Woman Suffrage by Federal Amendment
So far the story of suffrage, victory and defeat, has been the story of State referenda. We have been covering the time when for years that state-by-state effort spun the main thread of suffrage activity. “Win more States to full woman suffrage,” had been the fell word that the suffragists of earlier days had encountered from friend and foe alike. “Go, get another State,” Theodore Roosevelt counseled as late as 1908.
I don't know the exact number of States we shall have to have, said Miss Anthony once in a musing hour, but I do know that there will come a day when that number will automatically and resistlessly act on the Congress of the United States to compel the submission of a federal suffrage amendment. And we shall recognize that day when it comes.
As has been seen, that dream of woman suffrage by federal amendment antedated all the efforts to win woman suffrage by the State route. And it is not to be forgotten that from the earliest days the will and the work to make the dream come true went along concurrently with the work for and in State referenda.
Before the Civil War it seems to have occurred to no one that suffrage for women might be gained through federal action. Public opinion in all parts of the country was strongly resentful of any unusual assumption of authority by the federal government and no precedent existed upon which to base a theory for such action. The Civil War welded the loosely federated States into an “indissoluble Union,” the word “nation” for the first time found its way into the list of words frequently used as descriptive of the United States of America, and the Acts of Reconstruction represented a degree of centralized authority which before the war would not have been tolerated. Although apologists for the departure from previous custom explained the Acts of Reconstruction as military necessities and although the conflict concerning the distribution of power between federal and State authorities continues today, the fact remains that hostility to federal legislative supremacy was greatly modified after that period.
After suffragists had made their energetic and heroic struggle to prevent the enfranchisement of the Negro without the inclusion of women in the plan, and when, despite their protests, Negro suffrage was achieved with woman suffrage left out, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments at least furnished precedents for a federal woman suffrage amendment, and this at once became the ultimate aim of the women's campaign. Observing the frequency with which laws, both State and Federal, were set aside by court decisions, and observing, too, that the Fifteenth Amendment had been declared constitutional, the women of that day took pains to frame a woman's amendment in the same precise phraseology. A group, led by Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton, wrote the amendment, designated by the suffragists for many years as the Sixteenth, and it was introduced in the Senate by A. A. Sargent of California on January 10, 1878. Owing to the death of the friendly chairman of the Committee on Privileges and Elections, Senator Oliver P. Morton of Indiana, an adverse report was made, but a minority report, accompanied by a lengthy address, was presented by Senator George F. Hoar of Massachusetts in which he said:
“No single argument of its advocates seems to us to carry so great a persuasive force as the difficulty which its ablest opponents encounter in making a plausible statement of their objections. We trust we do not fail in deference to our esteemed associates on the committee when we avow our opinion that their report is no exception to this rule.”
At that same date President Hayes received a deputation of suffragists, and a petition to the Congress was presented, with speeches on behalf of the amendment.
With so promising a beginning, suffrage hopes centered again on federal action. But between that date and June 4, 1919, when the amendment was finally passed by the Congress, lie forty years and six months, During that period the amendment was continuously pending, having been introduced in the same form in every succeeding Congress. In the Senate it was reported with a favorable majority in 1884, 1886, 1889 and 1893, and without recommendation in 1890 and 1896, and with a favorable majority again in 1913, 1914 and 1916. The House Committee gave favorable reports in 1883 and 1890, and adverse reports in 1884, 1886 and 1894, reported without recommendation in 1914, 1916 and 1917, and favorably in 1918, the Senate Committees making six reports only and the House Committees five in the thirty-five years between 1878 and 1913.
While other influences contributed to this record of inaction, the most outstanding cause was that Southern Democrats, although a minority, held the whip and controlled the suffrage situation. In 1878, when the woman suffrage amendment was introduced, the nation consisted of thirty-eight States and was accordingly represented by 76 United States Senators. The constitutional requirement of a two-thirds vote in the Congress for the submission of an amendment and action by three-fourths of the Legislatures for ratification made the support of fiftyone of these Senators and twenty-eight Legislatures necessary to its adoption. To secure this result the vote of five Senators and the ratification of five Legislatures of secession, or border, States had to be obtained, in addition to the united support of all Northern and Western States.
