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.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle and the forthcoming Between the World and Me.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.
— Deuteronomy 15: 12–15
Besides the crime which consists in violating the law, and varying from the right rule of reason, whereby a man so far becomes degenerate, and declares himself to quit the principles of human nature, and to be a noxious creature, there is commonly injury done to some person or other, and some other man receives damage by his transgression: in which case he who hath received any damage, has, besides the right of punishment common to him with other men, a particular right to seek reparation.
Writing used to be a solitary profession. How did it become so interminably social?
Whether we’re behind the podium or awaiting our turn, numbing our bottoms on the chill of metal foldout chairs or trying to work some life into our terror-stricken tongues, we introverts feel the pain of the public performance. This is because there are requirements to being a writer. Other than being a writer, I mean. Firstly, there’s the need to become part of the writing “community”, which compels every writer who craves self respect and success to attend community events, help to organize them, buzz over them, and—despite blitzed nerves and staggering bowels—present and perform at them. We get through it. We bully ourselves into it. We dose ourselves with beta blockers. We drink. We become our own worst enemies for a night of validation and participation.
Bernie Sanders and Jeb Bush look abroad for inspiration, heralding the end of American exceptionalism.
This election cycle, two candidates have dared to touch a third rail in American politics.
Not Social Security reform. Not Medicare. Not ethanol subsidies. The shibboleth that politicians are suddenly willing to discuss is the idea that America might have something to learn from other countries.
The most notable example is Bernie Sanders, who renewed his praise for Western Europe in a recent interview with Ezra Klein. “Where is the UK? Where is France? Germany is the economic powerhouse in Europe,” Sanders said. “They provide health care to all of their people, they provide free college education to their kids.”
On ABC’s This Week in May, George Stephanopoulos asked Sanders about this sort of rhetoric. “I can hear the Republican attack ad right now: ‘He wants American to look more like Scandinavia,’” the host said. Sanders didn’t flinch:
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Instead, Kippnick makes her way through different subject matters on the way to a bachelor’s in accounting. When she feels she’s mastered a certain subject, she takes a test at home, where a proctor watches her from afar by monitoring her computer and watching her over a video feed. If she proves she’s competent—by getting the equivalent of a B—she passes and moves on to the next subject.
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Why can’t people imagine a future without falling into the sexist past? Why does the road ahead keep leading us back to a place that looks like the Tomorrowland of the 1950s? Well, when it comes to Moneypenny, here’s a relevant datapoint: More than two thirds of Facebook employees are men. That’s a ratio reflected among another key group: futurists.
Even when a dentist kills an adored lion, and everyone is furious, there’s loftier righteousness to be had.
Now is the point in the story of Cecil the lion—amid non-stop news coverage and passionate social-media advocacy—when people get tired of hearing about Cecil the lion. Even if they hesitate to say it.
But Cecil fatigue is only going to get worse. On Friday morning, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri, called for the extradition of the man who killed him, the Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Muchinguri would like Palmer to be “held accountable for his illegal action”—paying a reported $50,000 to kill Cecil with an arrow after luring him away from protected land. And she’s far from alone in demanding accountability. This week, the Internet has served as a bastion of judgment and vigilante justice—just like usual, except that this was a perfect storm directed at a single person. It might be called an outrage singularity.
On July 16, 1945, the United States Army detonated the world’s first nuclear weapon in New Mexico’s Jornada del Muerto desert.
On July 16, 1945, the United States Army detonated the world’s first nuclear weapon in New Mexico’s Jornada del Muerto desert. The test, code-named “Trinity,” was a success, unleashing an explosion with the energy of about 20 kilotons of TNT and beginning the nuclear age. Since then, nearly 2,000 nuclear tests have been performed. Most of these took place during the 1960s and 1970s. When the technology was new, tests were frequent and often spectacular, and they led to the development of newer, more deadly weapons. Since the 1990s, there have been efforts to limit the testing of nuclear weapons, including a U.S. moratorium and a U.N. comprehensive test ban treaty. As a result, testing has slowed—though not halted—and there are looming questions about who will take over for those experienced engineers who are now near retirement. Gathered here are images from the first 30 years of nuclear testing. (A version of this article first ran here in 2011.)
During the multi-country press tour for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, not even Jon Stewart has dared ask Tom Cruise about Scientology.
During the media blitz for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation over the past two weeks, Tom Cruise has seemingly been everywhere. In London, he participated in a live interview at the British Film Institute with the presenter Alex Zane, the movie’s director, Christopher McQuarrie, and a handful of his fellow cast members. In New York, he faced off with Jimmy Fallon in a lip-sync battle on The Tonight Show and attended the Monday night premiere in Times Square. And, on Tuesday afternoon, the actor recorded an appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, where he discussed his exercise regimen, the importance of a healthy diet, and how he still has all his own hair at 53.
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This past March, in an up-and-coming neighborhood of Portland, Maine, a group of residents rented a warehouse and opened a tool-lending library. The idea was to give locals access to everyday but expensive garage, kitchen, and landscaping tools—such as chainsaws, lawnmowers, wheelbarrows, a giant cider press, and soap molds—to save unnecessary expense as well as clutter in closets and tool sheds.
The residents had been inspired by similar tool-lending libraries across the country—in Columbus, Ohio; in Seattle, Washington; in Portland, Oregon. The ethos made sense to the Mainers. “We all have day jobs working to make a more sustainable world,” says Hazel Onsrud, one of the Maine Tool Library’s founders, who works in renewable energy. “I do not want to buy all of that stuff.”