We do not ask to read our declaration, only to present it to the president of the United States, that it may become an historical part of the proceedings.
Mrs. Spencer, bearer of this letter, in presenting it to General Hawley, said:
The women of the United States make a slight request on the occasion of the centennial celebration of the birth of the nation; we only ask that we may silently present our declaration of rights,
General HAWLEY replied: It seems a very slight request, but our programme is published, our speakers engaged, our arrangements for the day decided upon, and we can not make even so slight a change as that you ask.
Mrs. SPENCER replied: We are aware that your programme is published, your speakers engaged, your entire arrangements decided upon, without consulting with the women of the United States; for that very reason we desire to enter our protest. We are aware that this government has been conducted for one hundred years without consulting the women of the United States; for this reason we desire to enter our protest.
General HAWLEY replied: Undoubtedly we have not lived up to our own original Declaration of Independence in many respects. I express no
opinion upon your question. It is a proper subject of discussion at the Cincinnati convention, at the St. Louis convention, in the Senate of the United States, in the State legislatures, in the courts, wherever you can obtain a hearing. But to-morrow we propose to celebrate what we have done the last hundred years; not what we have failed to do. We have much to do in the future. I understand the full significance of your very slight request. If granted, it would be the event of the day-the topic of discussion to the exclusion of all others. I am sorry to refuse so slight a demand; we cannot grant it.
General Hawley also addressed a letter to Mrs. Stanton:
DEAR MADAM: I regret to say it is impossible for us to make any change in our programme, or make any addition to it at this late hour.
Yours very respectfully,
Jos. R. HAWLEY, President U. S. C. C.
As General Grant was not to attend the celebration, the acting vice-president, Thomas W. Ferry, representing the government, was to officiate in his place, and he, too, was addressed by note, and courteously requested to make time for the reception of this declaration. As Mr. Ferry was a well-known sympathizer with the demands of woman for political rights, it was presumable that he would render his aid. Yet he was forgetful that in his position that day he represented, not the exposition, but the government of a hundred years, and he too refused; thus this simple request of woman for a half moment's recognition on the nation's centennial birthday was denied by all in authority.*
While the women of the nation were thus absolutely forbidden the right of public protest, lavish preparations were made for the reception and entertainment of foreign potentates and the myrmidons of monarchial institutions. Dom Pedro, emperor of Brazil, a representative of that form of government against which the United States is a perpetual defiance and protest, was welcomed with fulsome adulation, and given a seat of honor near the officers of the day; Prince Oscar of Sweden, a stripling of sixteen, on whose shoulder rests the promise of a future kingship, was seated near. Count Rochambeau of France, the Japanese commissioners, high officials from Russia and Prussia, from Austria, Spain, England, Turkey, representing the barbarism and semi-civilization of the day, found no difficulty in securing recognition and places of honor upon that platform, where representative womanhood was denied.
Though refused by their own countrymen a place and part in the centennial celebration, the women who had taken this presentation in hand were not to be conquered. They had respectfully asked for recognition; now that it had been denied, they determined to seize upon the moment when the reading of the Declaration of Independence closed, to proclaim to the world the tyranny and injustice of the nation toward one-half its people. Five officers of the National Woman Suffrage Association, with that heroic spirit which has ever animated lovers of liberty in resistance to tyranny, determined, whatever the result, to present the woman's declaration of rights at the chosen hour. They would not, they dared not sacrifice the golden opportunity to which they had so long looked forward; their work was not for themselves alone, nor for the present generation, but for all women of all time. The hopes of posterity were in their hands and they determined to place on record for the daughters of 1976, the fact that their mothers of 1876 had asserted their equality of rights, and impeached the government of that day for its injustice toward woman. Thus, in taking a grander step toward freedom than ever before, they would leave one bright remembrance for the women of the next centennial.
That historic Fourth of July dawned at last, one of the most oppressive days of that terribly heated season. Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Sara Andrews Spencer, Lillie Devcreux Blake and Phoebe W. Couzins made their way through the crowds under the broiling sun to Independence Square, carrying the Woman's Declaration of Rights. This declaration had been handsomely engrossed by one of their number, and signed by the oldest and most prominent advocates of woman's enfranchisement. Their tickets of admission proved open sesame through the military and all other barriers, and a few moments before the opening of the ceremonies, these women found themselves within the precincts from which most of their sex were excluded.
The declaration of 1776 was read by Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, about whose family clusters so much of historic fame. The close of his reading was deemed the appropriate moment for the presentation of the woman's declaration. Not quite sure how their approach might be met-not quite certain if at this final moment they would be permitted to reach the presiding officer-those ladies arose and made their way down the aisle. The bustle of preparation for the Brazilian hymn covered their advance. The foreign guests, the military and civil officers who filled the space directly in front of the speaker's stand, courteously made way, while Miss Anthony in fitting words presented the declaration. Mr. Ferry's face paled, as bowing low, with no word, he received the declaration, which thus became part of the day's proceedings; the ladies turned, scattering printed copies, as they deliberately walked down the platform. On every side eager hands were stretched ; men stood on seats and asked for them, while General Hawley, thus defied and beaten in his audacious denial to women the right to present their declaration, shouted, -Order, order!"
