Women's Reform Movement
A common story runs through textbook accounts of antebellum women reformers. It is a tale of origins and future progress, of new roles for women and the beginning of a movement for gender equality stretching to the present day. This story's usual starting point is the enormous amount of social, economic, demographic, and cultural change that occurred between 1815 and the Civil War. Exactly how the antebellum transformation of America produced an antislavery and a women's rights movement is often vague in textbook accounts, but three things commonly receive attention.
The first is rapid economic growth that produced a new, primarily urban, middle class from which reformers generally came. It also led to an increasing number of women (usually not middle-class ones) working outside the home for wages.
Two further changes of significance for antebellum reform were cultural. One was a wave of Protestant revivalism, frequently called "the Second Great Awakening," that swept across the United States after the War of 1812. It was an intensely emotional religious experience that for some converts carried with it a moral imperative to reform the world.
Reality aside, "true womanhood" posited that women and men had essentially different natures and hence had different spheres of influence."
For middle-class women it encouraged engagement with social issues such as drunkenness (primarily a male vice) and the abolition of slavery. Abolition provided a crucial link to what lies at the center of the story of women reformers—the Women's Rights Movement and its founding manifesto, the 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments. As Angelina Grimké famously wrote: "The investigation of the rights of the slave has led me to a better understanding of my own."
Another cultural shift, however, had a more ambiguous relationship to women's participation in reform. In textbooks it sometimes appears as the "cult of true womanhood" (the title of a pioneering essay on the subject) or as a "cult of domesticity." Scholars use these terms cautiously and critically, emphasizing that they refer to idealized images, not to the day-to-day lives of most women, even in the middle classes.
Reality aside, "true womanhood" posited that women and men had essentially different natures and hence had different spheres of influence. Women—presumed weaker, more emotional, but also innately more moral—ruled the home as their proper domain. Worlds outside the home—commerce, politics, and the professions, for example—belonged to men.
Borrowing the language of the Declaration of Independence, they indicted man, instead of King George, as the oppressor.
This was an ideology against which Women's Rights advocates rebelled, but its claims about the superior moral nature of women could also justify their involvement in reform. This was especially true of middle-class women who, as textbooks often note, were increasingly well-educated while having few other ways to apply their learning, intelligence, and convictions outside the home.
With these changes in the background, the primary focus of textbooks is on that gathering of reformers, mostly abolitionists, in Seneca Falls in 1848, and the stirring Declaration of Sentiments they produced. Borrowing the language of the Declaration of Independence, they indicted man, instead of King George, as the oppressor. This, so the story goes, was the birth of a long struggle for gender equality.
A Closer Look
There is much in this account with which scholars would agree, but there are also claims they would shade differently and omissions they would note. I will give five examples, although they do not apply equally to every textbook. These examples are mostly reactions against the Seneca-centric perspective of textbooks.
- First on my list is the frequent omission of other women reformers with agendas differing from the Seneca Falls Declaration. Some, for example, went beyond the Declaration, vigorously attacking religion and marriage as oppressive institutions for women. Prime among these was Scottish-born Frances Wright, a popular lecturer who established a black and white utopian community in Tennessee in the 1820s. Her controversial ideas on gender and religion (among other topics) were so notorious that "Fanny Wrightism" became a slang term for a dangerous extremist.
Her controversial ideas on gender and religion (among other topics) were so notorious that "Fanny Wrightism" became a slang term for a dangerous extremist.
Margaret Fuller published her own manifesto on gender equality, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, three years before Seneca Falls.
A notable radical after the Civil War was Victoria Woodhull, whose list of reform commitments was staggering. In 1872 she became the first woman presidential candidate (although too young to hold the office). The Equal Rights Party platform on which she ran reflected the abolitionist heritage apparent at Seneca Falls, but was bolder in its call for gender and racial equality (see Primary Source Equal Rights Party Platform ).
Compared to it, Margaret Fuller, and Frances Wright, the Seneca Falls Declaration looks more narrowly focused, a perception encouraged by textbooks' emphasis on its call for women's suffrage, rather than other radical rhetoric it contains.
