered through fear of the power of the Devil, and the torments of Hell, we feel that the Canons of Westminster have been far too slow in rolling back the huge iron gates of the bottomless pit, and letting the oppressed go free. Seeing that with all their learning they have been so lamentably tardy in lifting humanity out of such gloomy depths, it would be well for us now one and all to begin to do our own thinking, and not to blindly hence-forward trust to the leadership of those no wiser than ourselves.

A new thought in morals and religion is as important as in art, science, discovery and invention, and instead of persecuting those who utter it, we should encourage the expression of individual opinion, resting in the faith that truth is more powerful than error and must conquer at last. In estimating the character of the noble men and women identified with the Liberal movement compared with their assailants, I am forcibly reminded of the morality and religion of the Fejee Islands. The United States Exploring Expedition in their reports of uncivilized nations compare the Samoans and Fejians. While the Samoans have no religion, no Gods, no rites, they are kind, good humored, desirous of pleasing and very hospitable. Both sexes show great regard and love for their children, and age is much respected. The men cannot bear to be called stingy, and disobliging. The women are remarkably domestic, and virtuous. Infanticide after birth is unknown.

Their cannibal neighbors the Fejians are indifferent to human life; they live in constant dread of each other: shedding blood is no crime but a glory, they kill the decrepit, maimed and sick, and treachery is an accomplishment. Infanticide covers one half the births and the first lesson taught the child is to strike its mother. A chief's wives, courtiers, and aides-de-camp are strangled at his death. Cannibalism is rampant. They sometimes roast their victims alive. When Gods have like characters, they live on the souls of those devoured by men and yet these Fejians look with horror at the Samoans, because they have no Gods, no rites, no religion. What better are we who measure men by their creeds rather than character? …

I am often asked what do those Liberals mean by a complete secularization of the government? Surely we have no established church in this country. We have not in theory:—but we have practically, so long as all church property is exempt from taxation, so long as the Protestant Bible is read in our schools, and the state enforces by law the observance of the Holy days of any one religion in preference to all others. If the Seventh-day Baptists and the Jews prefer to observe Saturday as holy time they should not be forbidden to work on Sunday and the masses compelled to toil six days should be protected in all rational amusements on the seventh. Yet in more of our towns and cities there is no provision whatever for the amusement and instruction of the masses.

We must guard with vigilance all approaches at union of church and state … Though we see its [theocracy's] crippling power in France, and Italy, the enemy of science, and liberal ideas in both politics and religion, yet we imagine we have no danger to apprehend from that quarter, forgetting that even in our republic the clergy are a privileged order, and all church property exempt from taxation.

… But mothers give their sons no lessons on these great questions because they are not yet awake to their importance themselves. And yet the position of woman is the great factor in civilization to day. During the discussion on Catholicism a few years ago in England Gladstone said in one of his pamphlets that most ready converts to this religion as might be expected are women, through them the men are made victims of priestcraft and superstition. A recent writer on Turkish civilization says the great block to all progress in that nation is the condition of the women, and their improvement is hopeless, because they are taught by their religion that their position is ordained of heaven. Thus has the religious nature of woman been played upon in all ages and under all forms of religion for her own complete subjugation, and our religion in the republic of America is no exception. See how many Liberal clergymen we have seen in the last two years brought before Synods and General Assemblies, tried and condemned for preaching the doctrine of woman's equality and admitting women to their pulpits. Our scriptures, and our religion as taught by the majority of our ordained leaders, assign woman the same subject position as under all other forms, and it is through the perversion of her religious element that she is held in that condition.

As the son always reaps the disadvantages suffered by the mother, we need not wonder that the man who dares to think, reason, investigate, and protest against the traditions, and superstitions of our popular religion is considered the marvel of this day and generation. How many men have we who dare to stand up in Congress, or the state legislature, and talk on the real interests of the people, to tell what he knows to be the absolute truth in any subject? We shall never have brave men until we first have free women.…

Let the rising generation of young men learn that justice, freedom and equality are principles of which it is safe to build alike the state, the church, and the home, and that it is impossible for them to ever realize a full, complete, noble mankind, until their mothers, wives and sisters are recognized as equal factors in the progress of civilization.

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Stanton, Elizabeth Cady: Primary Sources

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