During the earlier portion of this time, Senators from the seceding States would rather have committed hari kari than vote for any federal suffrage amendment, and the border States were little less pronounced in their vindictive denunciation of suffrage by the federal method. Three prospects only for success appeared: (1) An increase in the number of States, so that the total could outvote the South; (2) A change of attitude on the part of Southern Senators; and (3) A more insistent demand for action by Congress than the nation was then in a mood to give. None offered immediate hope, but in the end all three aids were secured.
The suffragists of 1878 could not believe that the nation would long allow its record of enfranchisement of illiterate men, fresh from slavery, and its denial of the same privilege to intelligent white women to stand unchallenged. They turned to the States, firm in the faith that they would soon furnish a mandate to which popular opinion would yield, and through which the congressional impasse would be broken.
Had Republicans recognized the indefensible discrimination against women created by reconstruction history and given party aid to State amendments, which obvious consistency demanded (without whip or bayonet), woman suffrage would have swept from West to East long before corporate interests had gained sway over party councils. The East and South would have yielded then to the momentum of the triumphant movement, as they did forty years later, and there would probably have been no need of a federal woman suffrage amendment. However, the Republicans, in full control of most Northern and Western States, blocked action in these States as effectually as the Southern Democrats did in the Congress and in Southern States.
So it came about that the dismayed suffragists had to gird on their armor in grim preparation for war with the nation's prejudice, should it take till the end of time. They determined to hold fast the demand established in Congress, to bring to its support such gains among the States as they could wrest from the well-nigh impossible conditions imposed, and then, when politics should indicate the hour, to concentrate their efforts again on a federal amendment with the aim of finishing the task by that method. Formulated at that early day, this remained the policy of the National American Woman Suffrage Association to the end.
When it became plain that no action could be secured in Congress from the committees to which national suffrage amendments were referred, the suffragists attempted to induce Senate and House to establish standing woman suffrage committees with more time and sympathy to give their cause. As a result of much labor for three years, a so-called select committee was obtained in both Houses, the Senate renewing this committee in 1883 and the House declining to do so. The Senate Committee in time became a standing committee and so remained until the end. In the House the amendment was usually referred to the Judiciary Committee. A further attempt to renew the suffrage committee in the House was made in 1884, at which time Miss Anthony said: “This is the sixteenth year that we have come before Congress in person, and the nineteenth by petition.”
The early Senate Committee did not prove to be an asset to the women's campaign. In the long list of committees, it was held to be of low rank and during the thirty-five years of Republican control the chairmanship was assigned to a Southern Democrat. Senators from the States of Missouri, North Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, Virginia, and Georgia, to whose people the idea of suffrage by federal act was infuriating, held the post during this period. Said one of these chairmen to a fellow Senator: “There is no man living who can answer the argument of those women, but I'd rather see my wife dead in her coffin than voting, and I'd die myself before I'd vote to submit that amendment.”
Upon another occasion, Miss Anthony, bearing her threescore years and ten, closed the hearing with a review of the forty years of effort to secure justice for women and made so pathetic an appeal for action that the great room full of women, with faces drawn and tears running down many cheeks, involuntarily turned their eyes upon the chairman from Virginia. He was clearly perturbed and under the control of emotion. What would he say? What would he do? How could he refuse so unanswerable, so appealing a request? Presently they discovered the source of his emotion—he was in need of the spittoon! And no indication of more sympathetic interest did any of these Southern Democratic chairmen ever show.
During a portion of Grover Cleveland's administration, the Senate became Democratic. Then, the tables being turned, a Republican was given the chairmanship, and that fearless friend of woman suffrage, George F. Hoar of Massachusetts, being appointed, no time was lost in presenting a favorable report.