- Textbooks also seldom address class differences, thus obscuring the fact that, by and large, the women represented at Seneca Falls were not the same women who were entering the wage labor force in larger numbers. Nor was the vote necessarily a high priority for the latter.
- A related omission has to do with the two groups of women who do figure into the usual story: middle-class reformers in urban areas or small towns and early women factory workers (see Primary Source Loom and Spindle or Life Among the Early Mill Girls ). Far more women lived in different places, under different circumstances—on farms, on plantations, or on frontiers. Were their views represented in Seneca Falls?
- Yet another group of women is largely absent in textbook accounts—those who opposed the Woman's Rights Movement, including women who had careers outside the household as writers, educators, or, as seen in "Women's Rights: A Right Good Ballad" (see "Womans Rights" Sheet Music ), a composer. Looking at these women reveals both conflicting sets of values among women and different ideas about producing social change.
Maria Stewart linked gender and racial oppression in an 1832 speech, 16 years before Seneca Falls...
Catharine Beecher, for example, rates occasional mention for her book for housewives and for her controversy with the abolitionist, Angelina Grimké. In these instances, Beecher comes across as an opponent of Women's Rights. Read carefully, however, her debate with Grimké is in part a disagreement over how women should produce social change, not whether they should.
- The final item on this list of omissions and disagreements is the contribution of African American women to abolitionism and Women's Rights. They are generally represented by Sojourner Truth. She was an impressive figure, but to focus on her is to hide the contributions of other African American women abolitionists and to silence their views on gender.
For example, Maria Stewart linked gender and racial oppression in an 1832 speech, 16 years before Seneca Falls and 19 years before Truth's oft-quoted remarks on the subject (see Primary Source "Why Sit Here and Die?" Speech ). Stewart and a handful of other African American women abolitionists, moreover, had rich and varied lives, some with impressive literary and professional accomplishments.
Given space requirements and state guidelines, it is unlikely that any textbook could please a scholarly expert in the field, even if one is the author. With that in mind, however, the usual textbook story about antebellum women reformers serves best as an invitation to pose questions about the diversity of antebellum women's perspectives and about why and how American women have set out to change the world.
"Womans Rights" Sheet Music (1853)
Sheet music was popular in middle-class families and it sometimes addressed issues of the day. This 1853 song by a woman composer, Kate Horn, expresses a different view of Women's Rights from the Seneca Falls one. Minstrel shows, catering to a working-class white male audience, likewise featured parodies of Women's Rights advocates. The "Mrs. Oakwood Smith" in the dedication was a minstrel show character who did such parodies. What is the significance of the other dedication to Amelia Bloomer?
Horn, Kate. "Womans Rights..." Boston: Geo. P. Reed, 1853. Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, John Hopkins University. Accessed July 23, 2010.
Loom and Spindle or Life Among the Early Mill Girls (1898)
Textbooks often mention increasing numbers of women entering the wage labor force in the antebellum period, and their attempts to organize unions and strikes. Firsthand accounts from these women are scarce, and perhaps the fullest comes from Helen Hanson Robinson, who began in the Lowell, MA, textile mills as a 10-year-old girl and left as a young woman. In this passage she discusses a strike and its bleak aftermath.
Excerpt fromLoom and Spindle or Life Among the Early Mill Girls:
One of the first strikes of cotton-factory operatives that ever took place in this country was that in Lowell, in October, 1836. When it was announced that the wages were to be cut down, great indignation was felt, and it was decided to strike, en masse. This was done. The mills were shut down, and the girls went in procession from their several corporations to the "grove" on Chapel Hill, and listened to "incendiary" speeches from early labor reformers.
One of the girls stood on a pump, and gave vent to the feelings of her companions in a neat speech, declaring that it was their duty to resist all attempts at cutting down the wages. This was the first time a woman had spoken in public in Lowell, and the event caused surprise and consternation among her audience.
