Reconstruction Through Black Suffrage And Women
’s Rights Essay, Research Paper
For over 40 years the women’s rights movement in America was
resigned to attempts at “elevating woman’s role in the domestic sphere.” (5)In the years preceding the civil war and the progressive era of reconstruction that followed it, women’s rights became women’s suffrage and with the change in name came a reorganization of the suffrage movement. As postwar debates concerning black rights raged in congress, the opportunity to create a human suffrage platform arose. The similarity in ideologies and goals between the feminist and abolitionist causes allowed for a joining of the minds and the creation of mutually beneficial organizations. This joining of fates had unforeseen and problematic repercussions for the woman’s suffrage movement. The break between these two distinct but similar groups caused much distress to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and for a time she railed against the enfranchisement of black men in advance of white women. The film One Woman , One Vote called this the Negros’ hour, however Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony became more focused on their own agendas after the separation and gave birth to a “radical and multifaceted feminism.” (94)
One of the most prominent questions of the reconstruction era was the enfranchisement of blacks and how to resolve proportionate congressional representation in the southern states. In 1866 Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Stanton and Anthony decided to wed them selves to this cause under the banner of natural rights and universal adult suffrage. This union culminated in the formation of the American Equal Rights Association (AERA). The group was set with the task of convincing “abolitionists and radicals that their own equal rights logic should lead them to advocate women’s suffrage” (90)
as an integral aspect of reconstruction. The group succeeded in seeing the 14th amendment through congress though they were deeply disturbed by the language of the document which specified that only male citizens were to be enfranchised.
In “Stanton, Gerret Smith on Petitions,” Elizabeth Stanton argues that it would be ignoble and short sighted to consider the vote for blacks before enfranchising white women. The article demonstrates Elizabeth Stanton’s disdain for “society, as organized today under the man power, [which] is one grand rape of womanhood.” (123) The frustration that many feminists must have felt with the patriarchal reverberations of the 14th amendment and reconstruction is demonstrated in this document. Stanton uses every tactic at her disposal to illuminate the irrationality of the reformers. She reminds her audience that the black population could still pose a threat to the well being of whites and women in particular. By the end of the article the author’s passion cools into a fierce determinism. She declares that despite the remaining prejudices against blacks, we should “bury the Negro in the citizen and claim the suffrage for all men and women as a natural, inalienable right.” (124)
Elizabeth Stanton was faithful to her ideal of universal human suffrage. Even after the AERA failure, she was willing to ally herself with like minded radical groups. She was excited by the prospect of the creation of a third party amalgamation of two other women’s rights groups in order to challenge the Republican mood in Washington. Yet Anthony held fast to her conviction that feminist ideals she not be embroiled with any other political agenda. Suprisingly both women were wooed by promises of consideration and supported the Republicans in 1872. With Republican control assured, the reform minded mood left Washington and gave way to the end of reconstruction and put a hold on considerations of woman’s rights that are clearly defined by the Constitution.
The 1850’s and 1860’s stand as a monument to the enduring struggle for woman’s rights. Post Civil War America was an environment where minorities dared to dream of constitutionally guaranteed equality. Though the ideology of natural rights drove the feminist movement to an alliance with black suffragists, the two did not proliferate as a functioning unit. Though disillusioned with the balking of the abolitionists, Elizabeth Stanton was true to her beliefs and debated her position with a passion. Susan B. Anthony became firm in her belief that feminism should exist as an independent ideology. The AERA misfire affected her profoundly and fueled the fire of a great American for years to come.