THE LIZ LIBRARY: Women's Movement Documents Section

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"The difficulty with the men of this country
is that they are so consistent in their inconsistency that
they are not aware of having been inconsistent; because their
consistency has been so continuous, and their inconsistency
so consecutive, that it has never been broken, from the beginning
of our nation's life to the present time."

Anna Howard Shaw on "What is a Republic"

[In this speech, suffrage leader Rev. Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919) points out the contradictions between men's view of a republic and their actual actions. The speech was given in June 1915.
        Rev. Shaw. was licensed as a Methodist preacher in 1871, leaving the Methodist Episcopal Church because of prejudice and bigotry, she was ordained as the first woman minister in the Methodist Protestant Church in 1880.
        She studied medicine but in face of more prejudices, she became convinced that woman's suffrage was the most important work for her.
        A brilliant speaker, she traveled widely, perhaps only second to Susan B. Anthony. As Susan B. said, Anna Howard Shaw did the work in the movement for 20 years that no one else wanted to do.
        She was elected president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1904, after Carrie Chapman Catt resigned to take care of her dying husband.
        Unfortunately Howard turned out to be a poor administrator and the movement languished until she resigned in 1915 to allow the dynamic Catt to resume the leadership position and lead the drive to woman's suffrage approval. -- Ed.]

When I came into your hall tonight, I thought of the last time I was in your city.

Twenty-one years ago I came here with Susan B. Anthony, and we came for exactly the same purpose as that for which we are here tonight. Boys have been born since that time and have become voters, and the women are still trying to persuade American men to believe in the fundamental principles of democracy.

I never quite feel as if it was a fair field to argue this question with men, because in doing it you have to assume that a man who professes to believe in a republican form of government does not believe in a republican form of government, for the only thing that women's enfranchisement means at all is that a government which claims to be a republic should be a republic, and not an aristocracy...

Now one of two things is true: Either a republic is a desirable form of government, or else it is not. If it is, then we should have it, if it is not, then we ought not to pretend that we have it. We ought, at least, to be true to our ideals, and the men of New York have, for the first time in their lives, the rare opportunity, on the second day of next November, of making this state truly a part of a republic...

If women's suffrage is wrong, it is a great wrong; if it is right, it is a profound and fundamental principle, and we all know -- if we know what a republic is -- that it is the fundamental principle upon which a republic must rise. Let us see where we are as a people; how we act here and what we think we are...

The difficulty with the men of this country is that they are so consistent in their inconsistency that they are not aware of having been inconsistent; because their consistency has been so continuous, and their inconsistency so consecutive, that it has never been broken, from the beginning of our nation's life to the present time.

If we trace our history back, we will find that from the very dawn of our existence as a people, men have been imbued with a spirit and a vision more lofty than they have been able to live. They have been led by visions of the sublimest truth, both in regard to religion and in regard to government that ever inspired the souls of men from the time the Puritans left the Old World to come to this country, led by the Divine ideal which is the sublimest and supremest ideal in religious freedom which men have ever known:

The theory that a man has a right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, without the intervention of any other man or any other group of men. And it was this theory, this vision of the right of the human soul, which led men first to the shores of this country.

Now, nobody can deny that [these were] sincere, honest and earnest men. No one can deny that the Puritans were men of profound conviction, and yet these men, who gave up everything in behalf of an ideal, hardly established their communities in this new country before they began to practice exactly the same sort of persecutions on other men which had been practiced upon them.

They settled in their communities on the New England shores, and when they formed their compacts by which they governed their local societies, they permitted no man to have a voice in their affairs unless he was a member of the church, and not a member of any church, but a member of the particular church which dominated the particular community in which he happened to be. In Massachusetts they drove the Baptists down to Rhode Island; in Connecticut they drove the Presbyterians over to New Jersey; they burned the Quakers in Massachusetts and ducked the witches, and no colony, either Catholic or Protestant, allowed a Jew to have a voice.

And so a man must worship God according to the conscience of the particular community in which he was located. [Even though] they called that religious freedom, they were not able to live the ideal of religious liberty, and from that time to this, the men of this government have been following along the same line of inconsistency, while they, too, have been following a vision of equal grandeur and power.

Never in the history of the world did it dawn upon the human mind as it dawned upon your ancestors, what it would mean for men to be free. They got the vision of a government in which the people would be the supreme power, and so inspired by this vision, men wrote such documents as were sent from Massachusetts legislature, from the New York legislature and from the Pennsylvania group over to the Parliament of Great Britain, which rang with the profoundest measures of freedom and justice.

