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Woman Suffrage and “The Nation” in 1871

By Mrs. Goodrich Willard

As the editor of The Nation has at last come out and treated the woman question and its advocates in a more respectful manner, we will discuss his views as if he were a gentleman, and not a blackguard or a gander. If he will stop calling names, we will. We are glad that our plan of “treating a fool according to his folly” has worked so well, and made him ashamed of the folly. It is sometimes necessary to do this, because it is the only course that will succeed; nevertheless, we deplore the necessity. It is not to our taste.

The article of The Nation is headed, “Sex in Politics.” The editor says:

Owing to the interest excited by the condition of the city and State of New York, and the condition of the South, and by the condition of France, all of these countries being governed by a numerical majority, and all badly governed, the foundations on which democratic governments rest are receiving a more serious and thoughtful examination than they have ever received before. … Hitherto democracy has been discussed in very much the frame of mind in which men speculated on the form and habits of dragons or the scenery of Hesperides. … Now, however, we have at last got the thing itself under our very eyes, and the debate has assumed a gravity and even a solemnity it has never before had.

The astute editor of The Nation ought to know that the world has never yet seen a true democratic government, but only approaches toward it. The present government of this country, north and south, is nothing more nor less than the very worst form of a masculine oligarchy; and then to think of the absurdity and injustice of calling France a democracy– poor France, in a state of perfect anarchy brought upon her by monarchial misrule and injustice.

It is very evident that The Nation is endeavoring, by sly insinuations, to cast obliquy and distrust upon a democratic or republican form of government. If The Nation, and others like him, shall attempt to foist a monarchy upon this people, they will have a hot time of it.

Considering the distracted state of the country, The Nation asks “whether this is just the time to add one more to the sources of distraction– and distraction here means confusion– by bringing the influence of sex into play in the political arena.”

As, he says, “under monarchy, life is stormy and full of trouble, and under democracy (as it is), life is stormy and full of trouble, too;” and as woman has seldom exercised any responsible influence or control, or held any responsible position in this stormy and troublous condition of the governments of the world, we should say that it is just the time, and high time, that we introduce a new element into politics, and see if we cannot have a new condition of things–see if we cannot have peace, more especially as whenever and wherever woman has held a responsible position in governments as reigning queen, peace and prosperity have prevailed in an unwonted degree. Policy would dictate this coarse, to say nothing of the right of woman to a voice in the laws that govern her; and here we wish to assure the editor of The Nation that it is always safe to follow the lead of justice.

Furthermore, The Nation says:

We confess for ourselves, that there is nothing which has inspired us with as much distrust of the (woman) movement as the persistence with which its promoters ignore the influence of the sexual passion on nearly every field of human activity. No people can safely heed the political counsels of persons who take no note of this most tremendous of all the social forces. Let us go back ever so far into the night of ages, and we find it there, shaping nearly every one of the problems by which the race has been vexed. … It has had to do with the building up and the downfall of great empires, and with the fighting of great battles. It has been the source in all ages of the greatest virtues and the foulest vices. In fact, if history, as well as individual experience, teaches us anything clearly, it is that no system of society or government, which does not take note of its tremendous energy, can hope for a long or prosperous existence. No man can tell what would be the effect on such persons as now compose our legislatures of the accession of a body of the kind of women who, in all probability, would devote themselves to the work of politics as soon as the first excitement and novelty was over. They might be Motts, Howes and Livermores; but reasoning from experience, the great mass of them would be–but we will not mention names; and we should then have added to the corruption of money, which is bad enough, a deeper and darker corruption still. … In other words, legislators might do what legislators have done a thousand times before– make asses of themselves under the Influence of what are called female charms, but which, for the purposes of this discussion, we shall call by its proper name, the sexual passion.

We reply that no people can safely heed the counsels, or obey the laws of legislators who are swayed and controlled by “sexual passion” and “female charms,” in making the laws and shaping the institutions that are to govern the people. If history teaches us anything clearly, it is that no system of government that is influenced and controlled by the “tremendous energy of the sexual passion” can hope for anything but speedy dissolution and national ruin through debauchery and crime.

Peggy and Hope Anthony, descendants of Susan B. Anthony with wreath for the statue, Jan. 3, 1930

Peggy and Hope Anthony, descendants of Susan B. Anthony with wreath for the statue, Jan. 3, 1930

We should like to know what there is under a monarchy, or under our present style of democracy, to check or counteract the influence of sexual passion in government. It seems to us that it has full play and full sway now in the political arena. Could it be made any worse by giving woman a responsible, honorable position in the government? On the contrary, would it not be likely to be much better? Irresponsible power is generally bad. Nothing but the responsible power of true and good women can ever check and counteract the influence of sexual passion and female charms in our legislative halls.

We do not propose to send “young persons,” or “curls and bright eyes,” and other “female charms,” to Congress or to our State Assemblies. They go there now as an irresponsible power to influence legislation for their own selfish purposes; but we do not believe that the common sense people, the plain men and women of this nation, would be foolish enough to send them there as their representatives.

The law says that no person under twenty-five years of age can be a Representative to Congress; no person under thirty a Senator. This is too young. We believe in the old maxim, “Old men (and women) for counsel; young men for war.” Fifty is the mental age –the age of mental maturity and wisdom. We must have a law that no person under the age of forty shall be permitted to assume the responsibility of making laws for other people to obey; fifty would be still better. Young men and women should not be sent to make laws for their fathers and mothers. Stalwart young men ought to be ashamed to crawl into the “feathered nests” of state to make laws and draw their living from the public pap, to say nothing of their unfitness through inexperience and lack of wisdom.

We do not propose to take the tremendous power of sexual passion into account in legislation, because it is not needed in legislation. On the contrary, we do propose to expel it; and we could expel it, if responsible men and women, fathers and mothers of from fifty to sixty years, or say from forty to seventy, were sent to make our laws. The world has been governed long enough by passion and folly. We do not ignore the influence of sexual passion and female charms in their proper place in the ordinary spheres of human life and activity; but we do mean to ignore it in what should be the serious, calm, deliberate, dispassionate halls of legislation. If sensible women– women old enough to have grown up children–were sent to Congress they would not allow its deliberations to be controlled by sexual passion and female charms, and this is the only course that will ever give us dispassionate and wise legislation.

We are not among those who believe in the identity or sameness of men and women. We believe that the mental and moral character of the sexes is as dissimilar as their physical. Consequently, we do not believe that men and women will ever, to any great extent, occupy the same positions or perform the same labor. As the mother takes care of the family, so we believe that the mothers of society must and will take care of society. We believe in marriage and the family, because we do not believe in prostitution or the promiscuous relation of the sexes, and because we do believe in giving children a good moral as well as physical and mental training.

The woman’s movement has acted upon the necessity that has been forced upon so many women to earn their living like men; but we believe that this is a false or temporary condition, incidental to her transition state from legal slavery to political freedom and independence.

The true issue of the woman’s movement has never yet been clearly brought before the public, and this is the reason why many good men, and perhaps the majority of women, have not been in favor of it. When the right time comes, the way will be opened to make known the true issues of this movement.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Women’s Suffrage Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily (1849-1856), National Citizen and Ballot Box (1878-1881), The Revolution (1868-1872), The New Citizen (1909-1912), The Western Woman Voter (1911-1913), The Woman’s Tribune (1883-1909) and the antisuffrage newspaper, The Remonstrance (1890-1913).

Source: The Revolution – May 11, 1871

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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