Masthead: The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project

Address by Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Woman's Rights

September 1848

Margaret Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, justly called the Semiramis of the north, by her talent energy, firmness and foresight raised herself to a degree of power and grandeur then unequalled in Europe.43 No monarch has ever rivalled Isabella of Spain in bravery sagacity political wisdom and a proud sense of honour. Yet these characteristics were united with the purest modesty and the warmest feminine affections. Ferdinand, her husband, was her inferior in mind, heart and nobility of character; but as a wife and a mother she seems to have been a more perfect model than of a queen.44 Her treaty with the queen of Portugal when they met on the frontiers of the two kingdoms is probably the only one of which it could be truly said: "The fair negotiators experienced none of the embarrassments usually incident to such deliberations, growing out of jealousy, distrust and a mutual desire to over reach. They were conducted in perfect good faith and a sincere desire on both sides to establish a cordial reconciliation."45 Austria has produced no wiser or better sovereign than Maria Theresa to whose strength of character her nobles paid involuntary homage when they unanimously exclaimed "We will die for our King Maria Theresa." She too was the most affectionate of wives and most devoted of mothers.46 "In England it was common to hear the people talk of King Elizabeth and Queen James. Catharine of Russia bears honourable comparison with Peter the Great. The annals of Africa furnish no example of a monarch equal to the brave intelligent and proud hearted Zinga, the negro Queen of Angola. Blanche of Castile evinced great ability in administering the government of France, during the minority of her son, and similar praise is due to Caroline of England, during the absence of her Husband."47 What did woman not do what did she not suffer in our revolutionary struggle. In all great national difficulties her heart has always been found to beat in the right place. She has ever been loyal to her country and her tyrants. He has said it and it must be right was the remark of Josephine in her happy days, when her own judgement suggested a change of course from the one marked out to her by Napoleon, but she lived long enough to learn that her tyrant might both do and say much that was not right.48

It has happened more than once that in a great crisis of national affairs, woman has been appealed to for her aid. Hannah More one of the great minds of her day, at a time when French revolutionary and atheistical opinions were spreading—was earnestly besought by many eminent men to write something to counteract these destructive influences—49  Her style was so popular and she had shown so intimate a knowledge of human nature that they hoped much from her influence. Her village politics by Will Chip, written in a few hours showed that she merited the opinion entertained of her power upon all classes of mind. It had as was expected great effect. The tact and intelligence of this woman completely turned the tide of opinion and many say prevented a revolution, whether she did old Englands poor any essential service by thus warding off what must surely come is a question—however she did it and the wise ones of her day gloried in her success. Strange that surrounded by such a galaxy of great minds, that so great a work should have been given with one accord to a woman to do.

Where was the spirit found to sustain that mighty discoverer Christopher Columbus in his dark hours of despair? Isabella of Arragon may be truly said to be the mother of this western world. It was she who continued the constant friend and protector of Columbus during her life, although assailed on all sides yet she steadily and firmly rejected the advice of narrow-minded, timid counsellors and generously bestowed her patronage upon that heroic adventurer. In all those things in which the priests had no interest and consequently did not influence her mind, she was ever the noble woman loving justice—the christian loving mercy. The persecution of the Jews and the establishment of the Inquisition cannot be said to have been countenanced by her, they were the result of priestly impudence. Torquemada the confessor of the Queen did not more fatally mislead her than do the priests of our day mislead us, the cry of heretic was not more potent in her day than that of Infidel in ours.50 They burned the bodies of all those who differed from them we consign their souls to Hell fire.51

The feeling we so often hear expressed of dislike to seeing woman in places of publicity and trust is merely the effect of custom very like that prejudice against colour that has been proved to be so truly American.52 What man or woman of you has a feeling of disapproval or disgust in reading the history of Joan of Arc. The sympathies of every heart are at once enlisted in the success of that extraordinary girl.53 Her historian tells us that when all human power seemed unavailing, the French no longer despised the supernatural aid of the damsel of Dom Remy. The last stronghold of the Dauphin Charles was besieged, the discouraged French were about to abandon it when the coming of this simple girl paralyzed the English and inspired the followers of Charles with the utmost courage. Her success was philosophical in accordance with the laws of mind. She had full faith in herself and inspired all those who saw her with the same. Let us cultivate like faith, like enthusiasm and we too shall impress all who see and hear us with the same confidence which we ourselves feel in our final success.

