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Women’s Suffrage Before the 19th Amendment

August 19th, 2010 Erik Leave a comment Go to comments

One of my former students writes an interesting piece at Heritage:

The Declaration of Independence was a revolutionary document, as it set forth a completely new grounding for government in human equality, natural rights, and consent of the governed. The famous words of the Declaration of Independence apply to men and women alike: when proclaiming that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” “all men” does not mean “all males.” Instead, “all men” is synonymous with “mankind” or “humanity.” The Founders recognized that women share in the common humanity, and therefore share those natural inalienable rights according to the Declaration of Independence. The U.S. Constitution’s language is, likewise, gender neutral. In fact, the 14th amendment (ratified July 9, 1868) was the first usage of the word “male” in the Constitution. The 14thth amendment, which would clarify that the principles of the American Founding and the Constitution did not prevent women’s suffrage amendment, then, became an impetuous for the 19

When thinking back to those 17th century New Jersey ladies, we can understand the significance of the principles of the American Founding that enabled “for the first time in history, women of a political community shared with men the right, stated in public law, to select their rulers.”

The 19th amendment did not introduce a revolutionary concept into American political thought. The Declaration of Independence did. It articulated the principles of human equality, natural rights, and the consent of the governed, that enabled the citizens to select their political leaders. So, on this anniversary of the 19th amendment, we should not simply commemorate the amendment that codified women’s vote, but, more importantly, celebrate the principles that enabled it.

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