They did not equivocate in a single word when they wrote the Declaration of Independence; no one can dream that these men had not got the sublimest ideal of democracy which had ever dawned upon the souls of men.

But as soon as the war was over and our government was formed, instead of asking the question, who shall be the governing force in this great new republic, when they brought those thirteen little territories together, they began to eliminate instead of include the men who should be the great governing forces. And they said, who shall have the voice in this great new republic, and you would have supposed that such men as fought the Revolutionary War would have been able to answer that every man who has fought, every one who has given up all he has and all he has been able to accumulate, shall be free, yet it never entered their minds.

These excellent ancestors of yours had not been away from the Old World long enough to realize that a man is of more value than his purse, so they said every man who has an estate in the government shall have a voice.

They [asked] what shall that estate be? And they answered that a man who had property valued at two hundred and fifty dollars will be able to cast a vote, and so they sang about "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

And they wrote into their Constitution, "All males who pay taxes on $250 shall cast a vote," and they called themselves a republic, and we call ourselves a republic [too]...

We might call ourselves angels, but that wouldn't make us angels. You have got to be an angel before you are an angel, and you have got to be a republic before you are a republic.

Now what did we do? Before the word "male" in the local compacts they wrote the word "church member;" after that they rubbed out "church member" and they wrote in the word "tax-payer."

Then there arose a great Democrat, Thomas Jefferson, who looked down into the day when you and I are living and saw that the rapidly accumulated wealth in the hands of a few men would endanger the liberties of the people, and he knew what you and I know, that no power under heaven or among men is known in a republic by which men can defend their liberties except by the power of the ballot, and so the Democratic party took another step in the evolution of a republic out of a monarchy, and they rubbed out the word "tax-payer" and wrote in the word "white," and then the Democrats thought the millennium had come, and they sang "the land of the free and the home of the brave" as lustily as the Republicans had sung it before them, and they spoke of the divine right of motherhood with the same thrill in their voices and at the same time they were selling mother's babies by the pound on the auction block and forcing mothers apart from their babies.

Another arose who said a man is not a good citizen because he is white, he is a good citizen because he is a man, and the Republican party took out that progressive evolutionary eraser and rubbed out the word "white" from before the word "male" and could not think of another word to put in there -- they were all in, black and white, rich and poor, wise and otherwise, drunk and sober; not a man left out to be put in, and so the Republicans could not write anything before the word "male," and they had to let that little word "male" stay alone by itself.

And God said in the beginning "It is not good for man to stand alone," Genesis 2:18. That is why we are here tonight, and that is all that women's suffrage means; just to repeat again and again that first declaration of the Divine, "It is not good for man to stand alone," and so the women of this state are asking that the word "male" shall be stricken out of the Constitution altogether, and that the Constitution stand as it ought to have stood in the beginning, and as it must before this state is any part of a republic...

Now what is a republic? Take your dictionary, encyclopedia, lexicon, or anything else you like, and look up the definition and you will find that a republic is a form of government in which the laws are enacted by representatives elected by the people.

Now when did the people of New York ever elect their representatives? Never in the world. The men of New York have, and I grant you that men are people -- admirable people, as far as they go -- but they only go half-way. There is still another half of the people who have not elected representatives, and you never read a definition of a republic in which half of the people elect representatives to govern the whole of the people. That is an aristocracy and that is just what we are. We have been many kinds of aristocracies. We have been a hierarchy of church members, then an aristocracy of wealth, then an oligarchy of sex.

There are two old theories which are dying today. Dying hard, but dying. One of them is dying on the plains of Flanders and the Mountains of Galicia and Austria and that is the theory of the divine right of kings. The other is dying here in the states of New York and Massachusetts and New Jersey and Pennsylvania and that is the divine right of sex. Neither of them has a foundation in reason, or justice or common sense...

Whenever a republic prescribes the qualifications as apply equally to all the citizens of the republic, so that when the republic says in order to vote, a citizen must be twenty-one years of age, it applies to all alike, there is no discrimination against any race or sex.

When the government says that a citizen must be a native-born citizen or a naturalized citizen, that applies to all; we are either born or naturalized, somehow or other we are here.

Whenever the government says that a citizen, in order to vote, must be a resident of a community a certain length of time, and of the state a certain length of time, and of the nation a certain length of time, that applies to all equally. There is no discrimination...