Based on this favorable report of the Committee in 1886, a vote on the amendment was secured in the Senate in 1887. The vote stood ayes 16, nays 34, absent 26. The debate is a distinct landmark, as Southern Senators laid out with care the argument upon which the Northern opposition was based through the coming years. Already the reaction had set in against the “wholesale and indiscriminate extension of the electorate” and the plea of all opponents for the next generation was “there are too many incompetent voters now, why double them? Let the extension of suffrage stop now.”
Said Senator Beck of Kentucky:
“We have been compelled in the last ten years to allow all the colored men of the South to become voters. There is a mass of ignorance there to be absorbed that will take years and years of care in order to bring that class up to the standard of intelligent voters. The several States are addressing themselves to that task as earnestly as possible. Now it is proposed that all the women of the country shall vote; that all the colored women of the South, who are as much more ignorant than the colored men as it is possible to imagine, shall vote. Not one perhaps in a hundred of them can read or write. The colored men have had the advantages of communication with other men in a variety of forms. Many of them have considerable intelligence; but the colored women have not had equal chances. Take them from their washtubs and their household work and they are absolutely ignorant of the new duties of voting citizens.... Why, sir, a rich corporation or a body of men of wealth could buy them up for fifty cents apiece, and they would vote, without knowing what they were doing, for the side that paid most.”
Said Senator Morgan of Alabama:
“We have now masses of voters so enormous in numbers as that it seems to be almost beyond the power of the law to execute the purposes of the elective franchise with justice, with propriety, and without crime. How much would these difficulties and these intrinsic troubles be increased if we should raise the number of voters from 10,000,000 to 20,000,000 in the United States? That would be the direct and immediate effect of conferring the franchise upon the women.... The effect would be to drive the ladies of the land, as they are termed, the well-bred and well-educated women, the women of nice sensibilities, within their home circles, there to remain, while the ruder of that sex would thrust themselves out on the hustings and at the ballot-box, and fight their way to the polls through Negroes and others who are not the best of company even at the polls, to say nothing of the disgrace of association with them. You would paralyze one-third at least of the women of this land by the very vulgarity of the overture made to them that they should go struggling to the polls in order to vote in common with the herd of men.”
No other vote was obtained in the Senate until 1914 and none at all during this period in the House. The years passed with hearings before the Committees of both Houses of every Congress and the circulation of the printed procedure of these hearings, interviews with members, occasional petitions, deputations to the presidents and, every year, a resolution from the national suffrage convention calling upon Congress to submit the suffrage amendment.
Until 1895 all the annual suffrage conventions were held in Washington, in order that suffrage delegates might plead with their representatives in Congress to submit the amendment, but after 1895 the conventions were held alternate years in other cities, meeting in Washington during the first session of each Congress only. There followed the period between 1896 and 1910 when the business of securing from the country a mandate on woman suffrage made such slow headway. The Congress was accepting the inaction of the country as a cue for inaction in Senate and House, and the inaction in Congress, composed as that body was of the leaders of political parties, was taken as the cue for inaction in the States.
In order to focus the attention of Congress once more upon woman suffrage and that of the country upon congressional obligation to the women of the land, it was voted at the annual suffrage convention held in Buffalo in October, 1908, to roll up another petition calling for the submission of the federal suffrage amendment. This method of agitation had been abandoned many years before, not only because petitions seemed to produce no direct result, but as it was no longer the custom to present such petitions publicly and with speeches, they were robbed of their publicity effect upon the country. It was now proposed to resume the plan, chiefly for its agitational value.
With the view of learning in advance how much effect such a petition would have, the National Suffrage Association asked President Roosevelt to receive a deputation, which he did. The deputation asked whether a petition of a million signatures would influence him to recommend woman suffrage in his annual message to the Congress, as the Association wished to know before going to the labor and expense of such a petition. He replied with a courteous but extremely emphatic assertion that it would neither move him nor the Congress. Asked for advice as to the next step, he promptly gave his memorable dictum, “Go, get another State.” When reminded that Republican Legislatures would rarely submit amendments and that when they did his party would not support them at the polls, he failed to sense party responsibility. Reminded that his gubernatorial appointee had robbed the women of Arizona of the vote by veto in 1903, he expressed surprise, although vigorous appeals had been made him for intervention at the time, when he had declared himself powerless to rectify the wrong.