Passing out, these ladies made their way to a platform erected for the musicians in front of Independence Hall. Here on this old historic ground, under the shadow of Washington's statue, back of them the old bell that proclaimed 11 liberty to all the land, and all the inhabitants thereof," they took their places, and to a listening, applauding crowd, Miss Anthony read** the Declaration of Rights for Women by the National Woman Suffrage Association, July 4, 1876:
While the nation is buoyant with patriotism, and all hearts are attuned to praise, it is with sorrow we come to strike the one discordant note, on this one-hundredth anniversary of our country's birth. When subjects of kings, emperors, and czars from the old world join in our national jubilee, shall the women of the republic refuse to lay their hands with benedictions on the nation's head? Surveying America's exposition, surpassing in magnificence those of London, Paris, and Vienna, shall we not rejoice at the success of the youngest rival among the nations of the earth? May not our hearts, in unison with all, swell with pride at or great achievements as a people; our free speech, free press, free schools, free church, and the rapid progress we have made in material wealth, trade, commerce and the inventive arts? And we do rejoice in the success, thus far, of our experiment of self-government. Our faith is firm and unwavering in the broad principles of human rights proclaimed in 1776, not only as abstract truths, but as the cornet stones of a republic. Yet we cannot forget, even in this glad hour, that while all men of every race, and clime, and condition, have been invested with the full rights of citizenship under our hospitable flag, all women still suffer the degradation of disfranchisement.
The history of our country the past one hundred years has been a series of assumptions and usurpations of power over woman, in direct opposition to the principles of just government, acknowledged by the United States as its foundations, which are:
And for the violation of these fundamental principles of our government, we arraign our rulers on this Fourth day of July, 1876, - and these are our articles of impeachment:
Bills of attainder have been passed by the introduction of the word "male" into all the State constitutions, denying to women the right of suffrage, and thereby making sex a crime - an exercise of power clearly forbidden in article I, sections 9, 10, of the United States constitution.
The writ of habeas corpus, the only protection against lettres de cachet and all forms of unjust imprisonment, which the constitution declares "shall not be suspended, except in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety demands it," is held inoperative in every State of the Union, in case of a married woman against her husband - the marital rights of the husband being in all cases primary, and the rights of the wife secondary.
The right of trial by jury of one's peers was so jealously guarded that States refused to ratify the original constitution until it was guaranteed by the sixth amendment. And yet the women of this nation have never been allowed a jury of their peers - being tried in all cases by men, native and foreign, educated and ignorant, virtuous and vicious. Young girls have been arraigned in our courts for the crime of infanticide; tried, convicted, hanged - victims, perchance, of judge, jurors, advocated - while no woman's voice could be heard in their defense. And not only are women denied a jury of their peers, but in some cases, jury trial altogether. During the was, a woman was tried and hanged by military law, in defiance of the fifth amendment, which specifically declares: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital crime or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases . . . . of persons in actual service in time of war." During the last presidential campaign, a woman, arrested for voting, was denied the protection of a jury, tried, convicted, and sentenced to a fine and costs of prosecution, by the absolute power of a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Taxation without representation, the immediate cause of the rebellion of the colonies against Great Britain, is one of the grievous wrongs the women of this country have suffered during the century. Deploring war, with all the demoralization that follows in its train, we have been taxed to support standing armies, with their waste of life and wealth. Believing in temperance, we have been taxed to support the vice, crime, and pauperism of the liquor traffic. While we suffer its wrongs and abuses infinitely more than man, we have no power to protect our sons against this giant evil. During the temperance crusade, mothers were arrested, fined, imprisoned, for even praying and singing in the streets, while men blockaded the sidewalks with impunity, even on Sunday, with their military parades and political processions. Believing in honesty, we are taxed to support a dangerous army of civilians, buying and selling the offices of government and sacrificing the best interests of the people. And, moreover, we are taxed to support the very legislators and judges who make laws, and render decisions adverse to women. And for refusing to pay unjust taxation, the houses, lands, bonds, and stock of women have been seized and sold within the present year, thus proving Lord Coke's assertion, that "The very act of taxing a man's property without his consent is, in effect, disfranchising him of every civil right."
Unequal codes for men and women. Held by law a perpetual minor incapable of self-protection, even in the industries of the world, woman is denied equality of rights. The fact of sex, not the quantity or quality of work, in most cases, decides the pay and position; and because of this injustice thousands of fatherless girls are compelled to choose between a life of shame and starvation. Laws catering to man's vices have created two codes of morals in which penalties are graded according to the political status of the offender. Under such laws, women are fined and imprisoned if found alone in the streets, or in public places of resort, at certain hours. Under the pretense of regulating public morals, police officers seizing the occupants of disreputable houses, march the women in platoons to prison, while the men, partners in their guilt, go free. While making a show of virtue in forbidding the importation of Chinese women on the Pacific coast for immoral purposes, our rulers, in many States, and even under the shadow of the national capitol, are now proposing to legalize the sale of American womanhood for the same vile purposes.
