I chiefly, who enjoy
So far the happier lot enjoying thee,
Preëminent by so much odds.
These, on as good authority as exists upon the subject, were the thankful words of our unfallen mother to her “guide and head.” “Woman is the superior of man, and the reason why he denies her the suffrage is that she would reform him with it, and man does not wish to be reformed,” declares a modern daughter of Eve, of the one hundred and seventy-seventh generation, who still, like her worthy ancestress, though from the opposite point of view, appears to see cause for thankfulness that she is not as men are. An interesting spectacle is this for the cynic; a sad one, indeed, for the moralist! The miserable masculine biped, after six thousand years of tyrannizing over his better half, now willfully monopolizes the ballot as a last desperate means of continuing his degenerate ways, in spite of the eagerness of progressive woman to lift him again to the heights of virtue; and certainly it is not an unreasonable proposition that if an apple in woman’s hand caused man’s fall, a ballot in the same hand might work his restoration. Still, it must be admitted that this argument has less value now than before the days of the higher criticism.
The Epicurean poet once observed that the greatest pleasure of the true philosopher was to watch from an intellectual elevation the stumblings and errors of the common crowd of mankind below. So now, if Lucretius could look down on the modern American world, seething with new ideas, projects, reforms of every description, he would find in the midst of it all no little diversion in contemplating the confusion of truth and nonsense which the discussion of woman’s rights and woman suffrage has produced.
It is the higher enjoyment of our Christian philosophy to enter the world of action and seek to solve its problems; but it would still be well, if it were possible, to draw aside occasionally, and survey the field with the impartial though not with the indifferent eye of the Epicurean. While impartiality may be impossible of attainment for one who already has strong convictions, or, if the reader please, violent prejudices, on this subject, yet if a little truth can be separated from the error, some progress may perhaps be made toward a true understanding of the problem.
It certainly seems as if our advanced civilization ought to carry with it perfect social organization, but nothing is further from the fact. The material progress of the century has been too rapid for the social development to keep pace with it; and nowhere is the change greater, or the present situation in many respects less satisfactory, than in the case of woman. It is true that she at last receives the equal education which is her right, while pursuits till recently closed to her are now open, and this is well; but at the same time the number of those whom necessity or inclination leads into callings wholly dissociated with the home and its peculiar offices appears to be ever on the increase, and this is far from well. This changed condition of women must, however, be recognized as a fact, and the suffrage movement is its consequence. With many women doing a man’s work, yet often deprived by law or custom of equal rights and an equal chance with man, what was to be expected but a cry for the ballot, that talisman by virtue of which man is supposed to be secure in all his rights against any possible oppression? Yet as the demand for woman suffrage is thus largely the result of an unnatural, and it is to be hoped temporary, state of human society, so it may well be questioned whether the desired boon would prove a palliative, or only an aggravation, of the evil which has produced it.
But while the fact that so many women are doing the same work as men gives added force to their demand for the same social status, many advocates of woman suffrage rest their claims for enfranchisement on far broader ground. It is as the sacred right of every human being, regardless of sex, that they demand the ballot for woman. The argument for this is based on two very plausible fallacies: (1) that the right to vote is a natural right, and (2) that the unit of society is the individual. The truth is that the unit of society is not the individual, but the family; and that the right to vote is not a natural right, but is only contingent upon the natural right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” For the sake of these, men organize society; and that such organization may be possible it is necessary—as on the principle of securing the greatest good to the greatest number it is right—to insist that every individual shall be included in this society; and further, as each must of very necessity have his full share of its benefits, that each shall also bear his share of its burdens. But the right to vote, a share in the direction of the public life, does not arise from the circumstance that the individual is affected by the acts of government, but is dependent on the benefit his participation in public affairs is likely to confer on society, or on the necessity of furnishing him a defense against the selfishness of his fellows. If disinterestedness were proportioned, in human nature, to ability, an aristocracy would be the model government; but, as a fact, we deem it essential for the preservation of equal rights to give all equal power at the polls. As a result, we have come in America to consider the right to vote as inherent in manhood, without regard either to the extent of the voters’ interest or to his qualifications for intelligent participation in public affairs. Nevertheless, it remains true that no class whose exercise of the franchise is neither beneficial to the State nor necessary for its own protection has any just claim on the ballot. In accordance with this view, not only educational tests, but property requirements, are still maintained in some States. It is absurd on the face of things to say that one can have a natural right to that which exists at all only under an artificial social order.
