Susan Anthony: On women's rights to vote (1872)

Susan Brownell Anthony (February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906) was a prominent American civil rights leader. She played a pivotal role in the 19th century women's rights movement to introduce women's suffrage into the United States. She travelled the United States and Europe, and averaged 75 to 100 speeches per year. She was one of the most important advocates in leading the way for women's rights to be acknowledged and instituted in the American government. Following the American Revolution, from 1790 until 1807, women were allowed to vote in New Jersey, but no other state. In 1807, women were again forbidden from voting in the state. In July 1848, activists including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Anthony began a seventy-year struggle by women to secure the right to vote. In the presidential election of 1872, Susan Anthony casted an illegal vote. That's why she was arrested on November 18, 1872. She was tried and convicted seven months later. The sentence was a $100 fine, but not imprisonment. True to her word in court, she never paid the fine for the rest of her life. The trial gave Anthony the opportunity to spread her arguments to a wider audience than ever before. After the trial, she gave the speech "On women's rights to vote" which became very famous. In 1918, Congress passed what became the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, which prohibited state and federal agencies from gender-based restrictions on voting. From that time on, women were allowed to vote.
Watch the video below and listen to Susan Anthony's famous speech. If you like, you can read along with the text. Otherwise, jump to the post-listening exercise directly after watching the video. Unfortunately, there is no true video of Susan Anthony available. Please note that the woman in the video is not Anthony but an actress who imitates her. The video starts with a short explanation before going on with the speech.
"Fellow people in this here world": 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 me 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 tranquillity, 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 – men as well as women. And it is a downright bad 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 forever 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 rich 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 is every one against Negroes."
Read the questions below and answer them. In each case, more than one answer is possible.
  1. What does Susan Anthony accuse the government of?
    • She accuses them of making no distinction between whites and blacks.
    • She accuses them of changing the Constitution.
    • She accuses them of injustice and aristocracy.
    • She accuses them of discrimination against African Americans.
    • She accuses them of making sex a qualification to vote.
  2. What reasons does she name for allowing women to vote?
    • Anthony argues that women have played a more important role than men in forming the Union.
    • The Constituion says "We, the people" which Anthony understands as "We, men and women, whites and blacks".
    • Dictionaries define citizens as people who are allowed to vote. As women are people, they should have the right to vote.

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