Despite the discouraging interview, the petition work was undertaken, but State suffrage leaders, upon whose interest success depended, had neither faith in the result, nor energy to give in addition to that required to meet the continual State legislative campaigns. An honorary committee of highly influential men and women allowed their names to be joined in the appeal and a nationwide educational campaign on behalf of the federal suffrage amendment was the result. Federal suffrage meetings were held, sermons preached and hundreds of editorials called for the submission of the amendment.
The petition, with 404,000 signatures, instead of the one million intended, was brought to Washington in April, 1910, where the annual suffrage convention was in session. Although there was regret that suffragists had been too much occupied to bring a larger number of names, they recalled that President Lincoln had considered 300,000 a sufficient mandate for the Emancipation Proclamation as a war measure. In gaily decorated automobiles, each carrying the petitions of a State and bearing its name on spectacular banners, the procession moved from convention to Congress, where it was met by an honorary committee, and in the State marble room and the House Judiciary room the petitions were handed by each State president to her Senators and Representatives. The custom of no speeches was broken, and an eloquent address to the Senate upon the occasion was made by Senator LaFollette of Wisconsin.
At that convention, for the first time in suffrage history, a President of the United States, William Howard Taft, addressed the national gathering of suffragists, and, among other things, this is what he said:
“The theory that Hottentots or any other uneducated, altogether unintelligent class is fitted for self-government is a theory I wholly dissent from, but this qualification is not applicable here. The other qualification to which I call your attention is that the class should as a whole care enough to look after its interests to take part as a whole in the exercise of political power if it is conferred.”
A hiss was heard. Miss Shaw, who was presiding, arose with a quick “O my children!” Hushed quiet followed, but newspaper headlines carried the news, “Suffragists hiss the President,” to the remotest corner of the land. It was denied that the hiss had come from a delegate, and the next day the convention by resolution apologized for the unfortunate lapse in good manners.
Nevertheless delegates agreed among themselves that the word “Hottentot” in connection with their appeal had struck like a whip across their faces, and with this interpretation the press also received the news, some newspapers criticizing the President for his untactful use of words, and the suffragists, for the hissed protest, with equally caustic comment. The entire country found the incident worthy of discussion; editorials, resolutions, sermons, sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other, followed each other, and the wave of publicity started all over again several times. “Hottentot” did not help Mr. Taft but it did contribute indirectly to a curious revival of national interest in woman suffrage.
After the 1910 suffrage convention, once again a Congressional Committee of the National Suffrage Association opened Headquarters in Washington and began the first systematic and complete poll of Congress, including all old and new candidates for election in 1910 and 1912.
The impulse given to the movement that year by the gain of Washington with the astounding majority of 24,000, followed by the gain of California in 1911, emphasized the question in the public mind to a degree regarded as phenomenal, and had a notable reaction upon the Congress.
The Presidential campaign of 1912 was approaching. The National Suffrage Association had appealed to every dominant presidential convention for a suffrage plank since the first attempt in 1868. After 1900, campaigns had been more thorough, all delegates having been individually memorialized, and more urgent efforts had been made to secure the sympathetic co-operation of leading politicians. Hearings had been usually granted before resolution committees with more or less courtesy, but platforms had remained silent. Democratic presidential platforms carried no expression concerning woman suffrage from 1868 to 1916, and the Republican platforms had had no word since the “splinter” of 1872.
In 1912 there were three candidates for the presidency from the Republican ranks. They were Mr. Taft, Mr. Roosevelt, and Mr. LaFollette. All three were approached by the suffragists for the expression of an opinion on woman suffrage. Mr. Taft answered:
“I don't think we ought to take as radical a step as that without being certain that when we do it it will meet the approval of all those or substantially all of those in whose interest the franchise is extended because if it does not meet their views and they don't avail themselves of the opportunity to exercise the influence which that would give them, then we should be in a bad way because we might lose a substantial proportion of the votes of those that would be for better things. Therefore I am willing to wait until there shall be a substantial, not unanimous but a substantial, call from that sex before the suffrage is extended.”