There seems now to be a kind of moral stagnation in our midst. (Philanthropists have pulled every string. War, slavery, drunkeness, licentiousness and gluttony have been dragged naked before the people and all their abominations fully brought to light. Yet with idiotic laugh we hug these monsters to our arms and rush on. Our churches are multiplying on all sides, our Sunday schools and prayer meetings are still kept up, our missionary and tract societies have long laboured and now the labourers begin to faint—they feel they cannot resist this rushing tide of vice, they feel that the battlements of righteousness are weak against the mighty wicked, most are ready to raise the siege.54 And how shall we account for this state of things? Depend upon it the degradation of woman is the secret of all this woe,—the inactivity of her head and heart. The voice of woman has been silenced, but man cannot fulfill his destiny alone—he cannot redeem his race unaided, there are deep and tender chords of sympathy and love in the breasts of the down fallen the crushed that woman can touch more skillfully than man. The earth has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation, for woman has never yet stood the equal with man.55 (As with nations so with families. It is the wise mother who has the wise son, and it requires but little thought to decide that as long as the women of this nation remain but half developed in mind and body, so long shall we have a succession of men decrepit in body and soul, so long as your women are mere slaves, you may throw your colleges to the wind, there is no material to work upon, it is in vain to look for silver and gold from mines of copper and brass. How seldom now is the Fathers pride gratified, his fond hopes realized in the budding genius of the son—the wife is degraded—made the mere creature of his caprice and now the foolish son is heaviness to his heart. Truly are the sins of the Fathers visited upon the children. God in his wisdom has so linked together the whole human family that any violence done at one end of the chain is felt throughout its length.)

Now is the time, now emphatically, for the women of this country to buckle on the armour that can best resist the weapons of the enemy, ridicule and holy horror. "Voices" were the visitors and advisers of Joan of Arc, "voices" have come to us, oftimes from the depths of sorrow degradation and despair,—they have been too long unheeded. The same religious enthusiasm that nerved her to what she deemed her work now nerves us to ours, her work was prophesied of, ours too is the fulfilling of what has long since been foretold. In the better days your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.56 Her struggle and triumph were alike short, our struggle shall be hard and long but our triumph shall be complete and forever. We do not expect that our path will be strewn with the flowers of popular favour—that our banner which we have flung to the wind will be fanned by the breath of popular applause, no we know that over the nettles of prejudice and bigotry will be our way, that upon our banner will beat the dark stormcloud of opposition from those who have entrenched themselves behind the strong bulwark of might, of force and who have fortified their position by every means holy and unholy, but we steadfastly abide the result. Unmoved we will bear it aloft—undaunted we will unfurl it to the gale,—we know the storm cannot rend from it a shred, that the electric flash will but more clearly show to us the glorious words inscribed upon it, "Equality of rights" and the rolling thunder will be sweet music in our ears, telling us of the light [rest of line torn away] of the purer clearer atmosphere [rest of line torn away]

A new era is dawn<ing upon the world,> when old might to right <must yield the battle blade> to clerkly pen, when the m<illions> now under the iron heel of <the tyrant will assert> their manhood, when woman <yielding to the> voice of the spirit within her will <demand the> recognition of her humanity, when <her soul, grown> too large for her chains, will burst th<e bands> around her set and stand redeemed regenerated and disenthralled.57

The slumber is broken and the sleeper has risen
The day of the Goth and the Vandal is o'er
And old earth feels the tread of freedom once more

While the globe resounds with the tramping of legions who roused from their lethargy are resolved to be free or perish—while old earth reels under the crashing <of> thrones and the destruction of despotisms, hoary with age, while the flashing sunlight that breaks over us <makes> dark so much that men have before revered <and> shows that to be good that had scarcely been dreamed of—while mind is investigating anxiously so much in politics, in science, in morals, while even the Indian rejoices in the bright light and throws from him his chieftainship shall we the women of this age be content to remain inactive and to move in but a narrow and circumscribed sphere, <a> sphere which man shall assign us?58 Shall we forget that God has given <us the same powers and faculties> that he has conferred <on him—the same desires,> the same hopes—the same trust in immortality—that the same voice called us into being, that the same spark which kindled us into life is from the Divine and ever burning Fire—that we are responsible to Him alone for the right cultivation and employment of our minds and hearts and that it is not for man to say "Thus far shalt thou go and no far<ther>." Poor fallible man [rest of line torn away] up to him a [rest of line torn away] before him—as [word torn away]juror? while the spirit within constantly whispers, Fools! will ye look to that that cannot satisfy you. Will you waste your time and strength on lowering buckets into empty wells. Will you reverence that, that is of like nature with yourselves?

Then fear not thou to wind thy horn,
Though elf and gnome thy courage scorn.
Ask for the castles King and Queen,
Though rabble rout may rush between,
Beat thee senseless to the ground,
In the dark beset thee round,
Persist to ask and it will come,
Seek not for rest in humbler home
So shalt thou see what few have seen
The palace home of King and Queen.