Again, it is impossible to discriminate so as to select only those best fitted for the duties of citizenship. The ballot must be given to classes as a whole, regardless of the merits or demerits of particular individuals thereby included or excluded. Thus, on the principle that the unit of society is the family, and that for self-evident physical reasons man must be the representative of the family in public life, the ballot is given to man, and not to woman; and because on the one hand all men alike have the same interests in the State, while on the other the exceptional position of single women is one neither of peculiar fitness nor peculiar needs for the suffrage, no distinction is made between the married and the unmarried. The mere fact that single women are as a body the youngest and least experienced of their sex would be sufficient objection to any such discrimination. A system that should send the girl of the period to the polls and exclude her mother would be no less dangerous than ridiculous. Moreover, while to declare that a woman loses her individuality by marriage, and to take the ballot from her at the very moment when her interest in the future of the State is increased, would be dishonorable to her; it would, on the other hand, be hardly less dishonorable to assume that in single life she comes so far from filling her true sphere as to deserve classification with men. Single women have thus no good ground for a special claim to the ballot by reason of their exceptional situation. At the same time, for the very reason that their situation is exceptional, they have no right to assume the position of spokesmen for their sex. The mothers of the land alone have the right, speaking for women, to say, “We want this,” or “We want that.” The franchise should not be given to women as an inalienable right, nor for the sake of any peculiar class among them, however worthy, least of all in response to the clamor of that small but noisy set who affect to despise the honors of maternity. It should be given, if given at all, in the belief that the time has come when the direct force of woman’s vote at the polls may wisely supplement the indirect but far greater influence of her character and teaching in the home.
But though we deny the natural right of either man or woman to the ballot, and refuse to exalt the individual above the family, the actual desirableness of woman suffrage is not disproved. In that subject is involved the whole question of the differences between men and women, and their mutual relations in the world’s life. On these fundamental matters argument sometimes waxes uncomplimentary. One ardent suffragist, already referred to, reasoning by analogy from lower to higher, proves the worthlessness of man by the fact that the female spider devours her male consort. Man, on his part, with equal logic, argues that higher in the scale the male is the tyrant. Singularly enough, too, the circumstance that among the lower races of human beings woman is drudge and burden-bearer has been cited by women themselves to prove not only their equality, or rather sameness, with men, but also their greater consequence, and even their ability to maintain by physical force their will as expressed at the polls. In fact, it would be amusing, if it were not pitiful, to observe how those who most vaunt the importance of woman are the very ones who seek most to imitate man and to belittle true womanhood.
The more moderate, however, prefer to assert; the superiority of woman by virtue of her difference from man, as the possessor of finer moral qualities and of an instinct which is above reason. By these she stands ready to bring in the millennium, if man will only let her try. This calm assertion of a few women is matched only by the arrogant assumption of feminine inferiority by some on the other side. That unfortunate phrase, “the weaker vessel,” is the most abused of all Scripture texts. The absolute inability of woman’s mind to cope with certain mathematical problems has been proved no less conclusively on the pages of a periodical than its capacity for distancing the masculine mind in that department is demonstrated on the examination papers of a prominent college. Viewing with profound alarm the increasing assertiveness of his better half, “creation’s lord,” in the failure of logic, his peculiar gift, intrenches himself behind the family Bible, invokes to his aid the spirit of the Apostle to the Gentiles, and hurls forth the battle-cry, “Let your women keep silence in the churches.” This argument is given general application to every suggested change in woman’s position, and before the days of her higher education it did quite effective work. Now, however, armed with the original text and Harper’s lexicon, the “sweet girl graduate” advances undaunted to the assault, proves that λαλεῖν means, not “to talk,” but “to chatter,” clinches her argument by a reference to the women who prophesied, and retires her discomfited adversary to his study. If I may be pardoned for intruding my own unscholarly opinion upon this learned controversy, I would say that it seems, to me the women are right. It is clear that the Apostle is uttering a timely warning against gossip, in prophetic vision of the modern church sewing society.