Cutting down the wages was not their only grievance, nor the only cause of this strike. Hitherto the corporations had paid twenty-five cents a week towards the board of each operative, and now it was their purpose to have the girls pay the sum; and this, in addition to the cut in the wages, would make a difference of at least one dollar a week. It was estimated that as many as twelve or fifteen hundred girls turned out, and walked in procession through the streets. They had neither flags nor music, but sang songs, a favorite (but rather inappropriate) one being a parody on "I won't be a nun. "
"Oh! isn't it a pity, such a pretty girl as I-
Should be sent to the factory to pine away and die?
Oh ! I cannot be a slave,
I will not be a slave,
For I'm so fond of liberty
That I cannot be a slave."
My own recollection of this first strike (or "turn out" as it was called) is very vivid. I worked in a lower room, where I had heard the proposed strike fully, if not vehemently, discussed; I had been an ardent listener to what was said against this attempt at "oppression" on the part of the corporation, and naturally I took sides with the strikers. When the day came on which the girls were to turn out, those in the upper rooms started first, and so many of them left that our mill was at once shut down. Then, when the girls in my room stood irresolute, uncertain what to do, asking each other, "Would you?" or "Shall we turn out?" and not one of them having the courage to lead off, I, who began to think they would not go out, after all their talk, became impatient, and started on ahead, saying, with childish bravado, "I don't care what you do, I am going to turn out, whether any one else does or not;" and I marched out, and was followed by the others.
As I looked back at the long line that followed me, I was more proud than I have ever been since at any success I may have achieved, and more proud than I shall ever be again until my own beloved State gives to its women citizens the right of suffrage.
The agent of the corporation where I then worked took some small revenges on the supposed ringleaders; on the principle of sending the weaker to the wall, my mother was turned away from her boarding-house, that functionary saying, "Mrs. Hanson, you could not prevent the older girls from turning out, but your daughter is a child, and her you could control."
It is hardly necessary to say that so far as results were concerned this strike did no good. The dissatisfaction of the operatives subsided, or burned itself out, and though the authorities did not accede to their demands, the majority returned to their work, and the corporation went on cutting down the wages.
And after a time, as the wages became more and more reduced, the best portion of the girls left and went to their homes, or to the other employments that were fast opening to women, until there were very few of the old guard left; and thus the status of the factory population of New England gradually became what we know it to be to-day.
"Why Sit Here and Die?" Speech (1832)
African American women as well as men were important figures in the antislavery movement, but few except Sojourner Truth make it into textbooks. Among other noteworthy African American women abolitionists was Maria W. Stewart. In the speech below she addresses economic and educational discrimination against Northern women, especially black women. Her remarks predate the Seneca Falls Declaration by 16 years and, unlike it, do not sidestep the issue of race.
Why sit ye here and die? If we say we will go to a foreign land, the famine and the pestilence are there, and there we shall die. If we sit here, we shall die. Come let us plead our cause before the whites: if they save us alive, we shall live—and if they kill us, we shall but die.
Methinks I heard a spiritual interrogation—'Who shall go forward, and take off the reproach that is cast upon the people of color? Shall it be a woman?' And my heart made this reply—'If it is thy will, be it even so, Lord Jesus!'
I have heard much respecting the horrors of slavery; but may Heaven forbid that the generality of my color throughout these United States should experience any more of its horrors than to be a servant of servants, or hewers of wood and drawers of water! Tell us no more of southern slavery; for with few exceptions, although I may be very erroneous in my opinion, yet I consider our condition but little better than that. Yet, after all, methinks there are no chains so galling as the chains of ignorance—no fetters so binding as those that bind the soul, and exclude it from the vast field of useful and scientific knowledge. O, had I received the advantages of early education, my ideas would, ere now, have expanded far and wide; but, alas! I possess nothing but moral capability—no teachings but the teachings of the Holy Spirit.
I have asked several individuals of my sex, who transact business for themselves, if providing our girls were to give them the most satisfactory references, they would not be willing to grant them an equal opportunity with others? Their reply has been—for their own part, they had no objection; but as it was not the custom, were they to take them into their employ, they would be in danger of losing the public patronage.