Mr. LaFollette carried a suffrage plank in the platform upon which he proposed to stand. Mr. Roosevelt qualified his statement with so many reservations as to make it as useful for one side as the other.
Amid great excitement and angry dispute over the seating of delegates, the Republican nomination was given to Mr. Taft by a vote of 561, Mr. Roosevelt receiving 107. The Roosevelt delegates, charging fraud in the seating of delegates, met immediately after the adjournment of the convention and nominated Mr. Roosevelt for the presidency—thus bringing into organized form the movement that had been growing in and out of Congress for three years—and called themselves the Progressive Party. A convention to adopt a platform was called for August.
Meantime the Democrats met in Baltimore June 25 to July 3 and nominated Woodrow Wilson. He had replied to the National Suffrage Association's inquiry as follows:
“Allow me to acknowledge with real appreciation your letter in which you put to me a very difficult question. I can only say that my own mind is in the midst of the debate which it involves. I do not feel that I am ready to utter my confident judgment as yet about it. I am honestly trying to work my way toward a just conclusion.”
Mr. Roosevelt is alleged to have written his own platform for the Progressive convention in August. A group of supporters, paying him a visit, heard it and made loud protest against the suffrage plank it contained. That plank endorsed the principle of woman suffrage but pledged the new party to a practical support only when the question had been submitted to a referendum of the women of the United States. His friends persuaded him of the insult of putting upon women a test never made of men, and a straightforward declaration was substituted:
“The Progressive Party, believing that no people can justly claim to be a true democracy which denies political rights on account of sex, pledges itself to the task of securing equal suffrage to men and women alike.”
Many women attended the convention as delegates, several of the Southern States being so represented. Jane Addams seconded Mr. Roosevelt's nomination. State Progressive conventions followed in rapid succession, each endorsing the national platform. Women served on many State Central Committees and very many were listed by the Speakers' Bureau. The great advantage of having the endorsement of a party in the field was quickly manifest. Mr. Roosevelt himself was no longer doubtful, and other men long silent, encouraged by the work women were doing for the Progressive cause, boldly advocated woman suffrage.
The elections of 1912 resulted in “a sweeping Democratic victory by pluralities in so many States as to give that party's candidate the largest vote and largest majority in the Electoral College ever given a party candidate.”* Mr. Taft carried two States only, Mr. Roosevelt five. Congress was made Democratic and the Republicans lost the Legislatures of nine States. While the Democratic party offered little encouragement to suffrage, the Republican machine was broken or out of repair in most of the States where campaigns were pending and the strong attitude of the new minority party presented a warning to both old parties to treat the suffrage question with fairness.
To emphasize this attitude three more suffrage States were won in the 1912 election, and a controversy, almost as effective, was aroused as to whether three more might not have been added to the suffrage list by an honest count.
Inevitably the new Congress showed far keener interest in the suffrage question. Six representatives insisted upon the privilege of introducing the usual resolution. The Democrats, in concession to changed conditions, gave the chairmanship of the Senate Suffrage Committee to one of their own party, Senator Charles S. Thomas of Colorado. The Committee was favorable. In the Senate body there were now eighteen Senators elected by constituencies wherein both men and women voted.
It was about this time that the suffrage struggle in America began to be complicated by the influence of earlier developments in the suffrage struggle in England. Since 1906 a militant campaign had been raging in Great Britain with demonstrations manufactured by the women to bait the police, the consequent arrests of women duly enlisted to go to prison, followed by imprisonment with hard labor, hunger strikes, forcible feeding and temporary releases for hospital treatment. This shocking story daily repeated had carried an important message to Americans. Many learned for the first time that women in Great Britain had long been voters and only lacked the parliamentary vote to make their suffrage privileges equal to those of men. They learned that no parliamentary suffrage measure could pass unless it became part of the government program and that Premier Asquith, supported by his Cabinet, refused to grant it that assistance.
