From their onsets, suffragists and abolitionists shared many of the same values, so what caused the movements to split apart?
Susan B. Anthony (Wikimedia Commons)
The reformer mind was accustomed to dealing in abstractions, not specifics. -- Christine Stansell, The Feminist Promise
In those circles where radicals and progressives debate the history of their various struggles, the late 19th-century split between the nascent feminist and early civil rights movement is much mourned. Briefly, abolition was the primary cause of Northern reformers in the years leading up to the Civil War. The women's rights advocates who would push for suffrage, from Seneca Valley on, generally started out as abolitionists and temperance activists. It is not to say that Woman's Rights -- as was the phrase of the day -- was not on the table. But the abomination of slavery, especially in the wake of the Civil War, tended to blot out all other causes.
After the War, with abolition achieved, the movement turned to broadening the franchise. It was generally agreed. among the reformers, that universal emancipation -- for black men and all women -- was the ideal. But the old abolitionists split on the matter of timetables. On one side you had activists like Julia Ward Howe, Antoinette Brown, Lucy Stone and ultimately Frederick Douglass, who favored the enfranchisement of black men as a first step. On the other side stood Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who argued that the incrementalism was bankrupt and that the franchise should be expanded to include black men as well as black and white women.
The subsequent fight destroyed the old antebellum alliance and eventually sent both movements into a (short) dark age. Anthony and Stanton, the leaders of the revolution, would eventually make common cause Southern racists. Meanwhile, the reformers would soon find that, in the Deep South, the constitutional assurance for black men meant nothing in the face of white terror. Black leaders like Booker T. Washington would eventually go so far as to effectively surrender all claim to the franchise. (At least temporarily.)
The Great Schism has echoed down through the ages, and it haunts any talk of gender and race on the left. Not to put my commenters on blast, but here is a typical rendering:
It's one of the great embarrassments of first-wave American feminism that so many supporters of women's suffrage turned against the 15th amendment, using the grossest racial politics, too. I've never felt the same way about Susan B Anthony since I learned of her opposition to black suffrage.
That's basically the rendition I was treated to in college debates under the flag pole, or on the steps of Douglass where nascent leftists, like yours truly, deployed arcane formulas to determine who had the most privilege, who could pile up the most layers of jeopardy. The sense was that if one could be born a half-Native American, half-African-American lesbian, who'd done a bid on the reservation, or in the projects, some mystical ascension awaited.
But I digress.
As it happens, our great creation myth did not match the history. From Stansell's The Feminist Promise:
The break has long been described as between a group committed to the freedpeople's cause and a racist, all-white Stanton-Anthony faction, but the judgment is facile and ignores the facts.
For sure, Stansell has a critique. She does not shirk from outlining the racism which plagued the movement from the postbellum years on.The pattern begins in the years right after the War with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony campaiging for women's suffrage with the scandalous George Train, under the slogan "Woman first and negro last." Stanton dubbed Train, "the most wonderful man of the century," and frustrated by the stonewalling of women's suffrage began a a long pattern of justifying women's rights through bigotry:
Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who never read the Declaration of Independence, or Webster's spelling book, making laws for Lydia Marie Child, Lucretia Mott or Fanny Kemble.
It got worse. By the dawn of of the 20th century, Anthony and Stanton were openly courting avowed white supremacists like Belle Kearney. 1903 found the old stalwart abolitionist, Anthony, in New Orleans at the National Association of Women's Suffrage Association's convention, enduring a rousing rendition of Dixie, and tolerating Kearney's "semi-barbaric denunciations of blacks."
By that point, some of the most ardent suffrage activists were outright racists like Rebecca Felton, who fervently supported lynching, and Kate Gordon who eventually abandoned the suffrage movement because a national amendment would threaten white supremacy. "State sovereignty and white supremacy are inextricably linked," said Gordon. Kearney argued that "the enfranchisement of women would insure immediate and durable white supremacy."