But when the government says not only that you must be twenty-one years of age, a resident of the community and a native born or naturalized, those are qualifications, but when it says that an elector must be a male, that is not a qualification for citizenship; that is an insurmountable barrier between half of the people and the other half, and no government which erects an insurmountable barrier between one half of the citizens and their rights as citizens can call itself a republic!

Men know the inconsistencies themselves; they realize it in one way while they do not realize it in another, because you never heard a man make a political speech when he did not speak of this country as a whole as though the thing existed which does not exist and that is that the people were equally free, because you hear them declare over and over again on the Fourth of July, "under God, the people rule."

They know it is not true but they say it with a great hurrah, and then they repeat over and over again that clause from the Declaration of Independence, "governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed," and then they see how they can prevent half of us from giving our consent to anything, and then they give it to us on the Fourth of July in two languages, so if [it] is not true in one, it will be in the other, "vox populi, vox Dei."

"The voice of the people is the voice of God," and the orator forgets that in the people's voice there is a soprano as well as a bass. If the voice of the people is the voice of God, how are we ever going to know what God's voice is when we are content to listen to a bass solo? Now if it is true that the voice of the people is the voice of God, we will never know what the Deity's voice in government is until the bass and soprano are mingled together, the result of which will be the divine harmony!

Men are so sentimental. We used to believe that women were the sentimental sex, but they cannot hold a tallow candle compared with the arc light of the men. I think the average man recognizes that he has no more right to anything at the hands of the government than has every other man. He has no right at all to anything to which every other man has not an equal right with himself.

He says why have I a right to certain things in the government; why have I a right to life and liberty; why have I a right to this or this? Does he say because I am a man? Not at all, because I am human, and being human, I have a right to everything which belongs to humanity, and every right which any other human being has, I have.

And then he says of his neighbor and my neighbor, he also is human, therefore every right which belongs to me as a human being, belongs to him as a human being, and I have no right to anything under the government to which he is not equally entitled.

And then up comes a woman, and then they say, now she's a woman; she is not quite human, but she is my wife, or my sister, or my daughter, or an aunt, or my cousin. She is not quite human, she is only related to a human, and being related to a human, a human will take care of her. So we have had that care-taking human being to look after us, and they have not recognized that women too are equally human with men...

What are the arguments which our good "Anti-" friends give us? We know that lately they have stopped to argue and call suffragists all sorts of creatures....[They say] suffragists are feminists, and when I ask what that is, no one is able to tell me.

Then they cry that we are socialists, and anarchists. Just how a human can be both at the same time, I really do not know. If I know what socialism means it means absolute government, and anarchism means no government at all. So we are feminists, socialists, anarchists and Mormons or spinsters! Now that is about the list, [although] I have not heard the last speech.

Now, as a matter of fact, as a unit we are nothing, as individuals we are like all other individuals. We have our theories, our beliefs, but as suffragists we have but one belief, but one principle, but one theory and that is the right of a human being to have a voice in the government under which he or she lives. On that we agree, if on nothing else. Whether we agree or not on religion or politics, we are not concerned.

A clergyman asked me the other day, "By the way, what church does your official board belong to?" I said, "I don t know."

He said, "Don't you know what religion your official board believes?" I said, "Really it never occurred to me, but I will hunt them up and see, they are not elected to my board because they believe in any particular church. We had no concern either as to what we believe as religionists or as to what we believe as women in regard to theories of government, except that one fundamental theory in the right of democracy. We do not believe in this fad or the other, but whenever any question is to be settled in any community, then the people of that community shall settle that question, the women-people equally with the men-people." That is all there is to it.

[When] it comes to arguing our case, [anti-suffragists] bring up all sorts of arguments, and the beauty of it is, they always answer all their own arguments!..

I was followed up last year by a young married woman from New Jersey. She left her husband and home for three months to tell the women that their place was at home, and that they could not leave home long enough to go to the ballot box, and she brought all her arguments out in pairs and backed them up by statistics.

She started by proving that it was no use to give the women the ballot because if they did have it they would not use it, and she had statistics to prove it. If we would not use it, then I really cannot see the harm of giving it to us, we would not hurt anybody with it and what an easy way for you men to get rid of us. No more suffrage meetings, never any nagging you again, no one could blame you for anything that went wrong with the town; if it did not run right, all you would have to say is, you have the power, why don't you go ahead and clean up.

Then the young lady, unfortunately for her first argument, proved, by statistics, of which she had many, the awful results which happened where women did have the ballot -- how deeply women get interested in politics, because women are hysterical, and we cannot think of anything else, we just forget our families, cease to care for our children, cease to love our husbands, and just go to the polls and vote and keep on voting for ten hours a day, 365 days in the year, and never let up! If we ever get to the polls once, you will never get us home So that the women will not vote at all, and they will not do anything but vote Now these are two very strong anti-suffrage arguments, and they can prove them, by figures.