Women familiar with the home struggle in America perceived that the crux of the British and American suffrage problem was the same, a minority, holding control of a party, was checkmating the majority in that party who were willing to move forward. American men, seeing the injustice of British men, began to apply reason to the home attitude upon the same question. Condemning the women who were deliberately creating the turmoil, and the politicians who met every seemingly ridiculous move of the women with one equally ridiculous, they nevertheless began to think.
Although the militant movement had divided opinion in that country as in all others,* it taught many suffragists the world around that spectacular events carried suffrage message to the masses of the people as suffrage appeals to reason never could, and immediately such features, shorn of militant character, were introduced into State campaigns in America. Many American suffragists including Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, then president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, had marched in London suffrage parades and were familiar with the helpful as well as the harmful effects of militant tactics. When, therefore, after the annual suffrage convention of November, 1912, Miss Alice Paul, an American who had done prison duty in the English campaign, approached the National Suffrage Association, of which Dr. Shaw was the president, with the suggestion that she be permitted to organize a suffrage parade at the Presidential inaugural in March, 1913, and offered to raise the necessary funds, the Board gladly accepted the offer, gave her the prestige of the chairmanship of its Congressional Committee and provided her with stationery of the Association and the list of its usual contributors.
The Washington suffrage parade was organized with the assistance and co-operation of the entire National Suffrage Association. The preparations were well and elaborately made and between eight and ten thousand women marched. Public interest can be measured by a press story that was carried to the far corners of the nation. “Where,” asked one of the incoming President's staff upon the arrival of the presidential party in Washington, “where are all the people?”—“Watching the suffrage parade,” the police told him.
As it fell out, the treatment given the parade proved of far more importance to woman suffrage than the parade itself. In the city governed directly by Congress the marching women were shockingly used. “Women were spat upon, slapped in the face, tripped up, pelted with burning cigar stubs and insulted by jeers and obscene language too vile to print or repeat.”—“Rowdies seized and mauled young girls.”—“A very gray-haired college woman was knocked down.”—“The parade was continually stopped by the turbulence of the crowd.”*
Assistance was called from Ft. Meyer and soldiers brought to the rescue. The parade, however, was largely spoiled. The thousands of men and women who gathered on the sidewalks to see the much advertised spectacle were robbed of a view of the novel floats and colorful costuming, but the failure of the police to maintain order, and not the procession itself, gave the chief contribution to suffrage progress.
Many Senators and Representatives with wives and friends, marched in the procession and saw the treatment accorded the marchers. The Senate promptly voted an investigation and the findings filled a volume. The press united in the declaration that Washington was disgraced, and as an outcome the Chief of Police was dismissed. The dissemination of the news of these events day after day brought discussion on the subject of woman suffrage to every hamlet in the land, but more important than all else it brought debate, live, earnest debate, to the cloakrooms of Senate and House, where it flourished until the end.
In December, 1913, the annual suffrage convention met in Washington and the delegates heard the report of its Congressional Committee with mingled feelings of satisfaction at the lively campaign that had been steadily conducted and surprise over certain facts recorded. Much has been erroneously said and written concerning the breaking away of a smaller body of suffragists from the larger parent body which marked this period. Throughout the last years of the suffrage campaign it was a daily feature of anti-suffrage tactics to scout the National Suffrage Association's oft-repeated assertions that all connection with the new organization had been severed and to try to direct toward the parent body the antagonism aroused by the militant tactics of its offspring. Politicians, too, found it convenient to insist that all suffragists and all suffrage tactics were, subrosa, of the same parent organization, and thereupon used the expedients of the militants as a smoke screen of excuse for opposition to the very principle of suffrage. The facts with regard to the dissociation of the small body of militants from the large body of non-militants in the American suffrage struggle were as follows:
While officially connected with the National Suffrage Association, in charge of its congressional work, and writing on its stationery, the Association's congressional chairman had created a new organization on the plan of the English militant society. The new group called itself the Congressional Union and had launched a paper as its organ. Yet the program of work and disbursements of the Committee of the National had been so interwoven with the work and disbursements of the new organization that the joint chairman of both declared that it was impossible to separate them. After due consideration the Board of the National Suffrage Association decided that it was inadvisable to reappoint Miss Paul chairman of the Congressional Committee unless she resigned as chairman of the Congressional Union. The constant confusion of the Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association with the Congressional Union, an organized society, was making such action inevitable. But Miss Paul refused to accept these terms.