By 1915 (after Anthony's death) NAWSA, founded by an abolitionist, friends of Frederick Douglass had thoroughly absorbed the rhetoric of white supremacists:
In Germany, German men governed German women; in France, French men did the same, "but in this country, American women are governed by every kind of man under the light of the sun," complained Anna Howard Shaw, successor to Anthony as NAWSA president.
How did a movement once rooted in the principles of abolition come to be associated with white nationalists?
I think one way of looking at this -- among many others -- is to not look at the movement post-1865, but post-1835, when abolitionist women, like Anthony and Stanton, were subject to unbridled sexism among their allies and enemies alike. In antebellum America, for a woman to speak before a promiscuous audience--that is to say an audience of mixed-gender--was to invite charges of prostitution. To travel, unescorted, as some reformers did was to increase the risk of accusation. To take these actions in opposition to the Southern Slave Society--an ostensibly divine institution deeply entwined with theories of family--and "Woman's Rights" was nigh blasphemous. And the penalties for doing such were not theoretical:
...the spread of women's rights thought fueled anti-abolitionist fires. Sexual imagery conflated the two causes: It was "old maids" and "nigger-lovers" who made up the female societies. Rhetorical violence in newspapers and pamphlets fed mob violence....Women were not exempt. In 1835 in Boston, a crowd of several thousand threatened members of the BFASS [Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society] who were thought to be hiding a visiting British abolitionist in there meeting rooms...
Afterward, Maria Weston Chapman, a leading member....could not walk in the streets of her own city without passerby and shop clerks hurling abuse at her. The Boston women noted acidly the double standard that divided acceptable female behavior from activity that as reviled. They were all involved in several reform causes...."No one said then, 'women had better stay home.'" Doing the same thing on behalf of the slaves, though, was another matter bringing threats bordering on lethal.
Stansell doesn't say this, but I have to believe that the prospect of rape often hung in the background.
Nor were threats of sexism strictly the province of the foes of women abolitionists. Sarah Grimke -- who credited abolition with helping awaken her to the persistent oppression of women -- was denounced by her abolitionist allies for daring to publicly raise the cause of women's rights alongside abolition. After thugs in Philadelphia broke up a meeting of one of the Anti-Slavery Societies, The Colored American (a black newspaper) took the opportunity to warn black women in the abolitionist movement away from the Grimkes, and toward the work of hearth and home:
Colored females from education, are more especially deficient in fulfilling their appropriate duties, and in redeeming the character and carrying forward the interests of their oppressed and injured people. As wives, as mothers and as daughters, they are too inert not sufficiently self-sacrificing.
In 1840, the World Anti-Slavery Convention -- the first of its kind -- refused to seat the eight American women delegates. Evidently this humiliation was insufficient. The conveners then made the women observe the deliberations from behind a curtain. Elizabeth Cady Stanton--barely 25--was there, and as was her wont, fuming righteously:
When we consider that Lady Byron, Anna Jameson, Mary Howitt, Mrs. Hugo Reid, Elizabeth Fry, Amelia Opie, Ann Green Phillips, Lucretia Mott, and many remarkable women, speakers and leaders in the Society of Friends, were all compelled to listen in silence to the masculine platitudes on woman's sphere, one may form some idea of the indignation of unprejudiced friends...
Judging from my own feelings, the women on both sides of the Atlantic must have been humiliated and chagrined, except as these feelings were outweighed by contempt for the shallow reasoning of their opponents, and their comical pose and gestures in some of the intensely earnest flights of their imagination.
What do we make of all of this? Stansell argues that the two tragically misread the politics of the day:
Why did the suffragists lose women's suffrage? The question has dominated scholarship about the postwar years? But one can also ask, really, why did they ever think they could win. From any angle the prospect was faint.
Whereas black male suffrage had actual political support, women's suffrage did not.From the Republican Party view, black male suffrage was a singular boon--a weapon which advantaged the loyalist, and hurt the defeated Confederates. The math of women's suffrage--which would double the black vote and the Southern white vote--was decidedly different.