It is only natural that where opinions differ so decidedly as to fundamentals, they should be equally divergent in regard to the results to ensue from woman suffrage. On that subject the more prominent advocates of the change have little doubt. Women would vote on the moral side, and being, happily, a majority, would introduce a grand era of moral reform. To hasten this desirable end, one orator, at least, has assumed that the first step, when women get control of any legislature, will be to lower to eighteen years the age of their qualification for voting. This would give them a safe permanent majority, and the speaker gleefully intimated that when that time came man would be relegated to his true place. In fact, though most women desire the ballot solely for the laudable purpose of regenerating man, the truth must be told that there are some who cherish no higher object than the passage of a decree that every widower shall be legally referred to as the “relict” of his late superior. It is doubtful, however, whether terror of such retaliatory measures counts for so much as anticipation of quarrels in families, — an argument against woman suffrage which, in defiance of logic and ridicule, still maintains a lingering existence, thus arousing suspicion that it must, after all, have its root in human nature. Yet a woman ought to endure her husband’s difference of political opinion with greater equanimity for being able to express her own at the polls; and if any men think they could not tolerate such independence on the part of their wives, the fact is too discreditable to them to be paraded in discussion.
A fair compromise of these conflicting claims and expectations seems to be that to which calmer thinkers on both sides are tending, and which they accept as common ground: that woman is the equal of man, but not the same; different, but not superior; superior in certain respects, inferior in others; having a special sphere of her own, and a common sphere with him. It is in regard to the limits of these spheres, and the play of the peculiar qualities of either sex in each of them, that the discussion must be carried on.
A division of the duties of life between the sexes is the necessary result of the physical difference which incapacitates woman for a considerable period for public life or hard labor. As an accompaniment, if not as a result, of this physical difference, we find also the peculiar qualities of heart and head which distinguish woman from man, and which must have recognition in considering the probable effect of her participation in the government. The introduction of a body of women voters would not be simply an increase in the total number of polis. It would be, as its advocates claim, though to much less extent than many of them claim, the addition of a new element to the mass of citizens. Whether the time has come for such an innovation is the question. It is, perhaps, a question as to the present stage of progress of the human race.
There are two means by which the conduct of men may be affected, force and influence. The one is mans, the other woman’s. The one is brutal in analogy, the other is divine. Force is the disappearing relic of the past; influence is the growing power of the future. The whole progress of Christian evolution has been through the subjugation of force by influence alone; while, simultaneously with this progress, woman has risen from a position of contempt to one of honor. Her power in the State begins at the cradle of the future citizen; and if she fulfill her womanly duty, use well her womanly opportunities, she has more than her share of public importance already. Her position in the State is superior to that of man in so far as it is a higher office to inculcate the guiding principles on which the commonwealth depends than it is, weighing pros and cons, to attempt the application of those principles to particular questions. “Yes,” it may be urged; “but in the acknowledged disappearance of brute force as a factor, the power which is so salutary in the home might well be extended to the polls. Man ought not to be jealous of woman’s influence.” Certainly not. On the contrary, he jealously guards it. Behind the ballot is coercion; and in so far as it appeals to coercion moral influence loses its effect. The popular vote is, at bottom, not a declaration of principles nor a testing of opinion, but an expression of will. A man may be almost persuaded to go to church, but if I take him by the shoulders and try to shove him in he will rebel. A woman may induce a drunkard to give up drinking, but if she votes that he shall not drink he becomes defiant. Again, it is easier to lay down sound principles than to apply them to special cases; and while we respect the honesty of those who differ from us, our regard for their precepts is seriously impaired by witnessing their misapplication. For example, a son’s respect for his mother’s instructions on the sacredness of honor might be destroyed by seeing her vote cast, though only in error of judgment, for a debased currency. This is weakness, but it is human nature. The apprehension so often expressed of a diminution of woman’s moral influence in the event of her entrance into politics may be exaggerated, but it can have its origin only in the consciousness of those who entertain it. It must be granted, too, that it arises from the honor, not from any disesteem, in which woman is held.