It had long been predicted that a militant movement similar to that of Great Britain would be reproduced in the United States. Many suffragists hoped to avert this division by adopting the new methods which had helped and discarding those which had clearly harmed the movement. Many delegates to that suffrage convention in 1913 saw in the attitude of the chairman of the Congressional Committee a dark conspiracy to capture the entire “National” for the militant enterprise. Others recognized the inefficiency of disintegrated forces in the closing days of the long struggle and made earnest efforts to prevent a division by persuading the young militants to work under the old banner, but to no avail.
The Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association was a standing committee and thereafter the work went on with renewed energy under a new chairman. The Congressional Union also continued to work with Congress as an independent body, thus making two committees in Washington working for the same thing but with no plan of co-operation from that time forth.
The Congressional Committee opened a new headquarters in Washington and took a complete poll of Senate and House. The handicaps inevitable when two separate committees are trying to accomplish the same end were soon manifest. To illustrate: The revival of the movement to establish a suffrage standing committee in the House had been begun in 1913 with the approval of the executive board of the National Suffrage Association. Now came the Congressional Union with a petition to the Democrats to caucus on the subject. Vainly the Congressional Committee sought to persuade the Union from thus aligning the Democrats against the project. Aligning the Democrats against the project was exactly what the Union wished to accomplish in order that the Democrats should be put on record as a party in opposition. The Union, following its English model, was preparing to “hold the party in power responsible.” In vain did the Committee expostulate that no party can be “the government” in this country as it is in Great Britain, since one party may conduct the national administration and the other control the Congress; one may control the entire national business, executive and legislative, and the other many State Legislatures.
The Democrats were easily enough persuaded to caucus and “not only voted against a standing committee on woman suffrage but Mr. Heflin of Alabama amended the resolution before the caucus so that the members of the caucus were enabled to vote definitely that the woman suffrage question was one to be determined by the States and not by the national government.”*
The three main differences of policy between the National Suffrage Association and its young offshoot, the Congressional Union, soon developed. The Congressional Union (1) opposed congressional candidates because they belonged to the “party in power” regardless of their personal stand; (2) it opposed an entire “party in power” because some of its individual members of Congress were hostile to woman suffrage; (3) it used so-called militant methods which the National did not endorse.
In accord with this policy it now announced its intention of campaigning against all Democratic candidates in the States where women were enfranchised. Meanwhile, the Congressional Committee, in full realization that the Senate would not give a majority, forced a vote on suffrage on March 19, 1914, resulting in a record of yeas 35, nays 34. Western Democrats were thus given the opportunity to make a public record of their individual attitudes.
The year witnessed the proclamation of the Sixteenth Amendment, the first in forty-three years, authorizing the income tax, and the suffrage amendment lost the place its leaders had so anxiously hoped their amendment would fill. The suffrage amendment was thereafter for a time called the Seventeenth but when the Seventeenth Amendment, dealing with the election of Senators, was adopted, it became plain that the progress of suffrage in the Congress was too slow to hold a numerical place on the amendment schedule, so the suffrage amendment was thereafter called the Federal Suffrage Amendment by the National Suffrage Association.
Shortly after the Senate vote a bomb was thrown into the national suffrage camp by its own Congressional Committee. The poll of the Senate indicated that not only foes but many friends of suffrage were insisting that the question was one that the States should settle, and the Chairman of the Congressional Committee, assisted by her co-workers, conceived a plan to meet this objection. State workers were complaining that they could not secure referenda from Legislatures, and could not win them when submitted, if a majority of votes cast at the election were required. So a new amendment was drawn up, proposing that when an initiative petition, signed by eight per cent of the electors voting at the preceding general election, should request the submission of woman suffrage, such question should be submitted, and a majority of those voting should be sufficient for its adoption.