And such is the powerful force of prejudice. Let our girls possess what amiable qualities of soul they may; let their characters be fair and spotless as innocence itself; let their natural taste and ingenuity be what they may; it is impossible for scarce an individual of them to rise above the condition of servants. Ah! why is this cruel and unfeeling distinction? Is it merely because God has made our complexion to vary? If it be, O shame to soft, relenting humanity! 'Tell it not in Gath! publish it not in the streets of Askelon!' Yet, after all, methinks were the American free people of color to turn their attention more assiduously to moral worth and intellectual improvement, this would be the result: prejudice would gradually diminish, and the whites would be compelled to say, unloose those fetters!
Though black their skins as shades of night, their hearts are pure, their souls are white.
Few white persons of either sex, who are calculated for any thing else, are willing to spend their lives and bury their talents in performing mean, servile labor. And such is the horrible idea that I entertain respecting a life of servitude, that if I conceived of there being no possibility of my rising above the condition of a servant, I would gladly hail death as a welcome messenger. O, horrible idea, indeed! to possess noble souls aspiring after high and honorable acquirements, yet confined by the chains of ignorance and poverty to lives of continual drudgery and toil. Neither do I know of any who have enriched themselves by spending their lives as house-domestics, washing windows, shaking carpets, brushing boots, or tending upon gentlemen's tables. I can but die for expressing my sentiments; and I am as willing to die by the sword as the pestilence; for I and a true born American; your blood flows in my veins, and your spirit fires my breast.
I observed a piece in the Liberator a few months since, stating that the colonizationists had published a work respecting us, asserting that we were lazy and idle. I confute them on that point. Take us generally as a people, we are neither lazy nor idle; and considering how little we have to excite or stimulate us, I am almost astonished that there are so many industrious and ambitious ones to be found; although I acknowledge, with extreme sorrow, that there are some who never were and never will be serviceable to society. And have you not a similar class among yourselves?
Again. It was asserted that we were "a ragged set, crying for liberty." I reply to it, the whites have so long and so loudly proclaimed the theme of equal rights and privileges, that our souls have caught the flame also, ragged as we are. As far as our merit deserves, we feel a common desire to rise above the condition of servants and drudges. I have learnt, by bitter experience, that continual hard labor deadens the energies of the soul, and benumbs the faculties of the mind; the ideas become confined, the mind barren, and, like the scorching sands of Arabia, produces nothing; or, like the uncultivated soil, brings forth thorns and thistles.
Again, continual hard labor irritates our tempers and sours our dispositions; the whole system becomes worn out with toil and failure; nature herself becomes almost exhausted, and we care but little whether we live or die. It is true, that the free people of color throughout these United States are neither bought nor sold, nor under the lash of the cruel driver; many obtain a comfortable support; but few, if any, have an opportunity of becoming rich and independent; and the employments we most pursue are as unprofitable to us as the spider's web or the floating bubbles that vanish into air. As servants, we are respected; but let us presume to aspire any higher, our employer regards us no longer. And were it not that the King eternal has declared that Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands unto God, I should indeed despair.
I do not consider it derogatory, my friends, for persons to live out to service. There are many whose inclination leads them to aspire no higher; and I would highly commend the performance of almost any thing for an honest livelihood; but where constitutional strength is wanting, labor of this kind, in its mildest form, is painful. And doubtless many are the prayers that have ascended to Heaven from Africa's daughters for strength to perform their work. Oh, many are the tears that have been shed for the want of that strength! Most of our color have dragged out a miserable existence of servitude from the cradle to the grave. And what literary acquirements can be made, or useful knowledge derived, from either maps, books or charm, by those who continually drudge from Monday morning until Sunday noon? O, ye fairer sisters, whose hands are never soiled, whose nerves and muscles are never strained, go learn by experience! Had we had the opportunity that you have had, to improve our moral and mental faculties, what would have hindered our intellects from being as bright, and our manners from being as dignified as yours? Had it been our lot to have been nursed in the lap of affluence and ease, and to have basked beneath the smiles and sunshine of fortune, should we not have naturally supposed that we were never made to toil? And why are not our forms as delicate, and our constitutions as slender, as yours? Is not the workmanship as curious and complete? Have pity upon us, have pity upon us, O ye who have hearts to feel for others' woes; for the hand of God has touched us. Owing to the disadvantages under which we labor, there are many flowers among us that are
…born to bloom unseen, And waste their fragrance on the desert air.
