Women’s Rights to the Suffrage
by Susan B. Anthony, 1873
Episode #4 of the course “The most influential speeches in world’s history”
Throughout the 19th century, the United States of America was making social changes toward equal rights and privileges for all citizens. Part of this progress was movement toward giving women the right to vote. One of the most active and vocal figures of the suffrage movement was Susan Brownell Anthony, a feminist and activist in New York who had been working for equal rights since the 1850s. When she was 17, Anthony collected signatures and spoke for abolitionist causes, working for equal rights for women and African Americans simultaneously. She spoke at conventions and was a founding member of the National Women’s Suffrage Association, which supported the passing of the 15th Amendment. After its passing, she turned her efforts toward women’s suffrage.
In the late 1860s she teamed up with other leading activists, publishing the New York weekly newspaper The Revolution for the first time in 1868. Acting with the courage of her convictions, Anthony cast an illegal vote in the presidential election of 1872. After her arrest and a hearing, Anthony was fined $100, which she refused to pay. She wrote and delivered a speech in 1873, which came to be known as the “Women’s Rights to the Suffrage” speech.
In her address, she lets the audience know of her “crime” of voting. She reminds the listener that the Constitution of the United States says “we the people” and does not exclude women as people. She ends the speech by asking the audience if they believe women are people, stating that surely few will “have the hardihood to say they are not.” Public reaction to Anthony was mixed. Although she died in 1906 without seeing women legally allowed to participate in elections, her efforts paved the way for the 1920 suffrage amendment. She never paid the fine issued for casting her illegal vote.
“Friends and Fellow Citizens: I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen’s rights, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any State to deny.
The preamble of the Federal Constitution says:
“We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people – women as well as men. And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government – the ballot.
For any State to make sex a qualification that must ever result in the disfranchisement of one entire half of the people is to pass a bill of attainder, or an ex post facto law, and is therefore a violation of the supreme law of the land. By it the blessings of liberty are for ever withheld from women and their female posterity. To them this government has no just powers derived from the consent of the governed. To them this government is not a democracy. It is not a republic. It is an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy of sex; the most hateful aristocracy ever established on the face of the globe; an oligarchy of wealth, where the right govern the poor. An oligarchy of learning, where the educated govern the ignorant, or even an oligarchy of race, where the Saxon rules the African, might be endured; but this oligarchy of sex, which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters of every household – which ordains all men sovereigns, all women subjects, carries dissension, discord and rebellion into every home of the nation.
Webster, Worcester and Bouvier all define a citizen to be a person in the United States, entitled to vote and hold office.
The only question left to be settled now is: Are women persons? And I hardly believe any of our opponents will have the hardihood to say they are not. Being persons, then, women are citizens; and no State has a right to make any law, or to enforce any old law, that shall abridge their privileges or immunities. Hence, every discrimination against women in the constitutions and laws of the several States is today null and void, precisely as in every one against Negroes.”
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