Why Women Do Not Wish the Suffrage

"Woman does not wish to turn aside from her higher work, which is itself the end of life, to devote herself to government, which exists only that this higher work may be done. Can she not do both? No!"
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For the object of government is the protection of person, property, and reputation from the foes which assail them. Government may do other things: it may carry the mails, run the express, own and operate the railroads; but its fundamental function is to furnish protection from open violence or secret fraud. If it adequately protects person, property, and reputation, it is a just government, though it do nothing else; if it fails to protect these primary rights, if the person is left to defend himself, his property, his reputation by his own strong arm, there is no government. The question, "Shall woman vote?" is really in the last analysis, the question, "Ought woman to assume the responsibility for protecting person and property which has in the past been assumed by man as his duty alone?" It is because women see, what some so-called reformers have not seen, that the first and fundamental function of government is the protection of person and property, and because women do not think that they ought to assume this duty any more than they ought to assume that police and militia service which is involved in every act of legislature, that they do not wish to have the ballot thrust upon them.

Let us not here make any mistake. Nothing is law which has not authority behind it; and there is no real authority where there is not power to compel obedience. It is this power to compel which distinguishes law from advice. Behind every law stands the sheriff, and behind the sheriff the militia, and behind the militia the whole military power of the Federal government. No legislature ever ought to enact a statute unless it is ready to pledge all the power of government—local, state, and Federal—to its enforcement, if the statute is disregarded. A ballot is not a mere expression of opinion; it is an act of the will; and behind this act of the will must be power to compel obedience. Women do not wish authority to compel the obedience of their husbands, sons, and brothers to their will.

This fact that the ballot is explicitly an act of the will, and implicitly an expression of power or force, is indicated not only by the general function of government, but also by special illustrations. Politics is pacific war. A corrupt ring gets the control of New York city, or Minneapolis, or St. Louis, or Philadelphia, or perhaps of a state, as Delaware, Rhode Island, or Montana. The first duty of the citizens is to make war on this corrupt ring. The ballot is not merely an expression of opinion that this ring ought not to control; it is the resolve that it shall not control. A capitalistic trust gets, or tries to get, a monopoly which is perilous to commercial freedom; or a labor trust gets, or tries to get, a monopoly which is perilous to industrial freedom. A vote is not a protest against such control,—it is not a mere opinion that it ought not to be allowed. It is a decree. The voter says, "We will not suffer this monopoly to continue." His vote means, in the one case, If you do not dissolve this capitalistic combination, in the other case, If you do not cease this interference with the freedom of non-union labor, we will compel you to do so. If the vote does not mean this, it is nothing more than a resolution passed in a parlor meeting. The great elections are called, and not improperly called, campaigns. For they are more than a great debate. A debate is a clash of opinions. But an election is a clash of wills. One party says, " We will have Mr. Blaine President;" the other says, " We will have Mr. Cleveland President." Will sets itself against will in what is essentially a masculine encounter. And if the defeated will refuses to accept the decision, as it did when Mr. Lincoln was elected President, war is the necessary result.

From such an encounter of wills woman instinctively shrinks. She shrinks from it exactly as she shrinks from the encounter of opposing wills on a battlefield, and for the same reason. She is glad to counsel; she is loath to command. She does not wish to arm herself, and, as police or soldier, enforce her will on the community. Nor does she wish to register her will, and leave her son, her brother, or her husband to enforce it. If she can persuade them by womanly influence she will; but just in the measure in which she is womanly, she is unwilling to say to her son, to her brother, or to her husband, "I have decreed this; you must see that my decree is enforced on the reluctant or the resisting." She does not wish that he should act on her judgment against his own in obedience to her will; still less that he shall, in obedience to her will, compel others to act in violation both of their judgment and of his. And yet this is just what suffrage always may and sometimes must involve. The question, Shall woman vote, if translated into actual and practical form, reads thus: Shall woman decide what are the rights of the citizen to be protected and what are the duties of the citizen to be enforced, and then are her son and her brother and her husband to go forth, armed, if need be, to enforce her decision? Is this where the functional line between the sexes is to be drawn? Are women to make the laws and men to enforce them? Are women to decree, and men to execute? Is woman never to act as a private, but only as a commander-in-chief? Is this right? Is it right that one sex shall alone enforce authority, but the other sex determine when and how it shall be exercised? Is this expedient? Will it promote peace, order, prosperity? Is it practicable? Will it in fact be done? Suppose that in New York city the women should vote for prohibition and the men should vote against it; is it to be expected that the men would arm themselves to enforce against their fellow men a law which they themselves condemned as neither wise nor just? To ask these questions is to answer them. The functions of government cannot be thus divided. In a democratic community the duty of enforcing the law must devolve on those who determine what the law shall be that is to be enforced. It cannot be decreed by one class and enforced by another. It is inconceivable that it should be decreed by one sex and enforced by the other.

This is the negative reason why woman does not wish the ballot: she does not wish to engage in that conflict of wills which is the essence of politics; she does not wish to assume the responsibility for protecting person and property which is the essence of government. The affirmative reason is that she has other, and in some sense, more important work to do. It is more important than the work of government because it is the work for the protection of which governments are organized among men. Woman does not wish to turn aside from this higher work, which is itself the end of life, to devote herself to government, which exists only that this higher work may be done. Nor does she wish to divide her energies between the two. This higher work, which is itself the end of life, is Direct Ministry to Life.