My beloved brethren, as Christ has died in vain for those who will not accept of offered mercy, so will it be vain for the advocates of freedom to spend their breath in our behalf, unless with united hearts and souls you make some mighty efforts to raise your sons, and daughters from the horrible state of servitude and degradation in which they are placed. It is upon you that woman depends; she can do but little besides using her influence; and it is for her sake and yours that I have come forward and made myself a hissing and a reproach among the people; for I am also one of the wretched and miserable daughters of the descendants of fallen Africa. Do you ask, why are you wretched and miserable? I reply, look at many of the most worthy and interesting of us doomed to spend our lives in gentlemen's kitchens. Look at our young men, smart, active and energetic, with souls filled with ambitious fire; if they look forward, alas! what are their prospects? They can be nothing but the humblest laborers, on account of their dark complexions; hence many of them lose their ambition, and become worthless. Look at our middle-aged men, clad in their rusty plaids and coats; in winter, every cent they earn goes to buy their wood and pay their rents; their poor wives also toil beyond their strength, to help support their families. Look at our aged sires, whose heads are whitened with the front of seventy winters, with their old wood-saws on their backs. Alas, what keeps us so? Prejudice, ignorance and poverty. But ah! methinks our oppression is soon to come to an end; yes, before the Majesty of heaven, our groans and cries have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth [James 5:4]. As the prayers and tears of Christians will avail the finally impenitent nothing; neither will the prayers and tears of the friends of humanity avail us any thing, unless we possess a spirit of virtuous emulation within our breasts. Did the pilgrims, when they first landed on these shores, quietly compose themselves, and say, "the Britons have all the money and all the power, and we must continue their servants forever?" Did they sluggishly sigh and say, "our lot is hard, the Indians own the soil, and we cannot cultivate it?" No; they first made powerful efforts to raise themselves and then God raised up those illustrious patriots WASHINGTON and LAFAYETTE, to assist and defend them. And, my brethren, have you made a powerful effort? Have you prayed the Legislature for mercy's sake to grant you all the rights and privileges of free citizens, that your daughters may raise to that degree of respectability which true merit deserves, and your sons above the servile situations which most of them fill?
Equal Rights Party Platform (1872)
Victoria Woodhull led an extraordinary life during the course of which she enraged her staid contemporaries with her unorthodox views on sex, marriage, and other incendiary topics. She was also a firm believer in spiritualism and a colleague of American Marxists. The Equal Rights Party platform upon which she ran does not encompass all her beliefs, but continues an abolitionist journey of broadening the idea of human rights to include racial and gender equality.
June 8, 1872
These are Victoria C. Woodhull, the woman; and Frederick Douglass, the Negro.
In the ninety-sixth year of the republic of the United States, they represent classes, who may justly be termed, even yet, the pariahs of our modern system of civilization.
In the nomination of Victoria C. Woodhull for the office of President, the Equal Rights Party virtually arraigns the despotism over woman as exercised in this Republic, as being, in this particular, more intolerant than that of the monarchies of Europe, and points those who dispute this statement to the long and beneficent rule of another Victoria cheerfully submitted to by the people of Great Britain.
In the nomination of Frederick Douglass for the office of Vice President, the Equal Rights Party proposes to set the seal of the nation on the issues of the war of the rebellion; to exhibit to the world that our people are a unit in the defense of the rights of all mankind; and to reset the Government on the right track, which has heretofore been traversing the tortuous windings of the slavery compromises of the first Constitution.
In order to effect these our purposes it has been found necessary to take our stand on the principles of the Declaration of Independence, which declare the rights of all human beings, and rest all governments on the consent of the governed.
The Equal Rights Party has selected Victoria C. Woodhull for the office of President, because it deems that the demand for the personal, social, legal, and political liberties of woman have been better advocated by her actions and in her speeches and writings than by any other woman. Religious liberty is not mentioned above, because it is held that, in the case of woman, it has not been specially infringed. It is claimed as a right pertaining to all the people; one which the Equal Rights Party hold itself pledged to maintain against any national or State interference with (or infringement of) in any way whatever.