Special legislation for woman has placed us in a most anomalous position. Women invested with the rights of citizens in one section - voters, jurors, office-holders - crossing an imaginary line, are subjects in the next. In some States, a married woman may hold property and transact business in her own name; in others, her earnings belong to her husband. In some Stated, a woman may testify against her husband, sue and be sued in courts; in others, she has no redress in case of damage to her person, property, or character. In case of divorce on account of adultery in the husband, the innocent wife is held to possess no right to children or property, unless by special decree of the court. But in no State of the Union has the wife the right to her own person, or to any part of the joint earnings of the co-partnership during the life of her husband. In some States women may enter law schools and practice in the courts; in others they are forbidden. In some universities girls enjoy equal educational advantages with boys, while many of the proudest institutions in the land deny them admittance, though the sons of China, Japan, and Africa re welcomed there. But the privileges already granted in the several States are by no means secure. The right of suffrage once exercised by women in certain States and territories has been denied by subsequent legislation. A bill is now pending in congress to disfranchise the women of Utah, thus interfering to deprive United States citizens of the same rights which the Supreme Court has declared the national government powerless to protect anywhere. Laws passed after years of untiring effort, guaranteeing married women certain rights of property, and mothers the custody of their children, have been repealed in States where we supposed all was safe. Thus have our most sacred rights been made the football of legislative caprice, proving that a power which grants as a privilege what by nature is a right, may withhold the same as a penalty when deeming it necessary for its own perpetuation.
Representation of woman has had no place in the nation's thought. Since the incorporation of the thirteen original States, twenty-four have been admitted to the Union, not one of which has recognized woman's right of self-government. On this birthday of our national liberties, July Fourth 1876, Colorado, like all her elder sisters, comes into the Union with the invidious word "male" in her constitution.
The judiciary above the nation has proved itself but the echo of the party in power, by upholding and enforcing laws that are opposed to the spirit and letter of the constitution. When the slave power was dominant, the Supreme Court decided that a black man was not a citizen, because he had not the right to vote; and when the constitution was so amended as to make all persons citizens, the same high tribunal decided that a woman, though a citizen, had not the right to vote. Such vacillating interpretations of constitutional law unsettle our faith in judicial authority, and undermine the liberties of the whole people.
These articles of impeachment against our rulers we now submit to the impartial judgment of the people. To all these wrongs and oppressions woman has not submitted in silence and resignation. From the beginning of the century, when Abigail Adams, the wife of one president and the mother of another, said, "We will not hold ourselves bound to obey laws in which we have no voice or representation," until now, woman's discontent has been steadily increasing, culminating nearly thirty years ago in a simultaneous movement among the women of the nation, demanding the right of suffrage. In making our just demands, a higher motive than the pride of sex inspires us; we feel that national safety and stability depend on the complete recognition of the broad principles of our government. Woman's degraded, helpless position is the weak point in our institutions to-day; a disturbing force everywhere, severing family ties, filling our asylums with the deaf, the dumb, the blind; our prisons with criminals, our cities with drunkenness and prostitution; our homes with disease and death. it was the boast of the founders of the republic, that the rights for which they contended were the rights of human nature. If these rights are ignored in the case of one-half the people, the nation is surely preparing for its downfall. Governments try themselves. The recognition of a governing and a governed class in incompatible with the first principles of freedom. Woman has not been a heedless spectator of the events of this century, not a dull listener to the grand arguments for the equal rights of humanity. From the earliest history of our country woman has shown equal devotion with man to the cause of freedom, and has stood firmly by his side in its defense. Together, they have made this country what it is. Woman's wealth, thought and labor have cemented the stones of every monument man has reared to liberty.
And now, at the close of a hundred years, as the hour hand of the great clock that marks the centuries points to 1876, we declare our faith in the principles of self-government; our full equality with man in natural rights; that woman was made first for her own happiness, with the absolute right to herself - to all the opportunities and advantages life affords for her complete development; and we deny that dogma of the centuries, incorporated in the codes of nations - that woman was made for man - her best interests, in all cases, to be sacrificed to his will. We ask of our rulers, at this hour, no special favors, no special privileges, no special legislation. We ask justice, we ask equality, we ask that all the civil and political rights that belong to citizens of the United States, be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever.
** During the reading of the declaration to an immense concourse of people Mrs. Gage stood beside Miss Anthony and held an umbrella over her head to shelter her friend from the intense heat of the noonday sun; and thus in the same hour on opposite sides of old Independence Hall did the men and women express their opinions on the great principles proclaimed on the natal day of the republic. The declaration was handsomely framed and now hangs in the vice-president's room in the capitol at Washington.