페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER XX.

NEW YORK CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION.

Constitution Amended once in Twenty Years-Mrs. Stanton Before the Legislature

Claiming Woman's Right to Vote for Members to the Convention - An Immense Audience in the Capitol—The Convention Assembled June 4th, 1867. Twenty Thousand Petitions Presented for Striking the Word "Male" from the Constitution-" Committee on the Right of Suffrage, and the Qualifications for Holding Office." Horace Greeley, Chairman-Mr. Graves, of Herkimer, Leads the Debate in favor of Woman Suffrage-Horace Greeley's Adverse Report - Leading Advocates Heard before the Convention-Speech of George William Curtis on Striking the Word “Man" from Section 1, Article 11-Final Vote, 19 For, 125 Against-Equal Rights Anniversary of 1868.

This was the first time in the history of the woman suffrage movement that the Constitution of New York was to be amended, and the general interest felt by women in the coming convention was intensified by the fact that such an opportunity for their enfranchisement would not come again in twenty years. The proposition of the republican party to strike the word “white” from the Constitution and thus extend the right of suffrage to all classes of male citizens, placing the men of the State, black and white, foreign and native, ignorant and educated, vicious and virtuous, all alike, above woman's head, gave her a keener sense of her abasement than she had ever felt before. But having neither press nor pulpit to advocate her cause, and fully believing this amendment would pass as a party measure, she used every means within her power to arouse and strengthen the agitation, in the face of the most determined opposition of friends and foes. Meetings were held in all the chief towns and cities in the State, and appeals and petitions scattered in every school district; these were so many reminders to the women everywhere that they too had some interest in the Constitution under which they lived, some duties to perform in deciding the future policy of the Government.

This campaign cost us the friendship of Horace Greeley and the support of the New York Tribune, heretofore our most powerful and faithful allies. In an earnest conversation with Mrs. Stanton

[ocr errors]

and Miss Anthony, Mr. Greeley said: “This is a critical period for the Republican party and the life of the Nation. The word "white" in our Constitution at this hour has a significance which “male” has not. It would be wise and magnanimous in you to hold your claims, though just and imperative, I grant, in abeyance until the negro is safe beyond peradventure, and your turn will come next. I conjure you to remember that this is “the negro's hour," and your first duty now is to go through the State and plead his claimus."

Suppose,” we replied, “Horace Greeley, Henry J. Raymond and James Gordon Bennett were disfranchised; what would be thought of them, if before audiences and in leading editorials they pressed the claims of Sambo, Patrick, Hans and Yung Fung to the ballot, to be lifted above their own heads? With their intelligence, education, knowledge of the science of government, and keen appreciation of the dangers of the hour, would it not be treasonable, rather than magnanimous, for them, leaders of the metropolitan press, to give the ignorant and unskilled a power in government they did not possess themselves? To do this would be to place on board the ship of State officers and crew who knew nothing of chart or compass, of the safe pathway across the sea, and bid those who understand the Jaws of navigation to stand aside. No, no, this is the hour to press woman's claims; we have stood with the black man in the Constitution over half a century, and it is fitting now that the constitutional door is open that we should enter with him into the political kingdom of equality. Through all these years he has been the only decent compeer we have had. Enfranchise him, and we are left outside with lunatics, idiots and criminals for another twenty years."

Well,” said Mr. Greeley, “ if you persevere in your present plan, you need depend on no further help from me or the Tribune.And he kept his word. We have seen the negro enfranchised, and twenty long years pass away since the war, and still woman's turn has not yet come; her rights as a citizen of the United States-are still unrecognized, the oft-repeated pledges of leading Republicans and Abolitionists have not been redeemed.

As soon as the Constitutional Convention was called by the Legislature of New York, Mrs. Stanton appeared before that body asking not only that the word “male” be stricken from Sec. 1, Art. 2, but that women be permitted to vote for members to that Convention, giving many precedents and learned opinions in favor of her demand. In the Assembly Chamber on the afternoon of Jan. 23, 1867, an immense audience of judges, lawyers, members of the Legislature, and ladies of fashion greeted her. On being introduced by

[ocr errors]

The Legislature of New York.

