Sunday, September 28, 2014

Natural Law and Women’s Suffrage

Boycott the ballot!
For every change, for every advance, for every new liberty, there are opponents, and in all of these cases, you will find people who would befit from the proposed change opposing it. It also seems that trumpeting the status quo, when you are the one who would benefit from the change, always grants you a louder voice. It’s the more interesting story, after all. And so while the question was being asked in Massachusetts, the Arizona Republican saw fit to tell its readers on September 28, 1895 what a group of Massachusetts women had announced the day before. Note that they’re rejecting municipal suffrage, merely the ability to vote in local elections.

Arizona, at the time the Republican ran this article, was not yet a state (not until 1912), so even for the men of Arizona, anything beyond local elections was moot.
Massachusetts Women Oppose the Ballot.
They Do Not Want the Right to Vote. Reason Why They Are Opposed to Woman Suffrage.
The Present Division of Labor Between the Sexes Founded on Reason and Laws of Nature

BOSTON, Sept. 27.—(Special.)—The Massachusetts association, opposed to the extension of suffrage to women yesterday sent out the following manifesto related to the vote which is to be taken in November upon the question of granting municipal suffrage to women:

“To the people of Massachusetts— The Wellman bill, enacted by the last legislature, give the opportunity for all men and women, qualified to vote for members of school committees, to express in November their opinion on the question: ‘Is it expedient that municipal suffrage be granted to women?’

“This bill is not rightly called a referendum, for it proposes no change in our laws, but provides merely for an expression of an opinion by vote. Its practical result will be its influence on future legislatures.

“We urge the duty upon all women to interest themselves in this question and to aid the formation of a right public opinion thereupon, and we call upon all men voters to justify the present suffrage status by an overwhelming ‘no’ at the polls in November.

“We do not urge women opposed to the further extension of the suffrage to vote. We affirm that the burden of proof rests with the suffragists. We declare that the silence of our sex at the polls will not mean consent, but opposition or indifference.

“We find tangible proof that the women of this state do not desire the ballot in their general indifference to school suffrage which has failed to rouse their zeal and interest during the many years of it existence, while some time before such suffrage was established the valuable services of women on the school board had been secured by the votes of men.

“We believe that the extension to women of municipal suffrage would be a danger to the state, for which no compensating advantages are shown.

“We believe that the present division of labor and responsibility between the sexes to be founded on reason and on the laws of nature, and while freely admitting that a higher standard of patriotic and civic duty is needed by both men and women, we affirm our belief that it must be brought about by an advance in civilization and in education, and that this advance would be impeded rather than helped by the complications resulting from municipal suffrage for women.

“Mrs. James M. Codman, Miss Sarah H. Crocker, Mrs. James C. Fisk, Mrs. Charles E. Guild, Miss E. H. Houghton, Mrs. Francis C. Lowell, Mrs. Oliver W. Peabody, Mrs. Philip H. Sears, Mrs. William T. Sedgwick, Mrs. G. H. Shaw, Miss E. D. Sohier, Mrs. Henry M. Witney, executive committee.”
And this was just about voting in local elections. So, who were these women? I was able to find some of them. Mrs. James M. Codman is Henrietta G. She was born in 1837, making her about 58 in 1895. In 1900, she and her husband had four servants living with them. The Codman’s unmarried son, James M. Codman, Jr., lived next door with his three servants. Miss Crocker was born in 1840, so she was about 55. In 1900, she was single with two servants in her home. Mary G. Fisk in 1900 was widowed with two grown sons (36 and 30) living with her, five servants, and a nurse. Mary L. Guild was born in 1827. In 1900, Mr. and Mrs. Guild had three adult children living with them (Elinor 39, Charles 37, and Catherine 33). Mrs. Guild had only four servants to help her with this bustling household. After that, searching wasn’t so quick and obvious, but it’s clear that the executive committee of this organization was composed of wealthy women. In other words, they didn’t so much need an expansion of their civil rights; they had cash.

It's interesting that they stick firm to their principles and propose that women not even vote on this issue. Leave the whole thing in the hands of men. Of course, these women seem to be opposed even to the very limited idea of voting for school board members, feeling that being able to stand for election to the school board is enough.

It’s clear that the Republican’s intended listeners are the women of Arizona territory, telling them that they shouldn’t get any ideas about women’s suffrage in the bid to become a state. It’s against the laws of nature, after all!

That’s, of course, what drew me to this article, the claim that women’s suffrage (now wholly uncontroversial) was described against being against “reason and on the laws of nature.” Oh, where have I heard that argument lately? That’s right: I’ve seen it applied to same-sex marriage. According to the opponents of same-sex marriage, when two people of the same sex marry, they violate reason and natural law. Professor Robert George of Princeton has argued at great length that same-sex marriage cannot be allowed because of natural law.

Like the claims that same-sex marriage would be a danger, the (wealthy) Massachusetts women don’t actually specify how allowing women to vote in municipal elections would “be a danger to the state.” Maybe it would cause men to lose confidence in the power of the vote (just as opponents of same-sex marriage have claimed that it might cause opposite-sex couples to lose confidence in marriage). In what way, ladies, would women’s suffrage be a “danger to the state”? Happily, the American public eventually (one might even say “belatedly”) decided to “live dangerously.” Ninety-four years after the Nineteenth Amendment, the Republic still stands.

What a marvelous thing natural law must be! It has been used to justify all sorts of things and it apparently opposes both same-sex marriage and women’s suffrage. This makes me wonder: are those who claim natural law makes same-sex marriage impossible willing to apply the same to women’s suffrage?
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