And yet, I find myself in sympathy both Stanton and Anthony. They were not latter day Geraldine Ferraros, or white supremacists like Kearney or Felton. On the contrary, the two spent much of their early careers very much devoted to the cause of black people, and took their share of abuse for it. When the goal -- abolition -- was achieved, they hoped for some reciprocity. It did not come. "When I think of all the wrongs that been heaped upon womankind, " wrote Stanton. "I am ashamed that I am not forever in a condition of chronic wrath."
Frankly, given the sort of gender bigotry that women abolitionist faced, I'm a little surprised that more didn't take the absolutist path. I also don't think too much should be made of associations. They offer context, but they aren't the story. There's also the model of Frederick Douglass, who after splitting bitterly with Stanton and Anthony reconciled with them both, singling out Stanton, in particular, for making him a "Woman's Rights Man." The day Douglass died, he attended a suffrage conference where he was saluted by Anthony and her compatriots.
And finally there is my own personal bias. The other day I was reading over Robert E. Lee's famous quote about slavery...
In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.
...and I found myself filled with rage and contempt. It is moral cowardice, a willingness to not merely abide by a great evil -- but to actually profit from it -- that really grates.
I think of Lee utterly quitting on the great moral question of his day, and still enjoying a place of honor in this country, and I am baffled. Then I think of Stanton and Anthony, misstepping, but always pushing, always agitating, always expanding, and I feel a strong kinship. I don't need my personal pantheon to be clean. But I need it to be filled with warriors.
As always, I invite the professionals to fill in the gaps here -- both in terms of actual facts and context.
The First Lady took to the stage at the Democratic National Convention, and united a divided hall.
Most convention speeches are forgotten almost before they’re finished. But tonight in Philadelphia, Michelle Obama delivered a speech that will be replayed, quoted, and anthologized for years. It was as pure a piece of political oratory as this campaign has offered, and instantly entered the pantheon of great convention speeches.
Obama stepped out onto a stage in front of a divided party, including delegates who had booed almost every mention of the presumptive nominee. And she delivered a speech that united the hall, bringing it to its feet.
She did it, moreover, her own way—forming a striking contrast with the night’s other speakers. She did it without shouting at the crowd. Without overtly slamming Republicans. Without turning explicitly negative. Her speech was laden with sharp barbs, but she delivered them calmly, sometimes wryly, biting her lower lip, hitting her cadence. It was a masterful performance.
When something goes wrong, I start with blunder, confusion, and miscalculation as the likely explanations. Planned-out wrongdoing is harder to pull off, more likely to backfire, and thus less probable.
But it is getting more difficult to dismiss the apparent Russian role in the DNC hack as blunder and confusion rather than plan.
“Real-world” authorities, from the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia to FBI sources to international security experts, say that the forensic evidence indicates the Russians. No independent authority strongly suggests otherwise. (Update the veteran reporters Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef cite evidence that the original hacker was “an agent of the Russian government.”)
The timing and precision of the leaks, on the day before the Democratic convention and on a topic intended to maximize divisions at that convention, is unlikely to be pure coincidence. If it were coincidence, why exactly now, with evidence drawn from hacks over previous months? Why mail only from the DNC, among all the organizations that have doubtless been hacked?
The foreign country most enthusiastic about Trump’s rise appears to be Russia, which would also be the foreign country most benefited by his policy changes, from his sowing doubts about NATO and the EU to his weakening of the RNC platform language about Ukraine.
For the party elders, day one of the convention was about scolding the left back together.
Against a restive backdrop, the party’s top lieutenants were forced into the role of prime time peacemakers, tasked with encouraging Democratic unity in a party that has only lately acquiesced to tenuous detente. They did so through a combination of alarmist truth telling—borne from the reality of a Trump-Clinton matchup that has lately gotten tighter—and cold-water scolding about party division—driven equally by frustration and exhaustion.
The Democratic chairwoman had few supporters—but clung to her post for years, abetted by the indifference of the White House.
PHILADELPHIA—As Debbie Wasserman Schultz made her unceremonious exit as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, what was most remarkable was what you didn’t hear: practically anybody coming to her defense.