What are we in the world for? The family answers the question. We marry. Children are given to us to protect, govern, nurture, train. They grow to manhood, and in turn they marry, and to them in turn children are given to protect, govern, nurture, train. The first parents linger a few years that, as grandparents, they may have the pleasure of the little children without the responsibility for them, and then they die. Their work on earth is done, and they go forward to we know not what work in a life to come. The end of life is the rearing and training of children. As the family is historically the first organization, as it is biologically the unit out of which all other social organisms are formed, so its protection and maintenance are the objects for which all other social organizations have been called into existence and are maintained. Struggle for others, as Professor Drummond has well shown, is an even more vital element in human progress than struggle for self, and in the family this struggle for others receives its first and finest illustration Political economists have told us that self-interest is the mainspring of industry. It is not true. Love is the mainspring of industry. It is love for the home and the wife and the children that keeps all the busy wheels of industry revolving, that calls the factory hands early to the mill, that nerves the arm of the blacksmith working at his forge, that inspires the farmer at his plough and the merchant at his desk, that gives courage to the soldier and patience to the teacher. Erskine was asked how he dared, as an unknown barrister, face a hostile court and insist on his right to be heard. "I felt my children," he replied, "tugging at my robe and saying, 'Here is your chance, father, to get us bread.'" It is this vision of the children, dependent on us, that inspires us all in the battle of life. It is for our homes and our children we maintain our churches. They are not spiritual restaurants where we pay for our own food passed over the counter to us by an attendant priest; they are the instrument, which some of us think God has created, others of us think man has devised, to help us endow our children and equip our homes for life. It is for our homes and our children we tax ourselves to maintain the public school; for our homes and our children we maintain government, that our loved ones may live in peace and safety, protected by law, while we, their natural protectors, are away earning the bread wherewith to feed them; for our homes and our children we fight when peace and safety are endangered, and government is assailed by foreign foe or domestic violence. Whether we cultivate a farm, or operate a factory, or manage a store, or build and conduct a railroad, or paint pictures, or write books, or preach sermons, or enact and enforce laws,—whatever we do, the end of our activity is the nurture and training of children in this primary school, which we call life, in preparation for some life, we know not what, hereafter.

In this work of direct ministry to the individual, this work of character-building, which is the ultimate end of life, woman takes the first place. The higher the civilization the more clearly is her right to it recognized. She builds the home, and she keeps the home. She makes the home sanitary; she inspires it with the spirit of order, neatness, and peace; she broods it with her patient love, and teaches us to love by her loving. Her eye discerns beauty, her deft fingers create it, and to her the home is indebted for its artistic power to educate. If she has not the artistic sense, no purchased beauty, bought of a professional decorator, can supply the vacancy. She instills into the little child the love of truth and purity, the subtle sense of honor, the strong spirit of courage and high purpose. If her home duties do not absorb her time and energy, she seeks the field of charity or education, or accepts the invitation which these fields offer to her. She becomes a director in or a visitor to some of the innumerable charities in which life is ministered to the unfortunate, the feeble, the incompetent. If we accept Micah's definition of religion, To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God, then we may say that, with rare exceptions, woman chooses to leave to man the sterner task of administering justice, and delights herself in the ministration of mercy. She does so because in these unpaid ministries of mercy, sometimes in institutions, sometimes in private and unorganized service, is the direct impartation of life which is her highest joy. If she has no home in which she can and does minister, she instinctively seeks the schoolroom as her field, and there, substituting for the mother, imparts life, and endows with intelligence, and equips with culture the children intrusted to her charge. If necessity drives her or ambition entices her to other fields, her womanly instinct still asserts itself. If she enters the law, it is generally to be a counselor rather than a combatant; if literature, her pen instinctively seeks the vital rather than the materialistic themes. She is a minister to life. And when mistakenly ambitious women would persuade her to leave this ministry for the woodman's axe, the farmer's plough, or the policeman's truncheon, she does not even entertain the proposition enough to discuss it. When she looks out of the window of her home or her school and sees the platoon of policemen on a run to quell a riot, or a fire engine dashing by to extinguish a fire, she has no wish to join them; the boy's eager request, "May I go, mamma? May I go?" awakens no like desire in her. For in her subconscious self is the knowledge that she is doing the work which makes it worth while to quell riots and extinguish fires. She is more than content that her sons, her brothers, her husband shall protect the life to which she ministers, and shall determine how it can best be protected, if she is left to minister to it directly, in peace and safety.

And she is right. If she were to go into politics, she would leave undone the work for which alone government exists, or she would distract her energies from that work, which she knows full well requires them all. Can she not do both? No! no more than man can. He cannot be at the same time in the market winning the bread, in the forum shaping the public policies, and in the home ministering to life. Nor can she. She must choose. She may give her time and thought and energy to building a state, and engaging in that warfare of wills which politics involves; or she may give her time and thought to the building of men, on whose education and training, church, state, industry, society, all depend. She has made her choice and made it wisely. Necessity, born of an imperfect industrial system, may drive a few thousand women into battle with Nature in bread-winning vocations; ambition may call a few women down and out from the higher vocation of character-building to participate in public debate before the footlights; the clamors of an ill-instructed conscience may force a few more to leave the congenial work of directly ministering to life, that they may undertake the more, indirect ministry through village or city boards, state legislatures, and the Federal Congress; but the great body of American women are true to themselves, to the nature God has given them, and to the service He has allotted to them—the direct ministry to life,—and will neither be forced nor enticed from it by their restless, well-meaning, but mistaken sisters.

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