Then they will tell you that if women are permitted to vote, it will be a great expense and no use because wives will vote just as their husbands do; even if we have no husbands, that would not affect the result because we would vote just as our husbands would vote if we had one. How I wish the anti-suffragists could make the men believe that; if they could make men believe that the women would vote just as they wanted them to, do you think we would ever have to make another speech or hold another meeting? We would have to vote whether we wanted to or not.

And then the very one who will tell you that women will vote just as their husbands do will tell you in five minutes that they will not vote as their husbands will, and then warn you of the discord in the homes, and the divorce. Why, they have discovered that in Colorado, there are more divorces now than there were before women began to vote, but they have forgotten to tell you that there are four times as many people in Colorado today as there were when women began to vote, and that may have some effect.

Then they will tell you all the trouble that happens in the home. A gentleman told me that in California--and when he was talking I had a wonderful thing pass through my mind, because he said he and his wife had lived together for twenty years and never had a difference in opinion in the whole twenty years, and he was afraid if women began to vote that his wife would vote differently from him and then that beautiful harmony which they had had for twenty years would be broken, and all the time he was talking I could not help wondering which was the idiot--because I knew that no intelligent human beings could live together for twenty years and not have differences of opinion. All the time he was talking, I looked at that splendid type of manhood and thought, how would a man feel being tagged up by a little woman for twenty years saying, "me too, me too." I would not want to live in a house with a human being for twenty hours who agreed with everything I said.

The stagnation of a frog pond would be hilarious compared to that What a reflection is that on men...Great big overgrown babies! Cannot be disputed without having a row! ...In fact my theory of the whole matter is exactly opposite, because instead of believing that men and women will quarrel, I think just the opposite thing will happen. I think just about six weeks before election, a sort of honeymoon will start and it will continue until they will think they are again hanging over the gate, all in order to get each other's votes. When men want each other's votes they do not go up and knock them down; they are very solicitous of each other, [especially] if they are thirsty or need a smoke!

The husband and wife who are quarreling after the vote are quarreling now.

I remember hearing Rev. Dr. Abbott speak before the anti-suffrage meeting in Brooklyn, and he stated that if women were permitted to vote we could not have so much time for charity and philanthropy, and I would like to say: "Thank God, there will not be so much need of charity and philanthropy!" The end and aim of the suffrage movement is not to furnish an opportunity for excellent old ladies to be charitable.

There are two words that we ought to be able to get along without, and they are "charity" and "philanthropy." They are not needed in a republic. If we put in the word "opportunity" instead, that is what republics stand for. Our doctrine is not to extend the length of our bread lines or the size of our soup kitchens; what we need is the opportunity for people to buy their own bread and eat their own soup!...

We will either vote as our husbands vote, or we will not vote as our husbands vote. We either have time to vote, or we don't have time to vote. We will either not vote at all, or we will vote all the time. It reminds me of the story of the old Irish woman who had twin boys, and they were so much alike that the neighbors could not tell them apart, and the mother always seemed to be able to tell them apart, so one of the neighbors said, "Now Mrs. Mahoney, you have two of the finest twin boys I ever saw in all my life, but how do you know them apart." "Oh," she says, "That's easy enough, anyone could tell them apart. When I want to know which is which I just put my finger in Patsey's mouth, and, if he bites, it is Mikey!"

Now what does it matter whether the women will vote as their husbands do or will not vote; whether they have time or have not, or [even] whether they will vote for prohibition or not? What has that to do with the fundamental question of democracy, no one has yet discovered. But they cannot argue on that; they cannot argue on the fundamental basis of our existence so that they have to get off on all these side tracks to get anything approaching an argument....

And so our good friends go on with one thing after another, and they say if women should vote they will have to sit on the jury, and they ask whether we will like to see a woman sitting on a jury. I have seen some juries that ought to be sat on, and I have seen some women that would be glad to sit on anything!

When a woman stands up all day behind a counter, or when she stands all day doing a-washing, she is glad enough to sit; and when she stands for seventy-five cents, she would like to sit for two dollars a day. But don't you think we need some women on juries in this country? You read your paper, and you read that one day last week, or the week before, or the week before a little girl went out to school and never came back; another little girl was sent on an errand and never came back; another little girl was left in charge of a little sister, and her mother went out to work, and when she returned the little girl was not there, and you read it over and over again, and the horror of it strikes you.