Moreover, while there is reason to fear that the power of woman’s character in the home and in society would thus be weakened by her exercise of the suffrage, the very qualities which do such good in moulding character would be ill applied to public action. Our votes are determined by two forces, sentiment and reason: the former quality preëminently woman’s, the latter man’s; the former a quality of the heart, the latter of the head. Now it is generally admitted that the heart of the people is right, and that the mistakes of a democracy are mistakes of the head; right purpose, but not right judgment. Thus, though our government has been that of men exclusively, we have still had too much of the womanly quality. To be sure, our legislation is by no means surfeited with morality. It is in the interest of good morals that women ask for the ballot. Yet it must be conceded that we already have a good many laws which are not enforced, because they are in advance of the aggressive morality of the people. If women voted, we should have more of these laws. Thus what we need is more of the manly quality of sound judgment in our public life; and it would be a grave mistake to transfer the influence of woman’s peculiar traits from the home, where they are beneficent, to the forum, where they would be likely to be mischievous. Neither should women underestimate the importance of their present position. Those who were the heart and soul of the anti-slavery movement were not the guiding hands, but it is the names of Phillips and Garrison that are famous in the history of that time, while to the rising generation the men who organized political parties and directed the movement inspired by these great spirits are unknown.
Still further, women have, on the whole, less information on political subjects than have men. As their powers are of the domestic rather than the political sort, so their ordinary course of life is not such as to give them much knowledge of public questions or of the character of public men. They need special preparation in order to vote intelligently. So, it may be said, do men. Nevertheless, very few men do make a study of politics. The great majority, except for the questionable information furnished by the partisan press, go to the polls with only such knowledge of the issues and the candidates as comes to them in their every-day life. But, fortunately, this is considerable. It is much more than women have. The average man understands the difference in functions of national and state governments, and knows what part the candidate for whom he votes will have to play if elected. The average woman knows nothing of this. Neither has she any idea what the tariff is, though she may applaud or denounce it with all the vehemence of the party newspaper she occasionally reads. This ignorance is not discreditable to her, for she has enough to do already, but it exists. There is, of course, a large number of women of high education and comparative leisure, who are well informed on public questions; better informed, perhaps, than any corresponding number of men, except it be those whose profession is politics, and in impartiality women must be much superior to these. There is, however, no possible way of making selection from the mass. Some one has contended that all women ought to be allowed to vote, because Mrs. Julia Ward Howe is far better fitted for citizenship than is the average male voter. This sort of argument proves too much, for by the same token we would all gladly submit to a despotism if only Mrs. Howe were to be the despot. There is no reason for believing that the average woman would take any more pains to fit herself for the duties of a voter than the average man takes; and the information which comes to her without special effort is certainly less, as is consequently her interest in public affairs, unconnected as they are with her daily life. It is very likely that on their first enfranchisement only the best qualified women would vote, as is said to be the case in Kansas; but the exigencies of party politics would never permit such a state of things to continue long. Thus, to enfranchise women would be, in the end, to diminish, if not the average sound judgment of the body of voters, at least the average information and the average interest in public affairs.