The Florida congresswoman did not go quietly. She reportedly resisted stepping down, and blamed subordinates for the content of the leaked emails that were released Friday, which clearly showed the committee’s posture of neutrality in the Democratic primary to have been a hollow pretense, just as Bernie Sanders and his supporters long contended. She finally relinquished the convention gavel only after receiving three days of strong-arming, a ceremonial position in the Clinton campaign, and a raucous round of boos at a convention breakfast.
The pressures of national academic standards have pushed character education out of the classroom.
A few months ago, I presented the following scenario to my junior English students: Your boyfriend or girlfriend has committed a felony, during which other people were badly harmed. Should you or should you not turn him or her into the police?
The class immediately erupted with commentary. It was obvious, they said, that loyalty was paramount—not a single student said they’d “snitch.” They were unequivocally unconcerned about who was harmed in this hypothetical scenario. This troubled me.
This discussion was part of an introduction to an essay assignment about whether Americans should pay more for ethically produced food. We continued discussing other dilemmas, and the kids were more engaged that they’d been in weeks, grappling with big questions about values, character, and right versus wrong as I attempted to expand their thinking about who and what is affected—and why it matters—by their caloric choices.
Why Donald Trump’s recent comments on the alliance caused such an uproar
Donald Trump shocked foreign-policy professionals and observers when he remarked to The New York Times that if he were president, the United States might not come to the defense of an attacked NATO ally that hadn’t fulfilled its “obligation to make payments.” The remark broke with decades of bipartisan commitment to the alliance and, as Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in The Atlantic, aligned well with the interests of Russia, whose ambitions NATO was founded largely to contain. One Republican in Congress openly wondered whether his party’s nominee could be “seemingly so pro-Russia” because of “connections and contracts and things from the past or whatever.”
It’s not unlike Trump to make shocking statements. But these ones stokedparticularalarm, not least among America’s allies, about the candidate’s suitability for the United States presidency. So what’s the big deal? What does NATO actually do?
Stock-market crashes, terrorist attacks, and the dark side of “newsworthy” stories
Man bites dog. It is one of the oldest cliches in journalism, an acknowledgement of the idea that ordinary events are not newsworthy, whereas oddities, like a puppy-nibbling adult, deserve disproportionate coverage.
The rule is straightforward, but its implications are subtle. If journalists are encouraged to report extreme events, they guide both elite and public attitudes, leading many people, including experts, to feel like extreme events are more common than they actually are. By reporting on only the radically novel, the press can feed a popular illusion that the world is more terrible than it actually is.
Take finance, for example. Professional investors are fretting about the possibility of a massive stock-market crash, on par with 1987’s Black Monday. The statistical odds that such an event will occur within the next six months are about 1-in-60, according to historical data from 1929 to 1988. But when surveys between 1989 and 2015 asked investors to estimate the odds of such a crash in the coming months, the typical response was 1-in-10.
Physicists can’t agree on whether the flow of future to past is real or a mental construct.
Einstein once described his friend Michele Besso as “the best sounding board in Europe” for scientific ideas. They attended university together in Zurich; later they were colleagues at the patent office in Bern. When Besso died in the spring of 1955, Einstein—knowing that his own time was also running out—wrote a now-famous letter to Besso’s family. “Now he has departed this strange world a little ahead of me,” Einstein wrote of his friend’s passing. “That signifies nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Einstein’s statement was not merely an attempt at consolation. Many physicists argue that Einstein’s position is implied by the two pillars of modern physics: Einstein’s masterpiece, the general theory of relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics. The laws that underlie these theories are time-symmetric—that is, the physics they describe is the same, regardless of whether the variable called “time” increases or decreases. Moreover, they say nothing at all about the point we call “now”—a special moment (or so it appears) for us, but seemingly undefined when we talk about the universe at large. The resulting timeless cosmos is sometimes called a “block universe”—a static block of space-time in which any flow of time, or passage through it, must presumably be a mental construct or other illusion.
