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Box 14-128 ANNA HOWARD SHAW'S ARGUMENT FOR WOMAN SUFFRAGE--The Strongest Argument For Equal Suffrage
Jan 1 1917 Date Estimated
From: National Woman's Christian Temperance Union Evanston Illinois


The question is frequently asked, What is the strongest argument in favor of equal suffrage? To this I always rely, "The Declaration of Independence." Whoever accepts it must logically accept woman suffrage.1 There is absolutly no other position to take without denying the basic principle of democracy, that "governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." The vote is not an end in itself; it is simly a means to an end, and in that sense it is not an inherent right. It is merely the method by which, in our government we learn what is the will of the citizens, and secure their approval or disapproval, through their chosen representatives, to the measures which form the government under which they live.

The Declaration of Independence asserts that certain truths are so self-evident that no reasonable mind can question them. Among these self-evident truths are the inherent right of all mankind to life, liberty and the persuit of happiness, and that to protect these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

So long as these principles are applied to men, their justice is not questioned, but as soon as we attempt to apply them equally to women, then, as Charles Sumner said in regard to the excuses given for the abuses in Kansas, "The enemies advance arguments absurd, arguments idiotic, arguments infamous and arguments tyrannical," to prove that they do not apply equally to women. No one denies that there inheres in woman equally with man the right to life, liberty and happiness, but they deny to women the unquestioned power to protect themselves in the exercise of these rights. The claim of suffragists is that, if these rights inhere equally in women as in men there inheres the right to the political power to defend and develop them; and since the only way known in a republic by which this can be done is through the ballot, then the denial of the ballot to women is a denial of the power of self-protection and defense.

The government might have devised some other method of learning the will of the people than by the ballot. It might have taked a Yea or Nay vote, or raising of hands, or rising to the feet; but the method prescribed, and which experience proves to be the most expedient, is by the ballot, and the denial to women of this right protective of all rights is as irrational as it would be to say air is essential to life, women have the right to life, but no right to the air which sustains life. The denail of air to sustain life, and the denial of the ballot to protect life, to the citizen of a government, is upon exactly the same plane.

Therefore when asked the strongest reason in behalf of woman suffrage, we can readily point to the Declaration of Independence, and declare that this truth is self-evident, that, if women are endowed by their Creator with the inalienable right to life, liberty and happiness, they equally with men have the right to the political power to protect themselves in the exercise of these rights.2

1 Note the singular spelling of "woman" in this article, it is not "women." Similarly, it is the "National 'Woman's' Temperance Union," as the sponsor of the article.

2 This article was found in the Whitehern Archives. The McQuestens and most Presbyterians supported woman's (or women's)suffrage; however, Mary Baker McQuesten and her daughters never joined the group because they did not open their meetings with prayer.

See E2-3 which contains the following footnote on this subject: In Canadian Feminist and suffrage history, the WOMEN AS PERSONS LAW was enacted on June 11,1929; women were finally declared "persons" under Canadian law. The historic legal victory is due to the persistence of five Alberta women--Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards. The battle started in 1916. From Murphy's very first day as a judge, lawyers had challenged her rulings because she was not a "person" under Canadian law. that_was_then/life_society/women_persons_case.
In 1916 the Western Provinces granted suffrage--Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan.
In 1918 all provinces granted the vote (with some restrictions) except Quebec.
In 1920 Women were allowed to stand for election (limited)
In 1940 Quebec granted the vote to women.
In 1950 FULL SUFFRAGE was granted to all women and men (those previously not included.
See W1116, for Margarette Lerned's [later McQuesten] essay on the equality of women which was likely written in 1824. Her opinions and ideas are strong and well-developed for Margarette's age (15) and for THE age. The ideas are also appropriate to her school which is Adams Female Academy (see footnote at W1100). Nearly one hundred years later, in 1917, women were still being arrested for picketing the White House in behalf of women's suffrage; and in the same year the U.S. Senate rejected President Wilson's suffrage bill. It was not until August 26, 1920 that the Women's Suffrage Bill was passed into law in the United States. "Woman's Suffrage." The Woman Suffrage Timeline. December 12, 2003.

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The development of this website was directed by Mary Anderson, Ph.D. and Janelle Baldwin, M.A.
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