The Equal Rights Party has selected Frederick Douglass for the office of Vice President, because though born a slave, he has himself achieved both his education and his liberty; because he has waged a life-long, manful battle for the rights of his race, in which those of mankind were included; because he has proved that he knows how to assert the liberties of the people, and consequently it is assumed that he knows how to maintain them.
In conclusion, the Equal Rights party has nominated Victoria C. Woodhull for President, and Frederick Douglass for Vice President, because, by so doing, it hurls a gage of defiance to the despots and aristocrats of Europe, who have long pointed the finger of scorn at our Republic in the matter of slavery, and condemned it as lacking the will to carry out fully the principles of true democracy contained in the Declaration of Independence; and it calls upon all the citizens of our Republic, irrespective of sex or race, to unite with it in reasserting the truth of the doctrines laid down by our fathers in 1776, and sealed with their blood in the war of the Revolution.
CAMPAIGN DOCUMENT 1
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE.
VIEWED FROM THE STANDPOINT OF THE NEW EQUAL RIGHTS PARTY.
BY J.Q. SANDS
In the past, the instinct of man was for blood. War was the business of his life. Labor might do for a hind or a woman, but man was dishonored by any occupation less noble than cutting his neighbor's throat. . . .
The kings and nobles owned everything in fee simple and by divine right; but they allowed the priests to take their share of the spoils, in consideration of their assistance in imbuing the minds of men with the idea that eternal torments awaited all who raised their voices against the kingly power.
In the intervals of war, when blood did not flow in rivers, it gently trickled from the writhing forms of myriads of martyrs for the amusement of priests and kings. That day is past; martyrdom has gone out of fashion; and war, while it is to a limited extent the pastime of crowned heads, as a game more exciting than the chase, it is beginning to be regarded as—well, as having some drawbacks.
Our own sins are certainly not on so grand a scale as our fathers; but then they are meaner, which goes a great way toward making up the difference. . . .
The great object of life is nothing nobler than the possession of a large house, filled with ignorant servants. Finding one house no satisfaction, people who can, usually try two or three, thus seeking relief in the multiplication of their follies. Women have a noble ambition to excel each other in the length of their mirrors, the number of their dresses or the amount of false hair or tow which they can pile on the top of their heads. To accomplish these most notable results, men delve, lie and cheat from cradle to the grave, and so unaccustomed are their faculties to any rational employment, that when they are deprived of their habitual occupation, life becomes a burden, and they not infrequently go hang themselves.
Woman usually has one master, who, possessing her person and owning her children, holds absolute power over her, and not infrequently renders her life one of absolute torment by abuses of various kinds. Careless of his own vows, he punishes a suspected breach on her part with death to the offender, and instead of being punished is usually applauded. . . .
Children come into this world undesired and unprovided for, and having no one to speak a word for them, are abused without stint; and it is only when some helpless innocent is beaten to death for refusing to say its prayers that any attention is paid to their cries. . . .
What may the future have in store for us? Let us hope that in the good time coming, the great object of life will be not the acquisition of wealth and power for base and selfish ends, but rather that each shall make it the business of his life to see that happiness shall be the assured portion of all. The question trembling upon every lip will be: Brother, what lackest thou? Is it the opportunity to use thy talents; is it sympathy with thy aims; is it companionship; is it social life, or is it present need of food, clothing, or shelter? In a word, let us hope that Altruism will succeed Egoism, and we shall witness the dawn of the Religion of Humanity.
Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism (1842)
Catharine Beecher was a member of the same reform-minded family as her more famous sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe. She was also a notable figure in her day, especially as an energetic advocate for female education and for her popular 1842 Treatise on Domestic Economy, aimed at middle-class housewives (although she never married). In her 1837 exchange with the abolitionist, Angelina Grimké, she criticizes the emerging antislavery movement and lays out a different path for women to end an institution they both regarded as evil.
Excerpt from "Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism":
ESSAY ON SLAVERY AND ABOLITIONISM.