Autograph Manuscript, Elizabeth Cady Stanton Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress



Notes:

43 Both Child, History of the Condition of Women, 2:206, and Willard, Universal History, 348, link the names of these two queens. Margaret I (1353-1412) consolidated the crowns of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden by 1398 and ruled a short-lived empire until her death. Semiramis was a mythical Assyrian queen credited with founding the city of Babylon and conquering many lands.

44 Isabella (1451-1504), Spanish queen of Castile and Léon from 1474, married Ferdinand V of Castile, also known as Ferdinand II of Aragon, (1442-1516), in 1469 and reigned with him as sovereign of Castile. The glorification of Isabella as grand but feminine, brave but modest, and superior to her husband is consistent with Willard's interpretation in Universal History, 276. Elizabeth Cady Stanton also read William H. Prescott, History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic, first published in 1837.

45 Quotation from Prescott, History of Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1872 edition at 1:268. Isabella negotiated with Dona Beatriz of Portugal, her aunt, a mediator for the queen of Portugal.

46 Elizabeth Cady Stanton follows Samuel Knapp, Female Biography, 406, in translating the Latin as "king." Maria Theresa (1717-1780) came to the Hapsburg throne in 1740. The pledge of the Hungarian nobles enabled her to fight the war of Austrian succession against the monarchs of Europe who disputed her claim to the throne.

47 Quotation from Child, History of the Condition of Women, 2:206-7. Several queens are named. While Elizabeth I ruled England, James VI ruled Scotland. He later became James I of England. Catherine the Great is measured against Peter the Great (1672-1725.) Queen Zhinga (1582-1663) of Ndongo in western Angola led her people in resistance to Portuguese domination. In France Blanche of Castile (1185?-1252), wife of Louis VIII, was regent during the minority of their son Louis IX and again when her son departed on a crusade. Caroline of Ansbach (1683-1737), wife of England's George II, served as her husband's regent repeatedly between 1729 and 1737.

48 Josephine (1763-1814) was empress of France until Napoleon Bonaparte arranged with the Pope for their marriage to be annulled in 1809. Victim of selfish manhood, she became something of a sentimental heroine in the 1830s and 1840s. Napoleon broke "the heart of the best of his friends," Willard's Universal History (456) explained.

49 Hannah More (1745-1833), English author and reformer, wrote Village Politics, Addressed to All the Mechanics, Journeymen, and Day Labourers in Great Britain (1792) under the name of "Will Chip, a country carpenter." In a dialogue two laborers dismiss the revolutionary ideas reaching England from France and celebrate monarchy, deference, the gentry, and religious faith as the strengths of the English system. (Mary Alden Hopkins, Hannah More and Her Circle [New York, 1947], 205-9.)

50 Again, Isabella of Castile, who supported the explorations of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). This willingness to regard Isabella as more victim than sovereign when considering the Inquisition prevailed in Prescott's biography and was echoed in Willard, Universal History. Tomas de Torquemada (1420?-1498), a Dominican monk, was made inquisitor general.

51 Added at close of this sentence in 1870: "we consign their souls to hell-fire and their lives to misrepresentation and persecution."

52 Inserted here in 1870: "Where men make no objections to women or negroes to serve or amuse them in public, but the claim of equality is what chagrins the tyrant. Man never rejects the aid of either, when they serve him in the accomplishment of his work."

53 Joan of Arc (1412?-1431), national heroine of France, claimed divine inspiration for her decision to rally the people to the aid of the dauphin, the future Charles VII (1403-1461) of France, who was kept from the throne by English armies. There were scores of books available about Joan, most of them interpreting her story as a test of faith. A few shared Elizabeth Cady Stanton's humanistic interpretation of her charisma as self-confidence. Willard wrote: "Her own solemn persuasion of the reality of her mission, which was, she said, communicated in visions, together with the intrepidity of her manner, made an impression of awe, even on the minds of the gay courtiers." (Universal History, 254.)

54 Added in 1870: "Verily, the world waits the coming of some new element, some purifying power, some spirit of mercy and love."

55 This paragraph underwent considerable revision in 1870 and became the final paragraph of the speech, followed by the closing verse.

56 Joel 2:28.

57 The address of the Congregational Friends used paragraph 34, without the verse, as its penultimate paragraph, and the text marked by angle brackets is restored to the torn manuscript from that source.

58 The Friends omitted this reference to the work of Hicksite Friends with the Seneca Nation in western New York. In a constitution adopted in 1845 on the recommendation of the Friends, the Seneca replaced government by chiefs with representative government. (Hugh Barbour et al., eds., Quaker Crosscurrents: Three Hundred Years of Friends in the New York Yearly Meetings [Syracuse, N.Y., 1995], 96–99.)