But, apart from general principles, what would be the effect of woman’s ballot on the laws, on women, and on society? First of all, does woman need enfranchisement as a means of protection against unequal laws? That there are some such, especially concerning independent rights in property, it would be idle to deny. Women ask for the ballot that they may repeal them. Their argument is valid. The need of any class for protection against acknowledged wrongs must be admitted to justify a demand for the suffrage. But this argument, though unanswerable, is not conclusive of the whole subject. If the votes of women were to be, in the future, continually necessary to save them from oppression, their claim to the franchise would be just. But the objectionable laws are not the deliberate expression of present public sentiment; they are a relic of past prejudice, and are, moreover, gradually disappearing. If those who magnify their sufferings under them had put into direct effort to secure their repeal one half the energy they have expended on the circuitous method of repeal by means of woman suffrage, these obnoxious statutes would now be a thing of the past. It is, in fact, impossible to avoid the suspicion that the suffragists, who in all their tactics display the wisdom of the serpent, are not very anxious to destroy their strongest argument. Yet woman suffrage is a far more serious matter than any mere question of hastening the death of a few antiquated laws. The end desired is insignificant in comparison with the means proposed for obtaining it. Nevertheless, a sense of unfairness in existing statutes is one of the strongest motives in arousing women to discontent with their present condition, and in prompting a demand for the suffrage as a remedy. Policy on the part of opponents of woman suffrage, no less than justice to women, demands that this cause of discontent, wherever it still exists, be removed. Men certainly ought to be more ready to give women just laws alone than to give the laws and the suffrage at the same time. After all, it is by no means certain that woman suffrage would bring “women’s rights.”
Aside, however, from the question of special laws, the ballot is claimed for women who are property holders, on the ground that they are taxed without representation. But property taxes are laid without discrimination. Women do not need the ballot for protection against impositions directed with especial severity against their possessions. Rightly or wrongly, we give equal suffrage to all, in this country, regardless of their wealth. To grant the ballot to women of property, while withholding it from others, would be to increase the relative power in the State of property holders as such, regardless of the question of sex. Thus the proposition to enfranchise those women alone who are taxpayers ought to be treated as a measure designed to increase the political power of property, rather than as one required to guard any peculiar rights of woman. That would, very likely, be a good thing, especially in cities; but a distinction so contrary to American ideas could not long be maintained. The result would inevitably be the admission of all women to the right of suffrage. Besides, it is women without property, wage-earners, who most need legal protection; while every mother has a stronger interest in the commonwealth than stocks and bonds can give. To extend the franchise to widowed mothers, who must otherwise be unrepresented in the State, would be a gracious and reasonable act. Moreover, being a recognition of the principle of family representation, it would count as a precedent against, rather than for, any further enfranchisement of women. For this reason, probably, such a proposal finds no favor with professional agitators.
In the second place, what would be the effect of woman’s participation in politics on her own character and life? Would she find herself burdened by an additional duty, or uplifted by the inspiration of broader interests? Women have their share of the world’s work as it is, and on the principle of division of labor the duties of government should be left where they now are, with men. But, on the other hand, women ought not to be discouraged from entering any field of thought, least of all, as the English petitioners say, “the concerns of their country.” Is participation in political action, then, essential to interest in political subjects? In certain cases, doubtless, it creates such an interest; it must be observed, however, that many of our most intelligent men, though to their shame, neglect their public duties entirely. The educating power of the ballot is much exaggerated in popular estimation. Some women might be aroused by its possession, but only a few. Moreover, even for these few there is danger that the right of suffrage would develop false ideals. The work of the home is already too much put off upon school and church. The idea seems to be prevalent in some quarters that commonplace women will do well enough for mothers, but that superior women should teach. One of the latter class has lately said that a college graduate “had no business to go and get married.” It was “obtaining her education on false pretenses.” Her higher duty lay in the school-room. In the same way, the past year has furnished abundant illustration, in its prohibition campaigns, of the notion that the ballot, woman’s ballot if she had it, could do the work for morality which the home, the church, and the school combined have failed to do. If women actually had the ballot, those of them who cherish this mistake would indulge in it still further, and, until disappointment taught them wisdom, would neglect their real opportunities for their imaginary ones. They would lower themselves in the delusion that they were elevating politics. In this respect, then, to just what extent it is idle to conjecture, woman suffrage might at present, in this country, have an injurious effect on her ideals and life. I do not wish to magnify this danger, nor to underrate the benefit which the franchise would confer on women who have both opportunity and disposition to make the most of it. Its influence in enlarging their range of thought, and in giving them one more common interest with men, would be one certain good result of their enfranchisement; but it would be realized by comparatively few. To the majority, suffrage would be only a burdensome duty, sometimes ill performed, more often neglected.