271

the Hon. Chas. J. Folger,* Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mrs. STANTON said: Gentlemen of the Judiciary Committee and Members of the Legislature: I appear before

you at this time, to urge on you the justice of securing to all the people of the State the right to vote for delegates to the coming Constitutional Convention. The discussion of this right involves the consideration of the whole question of suffrage; and especially those sections of your Constitution which interpose insurmountable qualifications to its exercise. As representatives of the people, your right to regulate all that pertains to the coming Constitutional Convention is absolute. It is for you to say when and where this convention shall be held; how many delegates shall be chosen, and what classes shall be represented. This is your right. It is the opinion of many of the ablest men of the country that, in a revision of a constitution, the State is, for the time being, resolved into its original elements, and that all disfranchised classes should have a voice in such revision and be represented in such convention. To secure this to the people of the State, is clearly your duty.

Says Judge Beach Lawrence, in a letter to Hon. Charles Sumner: A State Constitution must originate with and be assented to by a majority of the people, including as well those whom it disfranchises as those whom it invests with the suffrage.” And as there is nothing in the present Constitution of the State of New York to prevent women, or black men from voting for, or being elected as delegates to a Constitutional Convention, there is no reason why the Legislature should not enatt that the people elect their delegates to said Convention irrespective of sex or color. The Legislatures of 1801 and 1821 furnish you a precedent for extending to disfranchised classes the right to vote for delegates to a Constitutional Convention. Though the Constitution of the State restricted the right of suffrage to every male inhabitant who possessed a freehold to the value of £20, or rented a tenement at the yearly value of forty shillings, and had been rated and actually paid taxes to the State, the Legislatures of those years passed laws setting aside all property limitations, and providing that all men-black and white, rich and poor-should vote for delegates to said Conventions. The act recommending a convention for the purpose of considering the parts of the Constitution of this State, respecting the number of Senators and Members of Assemblyand also for the consideration of the 23d article of said Constitution, relative to the right of nomination to office—“but with no other power or authority whatsoever,” passed April 6, 1801. Session Laws 1801, chap. 69, page 190, sec. 2, says:

And be it further enacted, that the number of delegates chosen shall be the same as the number of Members of Assembly from the respective cities and counties of the State, and that all free male citizens of this state, of the age of twenty-one years and upward, shall be admitted to vote for such delegates, and that any person of that description shall be eligible.

* Following this hearing, Mr. Folger presented a resolution in the Senate for the women of the State to vote for delegates to the Constitutional Convention, and nine members voted in its favor.

The above law was passed by the Legislature of 1801, which derived its authority from the first Constitution of the State.

The act recommending a convention of the people of this State, passed March 13, 1821. Session Laws of 1821, act 90, page 83, sec. 1. “Persons entitled to vote":

All free male citizens, of the age of twenty-one years or upward, who shall possess a freehold in this State, or who shall have been actually rated and paid taxes to this State, or who shall have been actually enrolled in the militia of this State, or in a legal, volunteer, or uniform corps, and shall have served therein either as an officer or private, or who shall have been or now are, by law, exempt from taxation or militia duty, or who shall have been assessed to work on the public roads and highways, and shall have worked thereon, or shall have paid a commutation therefor according to law, shall be allowed during the three days of such election to rote by ballot us aforesaid in the town or ward in which they shall actually reside.

Extract from Sec. 6th, Act 90:

And be it further enacted, that the number of delegates to be chosen shall be the same as the number of Members of Assembly from the respective cities and counties of this State, and that the same qualification for voters shall be required on the election for delegates, as is prescribed in the first section of this act, and none other. .... And that all persons entitled to vote by this law for delegates, shall be eligible to be elected.

Extracts from the first Constitution of the State of New York, under and by virtue of which the Legislatures sat, which passed the acts of 1801 and 1821, from which the extracts above are taken. Sec. 7. Qualification of electors:

That every male inhabitant of full age, who shall have personally resided for six months within one of the counties of this State, immediately preceding the day of election, shall at such election be entitled to vote for representatives of the said county in Assembly, if during the time aforesaid, he shall have been a freeholder possessing a freehold of the value of £20, within the said county, or have rented a tenement therein of a yearly valuo of forty shillings, and been rated and actually paid taxes to this State.