A 30-step review of the mayhem in Philadelphia, and what Clinton’s convention says about the future of the American political system.
Hillary Clinton, her advisers, and their allies at the Democratic National Committee watched Donald Trump’s nominating convention in Cleveland with smug satisfaction.
Team Trump had insulted Ohio’s governor, approved a Melania Trump speech that plagiarized Michelle Obama, lied about the plagiarism, and allowed Ted Cruz to expose party divisions in a prime-time speech.
“Hey @Reince,” Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz tweeted GOP chairman Reince Priebus. “I’m in Cleveland if you need another chair to keep your convention in order.”
Schultz reflected the Democratic establishment’s false sense of security. Headed to their convention in Philadelphia, Democrats felt more united than Republicans, better organized, and less vulnerable to the long-term disruption of a populist insurgency.
All hell broke loose.
WikiLeaks released 20,000 emails stolen from DNC computers, proof of the worst-kept secret in Democratic politics: The party worked against socialist-populist Bernie Sanders to ease Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination. The FBI said it would investigate whether Russia hacked the DNC to influence the U.S. election.
All hell broke loose.
“Lock her up!” chanted Democratic activists in the streets of Philadelphia. These Sanders supporters carried signs and wore T-shirts that called for Clinton’s indictment, channeling those GOP delegates in Cleveland who drew rebukes for defying old rules of political decorum.
Schultz cut a deal with the Clinton team to resign, effective upon the conclusion of the convention. She planned to open and close the gathering with remarks lauding her leadership.
All hell broke loose.
Addressing delegates from her home state of Florida, Shultz chastised an unruly crowd carrying signs reading “Division!” and “EMAILS.” She said, “We know that the voices in this room that are standing up and being disruptive, we know that is not the Florida we know.”
“Shame! Shame! Shame!” crowd members chanted. Schultz scurried out of the room.
Sanders himself tried to prevent a show of disunity on the convention floor, pleading with his supporters to back Clinton. Having promised his followers “a revolution,” he now fed them bitter pragmatism. “Brothers and sisters,” Sanders said, “this is the real world that we live in.”
All hell broke loose.
While the streets filled with a sweaty mass of angry Sanders supporters—mostly young and white and disconnected from the political system—the Clinton team told Shultz she couldn’t address the convention.
Sanders sent his supporters a text message, urging them not to protest on the convention floor.
All hell broke loose.
As the convention came to order, hundreds of Democrats protested outside. “No, no, DNC—we won’t vote for Hillary!”
Inside, Cynthia Hale mentioned Clinton’s name during the opening prayer. Some delegates booed, others chanted for Sanders.
There would be more protests.
Eventually, Clinton likely will regain control of her convention. Like in Cleveland, the desire to defeat a hated enemy will overcome internal differences. The blues will line up against the reds, Wall Street will support both teams, Clinton will win in November, and the status quo will declare victory over change. Populist unrest will broaden and intensify.
Or Trump will win. He won’t keep his promises, because he never does. He won’t make America any greater than it already is. He might make it worse. The status quo will declare victory over change. Populist unrest will broaden and intensify.
Whether it’s Clinton or Trump, historians will note how a billionaire celebrity took over the GOP with an anti-trade, anti-immigration nativism, setting fire to the political playbook that guided campaigns for the last half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st.
Today will be long remembered, too. Sanders couldn’t calm the churning of his supporters and, as in a mutiny aboard a pirate ship, the deckhands have seized control from the captain.
This could be the start of something big inside the Democratic Party. What if, for instance, Sanders’s coalition banded together with Black Lives Matters to create Tea Party-like takeover of the Democratic Party?
People have witnessed disruption in the retail, entertainment, and financial industries—in virtually every institution except for government and politics. In an era of choice and technological efficiency, the American voter is given a binary choice and gridlocked government.
Most Americans want something better than what the Democratic-Republican duopoly crams down their throats.
They’re mad as hell and, as evidenced in Cleveland and Philadelphia, they’re just starting to realize how powerful they are. They don’t need to take it anymore.