President Hayes: A Lost Opportunity

President Hayes has lost another opportunity of reminding the country of its injustice toward woman. Again a message has gone before Congress, and no mention made of the women citizens of the country.

The Chinese have a saying, that “even the gods cannot help those who lose an opportunity.”

Two years ago, a committee from the National Woman Suffrage convention was appointed to call upon President Hayes, and remind him that no women had been appointed as commissioners from this country to the Paris Exposition, while many of the departments the commissioners were to investigate could much more satisfactorily be reported upon by women—as laces, embroideries, &c. The president received this committee, of which the editor of the NATIONAL CITIZEN was one with due courtesy, even reading from among his private papers those duties of commissioners which he recognized as more likely to be satisfactorily performed by women. “But, ladies, you are too late,” said he. “You should have petitioned Congress a year ago; these appointments have been settled a long time.”

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), and the antisuffrage newspaper, The Remonstrance (1890-1913).

Last winter, the President , as usual, put forth his annual message. Women were ignored in it. No mention was made of their political wrongs—no mention was made of the ingratitude of the country to those, without whose aid, materially and morally, in the home, the camp, the hospital, the life of the nation would have been impossible.

Another committee was appointed by the National convention of last winter, to call upon President Hayes again, and to remind him that there were twenty millions of women citizens whom he had not even distantly alluded to, while the Indians, the negroes, the fisheries and commerce, gold, the yellow fever, and many other subjects were brought to notice, Of this committee, the editor of the NATIONAL CITIZEN was again a member. It was received with infinite courtesy and “chivalry”—the courtesy and “chivalry” that Americans pride themselves upon showing to women. They were invited to an audience in the President ‘s private apartment—were attentively listened to —Mrs. Hayes sent for and introduced; they received all that little, meaningless attention which, giving women, men think they have given them their due—and that was all.

These twenty millions are nobodies. These twenty millions do not help to make and unmake Presidents. These twenty millions are merely serfs, slaves, powerless, and so their demands have again been treated with silent contempt. For this negation, we arraign President Hayes individually. We are sometimes told that “society”—a vague universality— is to blame because of woman’s wrongs. But it is time we left “society” to take care of itself, and began our warfare on individuals. President Hayes is, at this moment, the most guilty man in the nation, as regards women. It was in his power, in his message transmitted to Congress, Dec. 1st, to have called the attention of that body and the world to the injustice done the women of this nation. This time it was not forgotten; this time woman’s recognition did not depend upon Congress; this time President Hayes had “been reminded” nearly a year in advance. The mention of woman’s political degradation would not have unscated the President —it would not have interfered with his re-nomination, which is just about as probable as that lightning should strike twice in the same place. This time it was not that supineness of “society” which fails to see a wrong or notice an omission until its structure is shaken to its foundations. President Hayes had been waited upon—the wrong to millions of women; the omission of millions of women in his last message, had been brought to his notice with all the eloquence of wronged ones; he had been besought to bear these millions in mind when he prepared his message of 1879. It was simply, that not being holders of political power, women possess no rights the President feels bound to respect. For this omission, we arraign President Hayes before the bar of eternal justice, and a jury of his country-women pronounce him guilty.

TO DECIDE where the rights of the United States over citizens ends, and where the right of States begins, or how they interlock and fit into each other without conflict, requires the most profound thought. It is not surprising that this question is still under discussion. History shows us that the perception of human rights is a subject of growth. The Magna Chart, wrung from King John, was ratified and amended some thirty times in the course of three centuries.

But there is one point of human rights which in this country should be as clear as the noonday sun: This is, that the rights of self-government do not depend upon race, or sex, or any similar natural condition, but belong to all alike.

Co-relative with this right of self-government, is the duty of the United States to protect all its citizens in the enjoyment of this right. The holding of the suffrage justly comes as a sequence of United States citizenship. The protection of the suffrage is an United States duty. After these, the States should come in and regulate the suffrage on terms open to the reach of every United States citizen. In this manner, the suffrage would be under the system of checks and balances which has before been used to describe our State and National systems of government.

To permit the States to prohibit the suffrage to United States citizens, is to throw the real power of the government into the hands of States. It is the most objectionable and oppressive form of State Rights possible. But, again, to allow Congress to regulate the suffrage would be a very dangerous piece of centralization. The proper check and balance can only come through the guarantee and protection of the suffrage by the United States to all its citizens, and its regulation by the States —each respective State defining the qualification of voters on ground accessible to all.

The National Woman Suffrage Association has been the only organization in the country which, since the war, has discerned the real secret of nationality and national life. It is the only organization in the country which has persistently declared that the suffrage inheres in United States citizenship; this fact should be remembered by women. The Republicans have not seen it, and the Democrats, if seeing, have sturdily opposed it because it is the one deadly enemy of State Rights. By-and by, a party will arise with this as its foundation principle, and when it does, we shall witness the enfranchisement of woman and the true birth of the Nation at the same moment.

Source: National Citizen and Ballot Box – December 1879

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