ADDRESSED TO MISS A. D. GRIMKE
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Your public address to Christian females at the South has reached me, and I have been urged to aid in circulating it at the North. I have also been informed, that you contemplate a tour, during the ensuing year, for the purpose of exerting your influence to form Abolition Societies among ladies of the non-slave-holding States.
Our acquaintance and friendship give me a claim to your private ear; but there are reasons why it seems more desirable to address you, who now stand before the public as an advocate of Abolition measures, in a more public manner.
The object I have in view, is to present some reasons why it seems unwise and inexpedient for ladies of the non-slave-holding States to unite themselves in Abolition Societies; and thus, at the same time, to exhibit the inexpediency of the course you propose to adopt.
I would first remark, that your public address leads me to infer, that you are not sufficiently informed in regard to the feelings and opinions of Christian females at the North. Your remarks seem to assume, that the principles held by Abolitionists on the subject of slavery, are peculiar to them, and are not generally adopted by those at the North who oppose their measures. In this you are not correctly informed. In the sense in which Abolitionists explain the terms they employ, there is little, if any, difference between them and most northern persons. Especially is this true of northern persons of religious principles. I know not where to look for northern Christians, who would deny that every slave-holder is bound to treat his slaves exactly as he would claim that his own children ought to be treated in similar circumstances; that the holding of our fellow men as property, or the withholding any of the rights of freedom, for mere purposes of gain, is a sin, and ought to be immediately abandoned; and that where the laws are such, that a slave-holder cannot legally emancipate his slaves, without throwing them into worse bondage, he is bound to use all his influence to alter those laws, and, in the meantime, to treat his slaves, as nearly as he can, as if they were free.
I do not suppose there is one person in a thousand, at the North, who would dissent from these principles. They would only differ in the use of terms and call this the doctrine of gradual emancipation, while Abolitionists would call it the doctrine of immediate emancipation.
As this is the state of public opinion at the North, there is no necessity for using any influence with northern ladies, in order that they may adopt your principles on the subject of slavery; for they hold them in common with yourself, and it would seem unwise, and might prove irritating, to approach them as if they held opposite sentiments.
In regard to the duty of making efforts to bring the people of the Southern States to adopt these principles, and act on them, it is entirely another matter. On this point you would find a large majority opposed to your views. Most persons in the non-slave-holding States have considered the matter of Southern slavery, as one in which they were no more called to interfere, than in the abolition of the press-gang system in England, or the tythe system of Ireland. Public opinion may have been wrong on this point, and yet have been right on all those great principles of rectitude and justice relating to slavery, which Abolitionists claim as their distinctive peculiarities.
The distinctive peculiarity of the Abolition Society is this: it is a voluntary association in one section of the country, designed to awaken public sentiment against a moral evil existing in another section of the country, and the principal point of effort seems to be, to enlarge the numbers of this association as a means of influencing public sentiment. The principal object of your proposed tour, I suppose, is to present facts, arguments, and persuasions to influence northern ladies to enrol themselves as members of this association.
I will therefore proceed to present some of the reasons which may be brought against such a measure as the one you would urge.
In the first place, the main principle of action in that society rests wholly on a false deduction from past experience. Experience has shown, that when certain moral evils exist in a community, efforts to awaken public sentiment against such practices, and combinations for the exercise of personal influence and example, have in various cases tended to rectify these evils. Thus in respect to intemperance;—the collecting of facts, the labours of public lecturers and the distribution of publications, have had much effect in diminishing the evil. So in reference to the slave-trade and slavery in England. The English nation possessed the power of regulating their own trade, and of giving liberty to every slave in their dominions; and yet they were entirely unmindful of their duty on this subject. Clarkson, Wilberforce, and their coadjutors, commenced a system of operations to arouse and influence public sentiment, and they succeeded in securing the suppression of the slave trade, and the gradual abolition of slavery in the English colonies. In both these cases, the effort was to enlighten and direct public sentiment in a community, of which the actors were a portion, in order to lead them to rectify an evil existing among THEMSELVES, which was entirely under their control.