An exaggerated conception of the power in the ballot would, however, appear most conspicuously in attempts at legislation. The much-vaunted superior morality of women is called on to enact reform. Its success even in enacting would fall short of expectation, and in enforcing would be still less. Those who entertain high hopes from woman’s exercise of the voting power grow indignant at the suggestion that their laws would not be enforced. It is a reflection on human nature, they say. Yes, “but,” as Alexander Hamilton observed, in reply to similar logic, “what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” Society cannot be controlled like a Browning Club. It is not yet a mere company of ladies and gentlemen, whose laws are only methods of procedure, and so, in a sense, automatic. Laws are still, for the most part, restraints on human depravity, and those who violate them will doubtless continue in their old habit of escaping the consequences if they can. Offenses are of two very different sorts. In one case there are two parties, injurer and injured, the latter interested in exposure. In the other there is a single offender, or two conspiring offenders, both interested in concealment from the public at large. Violence against persons and private property belongs in the first list; bribery and illegal liquor-selling are in the second. Laws against the first class of offenses are comparatively easy to enforce, while those against the second class furnish a far more difficult problem. But it is chiefly in the case of this second class that women propose to accomplish their good work, and they are fond of arguing by analogy from the first class that their edicts could be maintained; failing to realize that between laws so unlike no analogy is admissible. “It is so easy just to drop a ballot in the box,” some woman has said. “A woman can do that just as well as a man.” This is a charmingly innocent, not to say limited view of the responsibilities of citizenship and of the docility of mankind under restraint. Yet though, as is sometimes urged, women could not serve on the police and militia to maintain their authority, it is probably true that their laws would be disregarded, not out of contempt for the physical weakness of the sex supposed to have passed them, but simply in contempt for the laws themselves.
It is not more laws, but better enforcement of those we have, that is wanted. Accordingly, if the right of suffrage is to be extended to women, it should be given first for executive rather than for legislative officers. The moral earnestness that would be expended in vain in making laws might accomplish much good in enforcing them. Then, when women prove their ability to elect officials who succeed in exacting from a perverse generation all the goodness at present legally required of it, they will have a proud claim to a share in legislation as well.
At present it appears to be their plan of campaign, in States where local option exists, to ask for the ballot on the license question by virtue of their interest in the home. Moreover, as they beset legislatures with all the importunity of the woman in the parable of the unjust judge, they have a fair chance to gain their request from temporizing Solons. Yet it is no less dangerous than inconsistent to let women vote No license, while leaving them without a voice in the appointment of officers to enforce it; and this they know very well. As soon as their first petition is granted they will have ready a second, this time for the ballot in elections of local executive officials; and the claim will be perfectly just.
The demand for a share in local elections is, in fact, the most reasonable form in which the cause of woman suffrage is presented; not only because municipal officers have little opportunity to indulge in legislative vagaries, but also because women often take a lively and intelligent interest in municipal affairs, though they may care nothing for state and national questions. About the schools, police, and streets they are as much concerned as any one; the burden of municipal taxes is directly felt upon the family income, and if the wife is secretary of the treasury in the household, as Socrates tells us she will be if her husband is a Christian gentleman, she can appreciate good financial administration. Then, too, if woman be given the ballot in local elections only, she can act freely on her best judgment, unbiased by attachment to either national party. Doubling the number of voters in town and city elections by the addition of such a body of independents would be, perhaps, the greatest of the possible benefits to ensue to society from woman suffrage. It must be observed, however, that the realization of this benefit depends on their exclusion from any further share in politics.
