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.