Declaration of Rights and Sentiments of Women
Prepared by Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Presented at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848
Who has not heard of the Declaration of Independence? This milestone of freedom written on July 4, 1776 declared the reasons necessary for the colonists to declare their independence from Great Britain. Not only is this document preserved and housed among the great documents of freedom in Washington, DC, every American student of history has studied this document in classrooms all over the country. Until I started doing research on my own when I was teaching American history in Albuquerque, NM, I had never heard of the following document, let alone the place where the document was presented in 1848. In that year, seventy-two years after the founding of this "free country" a group of women found it necessary to hold a convention where they outlined the abuses they had suffered as females being denied the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution.
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled. 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. He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise. He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice. He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men--both natives and foreigners. Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides. He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns. He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master--the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement. He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women--the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands. After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be profitable to it. He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known. He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her. He allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church. He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man. He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for a sphere of action, when that belongs to conscience and to her God. He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make willing to lead a dependent and abject life. Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation--in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which long to them as citizens of the United States. In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions embracing every part of the country. (Lucretia Mott, Thomas and Mary Ann McClintock, Amy Post, Catharine A. F. Stebbins, and others, discussed these resolutions, which were later adopted.) WHEREAS, The great precept of nature is conceded to be, that “man shall pursue his own true and substantial happiness.” Blackstone in his Commentaries remarks, that this law of Nature being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries and at all times; no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this, and such of them as are valid, derive all their force, and all their validity, and all their authority, mediately and immediately, from this original; therefore, Resolved, That such laws as conflict, in any way, with the true and substantial happiness of woman, are contrary to the great precept of nature and of no validity, for this is “superior in obligation to any other.” Resolved, That all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority. Resolved, That woman is man’s equal--was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such. Resolved, That the women of this country ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance, by asserting that they have all the rights they want. Resolved, That inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intellectual superiority, does accord to woman moral superiority, it is pre-eminently his duty to encourage her to speak and teach, as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies . Resolved, That the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior that is required of woman in the social state, should also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman. Resolved, That the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audience, comes with a very ill-grace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the stage, in the concert, or in feats of the circus. Resolved, That woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her. Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise. Resolved, That the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities. Resolved, therefore, That, being invested by the Creator with the same capabilities, and the same consciousness of responsibility for their exercise, it is demonstrably the right and duty of woman, equally with man, to promote every righteous cause by every righteous means, and especially in regard to the great subjects of morals and religion, it is self-evidently her right to participate with her brother in teaching them, I both in private and in public, by writing and by speaking, by any instrumentalities proper to be used, and many assemblies proper to be held; and this being a self-evident truth growing out of the divinely implanted principles of human nature, any custom or authority adverse to it, whether modern or wearing the hoary sanction of antiquity, is to be regarded as a self-evident falsehood, and at war with mankind Resolved, That the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women, for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions, and commerce.
This was the call to action given to the 300 women delegates at the convention and the final solution was that females could not achieve the aforementioned goals unless they attained the right to vote. Thus, the beginning of the women's suffrage movement. It is astounding to think that only 100 of the 300 female delegates signed the document. In addition most of the males who had not been invited to the convention but attended anyway who were given the right to vote abstained. This was the climate among not only those men in power but females themselves who did not agree with what was written. In understanding this history, and uncovering it for all to see instead of erasing it, the student can understand the great divisions among females that survives through this day.
The women who attended the convention at Seneca Falls went from there to a meeting in Philadelphia where they organized the Underground Railroad System. Frederick Douglas had been one of the men who attended the meeting and who voted for the Declaration. These women were the extremists, the radicals of their day and conductors of the Railroad were in constant danger of being caught and prosecuted. Although the slaves were emancipated after the Civil War and black males were given the right to vote in 1865, women were still a long way from achieving this goal.
In fact another Declaration of the Rights of Women was written by Susan B. Anthony on July 4, 1876, the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
Women were still being denied the right to vote and were still unequal to men in all the categories listed in the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments of Women. Once again, this history was erased from the textbooks I studied both in high school as well as college when I was pursing a degree in history. Once again, I was fortunate that women began to organize and start demanding equal treatment and raised the consciousness of this woman at least. As I read all the wall posts about certain groups having their history erased, many of these posts come from women themselves and I cannot grasp this. Why is this happening?
I was watching a program on TV with an interview of a woman who has written a book for women about another Declaration of Rights of Women to help women understand how they are still invisible in this country and how they themselves are still trying to demand rights from a "man's world." Again, I ask myself, why should this be happening? We do not need to push the male controlled, patriarchal system that is still in operation no matter what the politicians say. We need to demand reform and demand that our history not be erased, that it be taught and that measures to reform those documents of freedom that have historically ignored females be made all inclusive with all the rights granted to men being granted to females as well.