More important still, this possible good depends on the readiness of women to avail themselves of their right, or rather to perform their duty; for voting is a duty to be conscientiously and regularly performed, not merely a privilege to be exercised at pleasure. This principle ought to be insisted on, but is persistently ignored. The welfare of the State depends on the faithful public spirit of its citizens. It is dangerous in itself to make any extension of the suffrage which will result in diminishing the proportion of those who have the right, and fail to use it. As to the question whether women would vote as generally as men, it is not fair to form sweeping conclusions from the few facts yet available. Besides, though they do not care to vote at first, they may soon grow to an appreciation of their privilege. The experience of Massachusetts, where women have school suffrage, is interesting, and, it must be confessed, rather discouraging. The opportunity to vote was neglected in its novelty by all save a very few women, and as time went on was neglected more and more. In 1888, however, in the city of Boston, under exceptional circumstances involving peculiar need of calmness and circumspection, repeated appeals to religious enthusiasm, emphasized by race prejudice, availed to bring nearly half as many women as men to the polls, and prompted the nomination, and possibly secured the election, of a “women’s ticket.” Now, apart from the question of the result of this particular election, it is not well that there should exist in the community a large body of negligent voters, whose inertia can be overcome only in times of unusual excitement, but who, when once aroused, come forth to decide in passion questions that, beyond all others, need to be decided in reason. Some will say that the women are a reserve guard, who come forward to save the State in time of peril, but that is a fanciful picture. It is quite true that in the election referred to many of them voted considerately, with a strong sense of duty, and often, too, under protest; but the fact remains that, the graver the issue, the more important is it that decision be made by those who take sufficient interest in the public welfare to perform their duties as citizens with regularity. Yet it is to this Boston election that women suffragists “point with pride,” as the politicians say, asserting that they redeemed the city; and I am not unaware of the disdain which awaits such views as I have expressed upon it. Neither do I wish to contradict that pious interpretation of Genesis, which avers that the Creator made woman for the express reason that he was dissatisfied with his work in man. On that theory it is unquestionably woman’s legitimate business to repair the failures of her inefficient consort, and nowhere has man been less successful than in American municipal government. That the assistance of women in this field might help matters there are some reasons for hoping, but they are not to be found in the experience of Boston.
Of the three views taken by suffragists as to woman’s relation to man, — that of the enthusiasts that she is his superior, that of the unwomanly that she is the same, and that of the reasonable that she is his complement, — the first keeps itself unfortunately prominent in this country, at present; but the last is held by a slowly increasing number, and it is only fair to judge a cause by the best that can be said for it. The attitude of the majority of women themselves is, however, the vital consideration, and that most ignored even by the more thoughtful supporters of the suffrage movement. While that attitude remains, as at present, one of indifference or aversion, the gain from the enfranchisement of women would be realized by but few, and would consist chiefly in enlarging the scope of their interests and thought; the injury, on the other hand, would be: first, to women, in imposing a new duty on those who already have their full share of life’s burdens; and second, to society, in doubling the number of voters by the addition of a class who, in spite of the superior qualifications of some of their number, would have less interest in politics and less information on public matters than have men, — who, because of this lack of interest, would be disposed to neglect the duty of voting, and, because of their inadequate information, would be peculiarly liable to prejudice. The participation of women in politics would not result in a moral revolution; it would be less likely to elevate politics than to prove a misapplication of the emotional qualities of woman, where there is need rather for the rational quality of man; and it would tend to encourage misconceptions, already too prevalent, as to those forces that are most potential in moulding the character of individuals and of nations. Those women who imagine that their highest sphere of usefulness is in the school-room and at the polls need to learn that, in promoting the progress of the human race, education cannot take the place of heredity, nor the ballot do the work of the home. It is safe to say that when a majority of the mothers in our land wish for the ballot they will obtain it. The danger just now is of the opposite sort. The wrong of withholding the privilege of voting from the few who ask it is a slight matter in comparison with the injustice of imposing the duty on the many who neither seek nor wish it. For this reason, those men who distrust the desirableness of woman suffrage beg leave to plead “not guilty” to the charge of brutality and tyranny. Temporary questions may be decided by man, but the future is in the power of woman. In honor to her, it can never be admitted that her present place in the world is less important or less worthy than his. In accordance with this view, if woman receives the ballot, it will not be given to establish her equality, not to satisfy the importunity of any special class, not to carry any particular legislation, but, in her evident desire to accept the additional duty, it will be given in the belief that society as a whole will be the gainer for woman’s active participation in its government.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.