“THE Declaration of Rights and Sentiments” approved by the suffragists at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 is a remarkably puerile and deceitful political document. That it has achieved such immense historical stature is not a tribute to women’s rights but a glaring indictment. If eloquent 15-year-olds gathered to draw up a list of complaints against their parents, they would be no doubt be remarkably similar to the complaints in this document. The Declaration of Rights, which was written as a cheap knock-off of the Declaration of Independence even though the suffragists had absolutely no intention of declaring their own government or physically defending their views, intones at the end of its opening paragraphs:
The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
This was written by women whose daily existence was subsidized and protected by men, women who would not have publicly uttered these words without fear of arrest or imprisonment if truly they lived under “absolute tyranny” or even its close approximation.
First among the abuses of which mankind is alleged guilty:
He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.
As the anti-suffragist Helen Kendrick Johnson pointed out in her 1897 book Woman and the Republic, the franchise was never an “inalienable right” for anyone, neither in America nor in Britain. From the very beginning, suffrage was limited and carried property and citizenship qualifications. The vote was no more an inalienable right than being a senator was an inalienable right. Many men had been denied the vote. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the authors of the Declaration, obviously did not believe the vote was a natural right because she did not support granting the franchise to blacks after the Civil War.
The second count in the Declaration is this:
He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.
False again. Women did indeed have a voice in the formation of laws both privately, in their close individual influence over male voters, and publicly, in their formal right of petition. Here is an example cited by Johnson:
At the very time when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were writing that indictment against the United States Government, Dorothea Dix was presenting a memorial to the National Congress asking for an appropriation of five hundred thousand acres of the public lands to endow hospitals for the indigent insane. [Women and the Republic, p. 25]
The proposal, which later included tens of millions of acres, ultimately passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by President Pierce, who was against extending federal power in this instance. Dix then took it to the state level and achieved success in seven states that ultimately led to separating the criminal from the insane throughout the country.
Not only did women have the right of petition, but because of women’s non-partisan situation they were arguably of especial influence in politics.