Sec. 10. And this Convention doth further, in the name and by the authority of the good peeple of this State, ordain, determine, and declare that the Senate of the State of New York shall consist of twenty-four freeholders, to be chosen out of the body of the freeholders, and they be chosen by the freeholders of this State, possessed of freeholds of the value of £100 over and above all debts charged thereon.

By section 17, the qualifications for voters for Governor are made the same as those for Senators.

The laws above quoted show this striking fact: Those men, black and white, prohibited from voting for members of the Assembly, were permitted to vote for delegates to said Conventions; and more than this, on each occasion they were eligible to seats in the body called to frame the fundamental law—the fundamental law from which Governors, Senators, and Members' derive their existence.

The Constitutional Convention of Rhode Island, in 1842, affords another precedent of the power of the Legislature to extend the suffrage to disfranchised classes.

The disfranchisement of any class of citizens is in express violation of the spirit of our own Constitution. Art. 1, sec. 1:

No member of this State shall be disfranchised or deprived of any of the rights or privileges secured to any citizen thereof, unless by the law of the land and the judgment

of bis peers.

The Law of the Land is Equality.

273

Now, women, and negroes not worth two hundred and fifty dollars, however weak and insignificant, are surely “members of the State.” The law of the land is equality. The question of disfranchisement has never been submitted to the judgment of their peers. A peer is an equal. The "white male citizen ” who so pompously parades himself in all our Codes and Constitutions, does not recognize women and negroes as his equals; therefore, his judgment in their case amounts to nothing. And women and negroes constituting a majority of the people of the State, do not recognize a “white male” minority as their rightful rulers. On our republican theory that the majority governs, women and negroes should have a voice in the government of the State; and being taxed, should be represented.

In the recent debate in the Senate of the United States, on the question of suffrage, Senator Anthony, of Rhode Island, said:

Nor is it a fair statement of the case to say, that the man represents the woman, because it is an assumption on the part of the man-it is an involuntary representation on the part of the woman. Representation implies a certain delegated power, and a certain responsibility on the part of the representative toward the party represented. A representation to which the represented party does not assent, is no representation at all; but is adding insult to injury. When the American Colonies complained that they ought not to be taxed unless they were represented in the British Parliament, it would have been rather a singular answer to tell them that they were represented by Lord North, or even by the Earl of Chatham. The gentlemen on the other side of the Chamber, who say that the States lately in rebellion are entitled to immediate representation in this Chamber, would hardly be satisfied if we should tell them that my friend from Massachusetts represented South Carolina, and my friend from Michigan represented Alabama. They would hardly be satisfied with that kind of representation. Nor have we any more right to assume that the women are satis tied with the representation of the men. Where has been the assembly at which this right of representation was conferred? Where was the compact made? It is wholly an assumption.

“ White males” are the nobility of this country; they are the privileged order, who have legislated as unjustly for women and negroes as have the nobles of England for their disfranchised classes. The existence of the English House of Commons is a strong fact to prove that one class can not legislate for another. Perhaps it may be necessary, in this transition period of our civilization, to create a Lower House for women and negroes, lest the dreadful example of Massachusetts, nay, worse, should be repeated here, and women, as well as black men, take their places beside our Dutch nobility in the councils of the State. If the history of England has proved that white men of different grades can not legislate with justice for one another, how can you, Honorable Gentlemen, legislate for women and negroes, who, by your customs, creeds and codes, are placed under the ban of inferiority? If you dislike this view of the case, and claim that woman is your superior, and, therefore, you place her above all troublesome legislation, to shield her by your protecting care from the rough winds of life, I have simply to say, your statute books are a sad commentary on that position. Your laws degrade, rather than exalt woman; your customs cripple, rather than free; your system of taxation is alike ungenerous and unjust.

In demanding suffrage for the black man of the South, the dominant party recognizes the fact that as a freedman he is no longer a part of the family, therefore his master is no longer his representative, and as he will now

« 이전계속 »