Over the course of American history, the waves of social revolution have repeatedly beaten back the injustices of man to form the society we inhabit today. Literature has proven to be a powerful tool to churn these waves of innovation, and it is in the significant literary pieces of a time that historians can identify the heart of important movements. One notable text is Susan B. Anthony’s “Women’s Right to Vote” written during the 19th century Women’s Suffrage movement.
Utilizing her leadership position in this age of American feminism, Anthony wrote “Women’s Right to Vote” to expose the injustice women faced in being restricted from voting; in doing so, she demonstrated intellect and reason amid prejudices of female incompetency. Among her persuasive calls for justice, Anthony’s use of logical appeal is revealed in her reference to the United States’ Declaration of Independence, her perspective on legal pronouns, and her examination of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. Susan B.
Anthony presented “Women’s Right to Vote” as a response to her 1872 arrest for submitting an illegal vote, but more importantly, she presented it as a call of attention to the neglected voting rights of all women in 19th century America. Anthony opens her piece by candidly addressing her recent conviction and stating her intention to defend this supposed violation of the law as a natural right. She follows this introduction with a strong transition into her first two sources of support, the United States’ Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
In analyzing quotations from the documents, Anthony reaffirms a government’s business in protecting rights, not giving them. She also reflects upon the claim of universal equality and the failed reality of that claim when applied to women. Switching from ideologies to specific laws, Anthony inspects the meaning behind the use of masculine pronouns. She presents the argument that if the right to vote excludes women in correspondence to the legal use of masculine pronouns, then the same reason must apply to all laws.
Anthony then continues to examine legislature by reviewing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Anthony strategically defines the Amendments’ key terms of “person,” “citizen,” and “slave”; she places these terms in the context of women, thus providing further support for her calls for female suffrage. To conclude her speech, Anthony speaks on behalf of herself and of the National Woman Suffrage Association when she implores women to exercise their right to vote and for men in all positions of the government to recognize this right.
Quoting Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, Anthony ends her speech by stating “The true rule of interpretation under our National Constitution… is that anything for human rights is constitutional, anything against human rights is unconstitutional,” and it is because of this reasoning that the National Woman Suffrage Association will persistently pursue women’s suffrage in the name of equality (37).
After assessing the entirety of the text, readers can identify that Anthony’s first attempt at using logic to persuade the readers’ minds is demonstrated in her direct quotation and analysis of one of America’s founding documents. Looking at the Declaration of Independence, Anthony reiterates the claims of natural right and governmental power asserted by the founding fathers of America.
The purpose of government, as expressed by the Declaration of Independence, is to protect the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and happiness given to “all men. The power of this said government is derived from those being governed, commonly referred to as “the people. ” Using these nationally prized principles, Anthony employs reason by interpreting the natural rights of “all men” to extend to women as well. In having women endowed with the natural rights of life, liberty, and happiness, they are also endowed the right to consent power to their government. In the democratic structure of America’s government, this consent of power is seen in the voting of candidates into government positions.
By preventing women the right to vote, Anthony explains, the U. S. government is preventing women the right to consent to government, thus violating one of the nation’s founding principles. Continuing to examine the legal governing texts of the United States, Anthony provides a powerful argument for female voting rights by analyzing the use of gender pronouns in voting laws. The use of masculine pronouns such as he, him, and his in voting laws allowed those opposed to women’s suffrage to argue that because the pronouns have a male implication, only men are granted the rights of the law.
Anthony ingeniously applies reason to this claim by insisting the same contention be used to exempt women from taxation and criminal charges. Similar to voting laws, taxation laws and laws concerning punishment for criminal activity had an absence of feminine pronouns. Anthony used the literal logical translation of the law to demonstrate the farcical use of pronouns to interpret rights. Anthony insists that if the government uses these pronouns to “tax, fine and imprison and hang women” then they may also be used to allow women to vote.
It is common sense that it would be unjust for only men to be charged with taxes and criminal charges, and it is in this flip of logic that Anthony effectively sheds light on the unjust reasons for prohibiting women’s suffrage. After presenting readers with new interpretations of licit pronoun use, Anthony further dissects established laws to defend women’s suffrage by discussing the newly admitted Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The Fourteenth Amendment states that “all persons” born or naturalized in the United States is classified as a “citizen” of the United States.
In the Fifteenth Amendment, the explicit rights of these said “citizens” are protected against any right-violating laws established by a State. After addressing the meaning of both, Anthony proposes the audience with such a plain-spoken, effective source of reason that it becomes irrefutable in her call for women’s suffrage; Anthony plainly asks the reader “Are women persons? ” (34) Common Sense and reason dictates that woman are persons and because of this, no state can pass a law to hinder their “privileges or immunities.
Anthony then debunks the speculation on whether these privileges include voting rights by once again referencing the Fifteenth Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any State, on account of race, color or pervious condition of servitude” (34). In this portion of the Amendment, Anthony explains, is the written law that the government cannot hinder the privilege to vote, and with this reasoning, one can conclude that voting must then be a right of the citizens governed.
Finding further support in the Fifteenth Amendment, Anthony examines the term “conditions of servitude. ” Anthony determines that the “conditions of servitude” constitute anyone who is a “slave,” and the term “slave” is used to classify anyone who has been “robbed of the proceeds of his labor” or “subject to the will of another. ” With this clear description, Anthony uses factual information about the current lives of women to classify them in “conditions of servitude.
The married woman in 19th century America had no identity outside of her marriage. All rights concerning household wages and the custody of children fell upon the husband. Even the basic right of one’s own person was not applicable to women for if a woman choose to leave her husband, her spouse had permission to use “moderate coercion to bring her back. ” These examples of abuse on married women can be categorized as “conditions of servitude,” therefore, women are entitled to the rights affirmed in the Fifteenth Amendment.
Anthony’s deconstruction of terms “person” and “slave” as used in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments provides the readers with strong reasoning of their context to women and, consequently, to women’s right to vote. Susan B. Anthony made several significant impacts upon the United States’ Women Suffrage movement; most notable among those impacts was her 1872 speech entitled “Women’s Right to Vote. ” Anthony’s text proved to be an effective document in arguing for women’s suffrage with her thought-provoking arguments of reason.
In her analysis of the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution, Anthony found women’s rights present in the rights of “all men. ” Her reversal of logic concerning the use of gender pronouns in law documents served as a strong appeal to reasonable interpretation, and her examination of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments proved women’s voting right through the terms “person” and “slave. ” It was through these claims by Susan B. Anthony and other powerful feminists alike that the foundation of women’s rights were laid in logic and reason to stand the test of time for future female generations.