The object was to increase the number of suffrage States and the measure was intended by its authors as a support to the pending Federal Suffrage Amendment. The national suffrage board reluctantly permitted its introduction, although when Dr. Shaw retired from the presidency, she announced that she had never approved it. The amendment was introduced in the Senate by Senator Shafroth of Colorado and in the House by Representative Palmer of Pennsylvania, and was promptly voted out of the committees to which it had been reported. It bore influentially on the annual suffrage convention in November, 1914, where it was voted that every means within the National Suffrage Association's power, in the future as in the past, should be used to further the Federal Suffrage Amendment and “such other legislation as the National Board may authorize and initiate” in support of that amendment. At the mid-year conference of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in June, 1915, a motion to drop work on the so-called Shafroth Amendment was defeated, 21 ayes, 57 nays.
Misunderstanding and confusion in the ranks, occasioned by the charge of the Congressional Union that the National Suffrage Association had substituted a referendum amendment for that which it had been supporting for a generation; the clamor within and without the National Suffrage Association for repudiation of the anti-Democratic policy of the Union; continual complaint from campaign States that Union sympathizers were pulling off workers because “there was an easier way” brought a complexity of troublesome problems which tremendously increased the strain of suffrage leaders and workers.
The Shafroth Amendment was withdrawn just in time to prevent a definite split in the National Suffrage Association. Many suffragists believed that while it had precipitated an agony of differences, on the whole the proposal had been good interim strategy, for the arguments for and against had served to bring the question of suffrage by federal amendment still more prominently to the front. Moreover, State suffrage auxiliaries had been solidified in their allegiance to the National Suffrage Association's policy by the agitation.
The campaigns against Democrats, waged by the Union in the West, aroused the antagonism of voters in the Eastern State campaigns, and many Democrats excused themselves for voting “no” at the polls because women voters in the West were being urged to oppose Democratic candidates. Workers in all referenda campaigns were convinced that this influence swelled the opposition to a considerable degree. On the other hand, the campaign of the Union did not suffice to put the party in power out. Instead of the eighteen Democrats from the suffrage States in the 1913-1914 Congress there were nineteen in the 1915-1916 Congress.
That Congress was reopened in an irritated state of mind. All Republicans and Democrats in Senate or House were outspoken in their condemnation of the “party responsible” plan, and the National Suffrage Association's Congressional Committee was obliged to soothe before attempting to persuade.
But the campaign in Washington went vigorously forward, hearings, interviews and home pressure forming the main aims. The Chairman of the Judiciary was determined that the Amendment should not come to vote in the House; the Democrats caucussed and determined to prevent a vote. Nevertheless, the question was at length brought to vote by Representative Mondell of Wyoming, on January 12, 1915, after a ten hours' debate, and resulted in 174 ayes, 204 noes. Eighty-six Democrats and eighty-eight Republicans and Progressives voted yes; 171 Democrats and thirty-three Republicans voted no.
Meanwhile the State campaigns were awhirl with activities undreamt of in earlier days. November recorded the defeat of the suffrage referenda in four Eastern States, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Jersey, but the fact that 1,234,000 Eastern men had voted yes was not overlooked by the Congress.
Then, too, by that hour the great and terrible agency which brought about the downfall of much of the old social and political order and made way for much that was new was having a tremendous effect on woman suffrage by revolutionizing the whole sphere of women. That agency was the world war. From overseas the news kept coming that women, as always in war time, were taking the places of men on farms and in factories, but more than that now, they were doing the work in munition plants, running the railways, keeping the post offices, and managing hospitals. The National American Woman Suffrage Association allowed no Congressman or legislator to remain in ignorance of these facts, should he overlook them in the press. He was reminded of them in conversation, at dinners, and on tennis courts; they were handed to him in typewriting, sent him through the mails and told him by his fellow members in the cloak-rooms. They were to prove a salient part of the education of the American Congress on the subject of the American woman's sphere.*