You read that in these United States, five thousand young girls go out and never come back, don't you think that the men and women, the vampires of our country who fatten and grow rich on the ignorance and innocence of children, would rather face Satan himself than a jury of mothers?

When I was speaking in North Dakota from an automobile in front of a great crowd, a man who had been sitting in front of a store whittling a stick called out: "If women get the vote, will they go over to Germany and fight the Germans?" I said, "Why no Why should we women fight men? But if Germany should send an army of women over here, then we would show you what we would do. We would go down and meet them and say, "Come on, let's go up to the opera house and talk this matter over!"

It might grow wearisome, but it would not be death.

Would it not be better if the heads of the governments in Europe had talked things over? What might have happened to the world if a dozen men had gotten together in Europe and settled the awful controversy which is today decimating the nations of Europe?

When I turned away from that place up in North Dakota, that man in the crowd called out again, just as we were leaving and said, "Well, what does a woman know about war anyway?"

I had read my paper that morning, and I knew what the awful headline was. I saw a gentleman standing in the crowd with a paper in his pocket, and I said, will that gentleman hold the paper up, and he held it up, and the headline read, "250,000 Men Killed Since the War Began."

I said you ask me what a woman knows about war?

No woman can read that line and comprehend the awful horror; no woman knows the significance of 250,000 dead men, but you tell me that one man lay dead, and I might be able to tell you something of its awful meaning to one woman. I would know that years before, a woman whose heart beat in unison with her love and her desire for motherhood walked day by day with her face to an open grave, with courage, which no man has ever surpassed, and if she did not fill that grave, if she lived, and if there was laid in her arms a tiny little bit of helpless humanity, I would know that there went out from her soul such a cry of thankfulness as none save a mother could know. And then I would know, what men have not yet learned, that women are human; that they have human hopes and human passions, aspirations and desires as men have, and I would know that that mother who had laid aside all those hopes and aspirations of herself, but never for one moment did she lay them aside for her boy, and if, after years had passed by, she forgot her nights of sleeplessness and her days of fatiguing toil in her care of her growing boy, and when, at last, he became a man, and she stood looking up into his eyes and beheld him, bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, for out of her woman's life she had carved twenty beautiful years that went into the making of a man, and there he stands, the most wonderful thing in all the world, for in all the universe of God, there is nothing more sublimely wonderful than a strong limbed, clean hearted, keen brained, aggressive young man, standing as he does on the border line of life, ready to reach out and grapple with its problems. 0h, how wonderful he is, and he is hers. She gave her life for him, and, in an hour, this country calls him out, and, in an hour, he lies dead; that wonderful, wonderful thing lies dead, and sitting by his side, that mother looking into the dark years to come knows that when her son died her life's hope died with him, and in the face of that wretched motherhood, what man dare ask what a woman knows of war?

And that is not all. Read your papers, you cannot read it because it is not printable; you cannot tell it because it is not speakable, you cannot even think it because it is not thinkable, the horrible crimes perpetrated against women by the blood-drunken men of the war.

You read your paper again and the second headline reads, "It Costs Twenty Millions of Dollars a Day." For what? To buy the material to slaughter the splendid results of civilization of the centuries. Men whom it has taken centuries to build up and make into great scientific forces of brain, the flower of the manhood of the great nations of Europe, and we spend twenty millions of dollars a day to blot out all the results of civilization of hundreds and hundreds of years. And what do we do? We lay a mortgage on every unborn child for a hundred and more years to come. Mortgage his brain, his brawn, every pulse of his heart in order to pay the debt, to buy the material to slaughter the men of our country...

Read what they are doing. They are calling out every man, every young man, every virile man from seventeen to forty-five or fifty be food for the cannon...The crime of crimes of the war is the crime against the unborn children that we take from them what every child has a right to, that is a virile father, and we rob women of fit mates to become the fathers of their children. In the face of these crimes against women and against children, and in the face of the fact that women are driven out of the home, shall men ask if women shall fight, if they are permitted to vote?

No, we women do not want the ballot in order that we may fight, but we do want the ballot in order that we may help men to keep from fighting, whether it is in war or in peace; whether it is in the home or in the state, just as the home is not without the man, so the state is not without the woman, and you can no more build up homes without men than you can build up the state without women. We are needed everywhere where human life is. We are needed everywhere where human problems are [needed] to be solved.

Men and women must go through this world together from the cradle to the grave; it is God's way, and it is the fundamental principle of a republican form of government.

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