From the success of such efforts, the Abolitionists of this country have drawn inferences, which appear to be not only illogical, but false. Because individuals in their own community have aroused their fellow citizens to correct their own evils, therefore they infer that attempts to convince their fellow-citizens of the faults of another community will lead that community to forsake their evil practices....
Primary Source Annotated Bibliography
Assumption College. U.S. Women's History Workshop.
Providing both secondary-source narratives and a collection of primary sources on antebellum women's movements, this online resource toolbox was designed with middle-school teachers in mind.
City University of New York. An American Family: The Beecher Tradition.
This exhibit looks at each member of the Beecher family, including Catharine Beecher, and includes several primary sources on their work for women's rights and education.
Victoria Woodhull & Company. Victoria Woodhull, The Spirit to Run the White House.
This website includes transcripts of articles from Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly, a paper founded by Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee, as well as links to other sources. Remember that the site seeks to present a positive view of Woodhull, so it may show bias in the articles it highlights.
Secondary Source Annotated Bibliography
Ginzberg, Lori. Women in Antebellum Reform. Wheeling, IL: Harland Davidson, 2000.
This is a compact, readable, and reliable survey of the role of women in antebellum reform, and one that pays attention to class and religious differences among them. The treatment of Seneca Falls and the Women's Rights Movement is brief, but rich.
Sklar, Kathryn Kish. Women's Rights Emerges within the Antislavery Movement, 18301870: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2000.
This slender book does double duty. It provides an exploration of the links between abolitionism and Women's Rights and a well-selected collection of primary source materials.
Sklar, Kathryn Kish and James Brewer Stewart, eds. Women's Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery in the Era of Emancipation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.
Increasingly, scholars are turning attention to important connections between American and European reformers, connections that sometimes revealed sharp differences as well as commitments to a common cause. This collection is an excellent introduction to the subject of transatlantic reform.
Yee, Shirley. Black Women Abolitionists. Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 1992.
Professor Yee's book is valuable for moving beyond the towering figure of Sojourner Truth to bring to light the impressive work and lives of other black women abolitionists. It helps the reader see another layer of complexity in struggles for racial and gender equality.
Yellen, Jean Fagan and John C. Van Horn, eds. The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women's Political Culture in Antebellum America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994.
Although the focus in most textbooks is on the emergence of a Women's Rights Movement and the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments, they also acknowledge a much wider universe of women's involvement in antebellum reform. The Abolitionist Sisterhood helps simultaneously to trace the abolitionism to Women's Rights connection and to grasp the wider range of "women's political culture."
The Farmer's Movement of the Late 19th Century Essay
895 Words4 Pages
During the late nineteenth century, the agrarian movement evolved into a political force that energized American farmers to voice their political and economic grievances like never before. Although the movement essentially died after William Jennings Bryan's loss of the 1896 Presidential election, many of the reforms they fought for were eventually passed into law.
American farmers found themselves facing hard times after the Civil War. In the West, the railroad had opened up enormous opportunities. Farmers were now able to cultivate land that had previously been to far from the Eastern markets to make a profit. However, that opportunity came at a price. The farmers increasing dependence on the railroads and other commercial…show more content…
Membership rose rapidly after the Panic of 1873, peaking at one and a half million members in 1875.
The chief political goal of the Grangers was relief from the exorbitant carriage fees charged by the railroads and warehouses. They created hundreds of buying cooperatives, founded banks, pushed through legislation regulating railroads, and campaigned for political candidates who were sympathetic to their cause.
Their campaign for government regulation of the railroad led to their most significant victory. In 1877, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Granger cause in Munn v. Illinois. In this case it upheld the power of the states to regulate the rates of railroads and other businesses since their conduct affected the community at large. This shows a departure from the prevalent laissez-faire economics of the time and sets precedent for government regulation of business.
As agricultural conditions improved, membership declined. Although few of their economic initiatives succeeded, much of their political agenda was advocated in south and west by the Farmer's Alliance. The Farmer's Alliance and the Grangers differed in that the Alliance was political from its inception. The farmers saw industrial capitalism as destructive to agrarian values. The Alliance sought to unite farmers against the new economic and political interests they felt were combining to deny farmers