The States That Did Not Ratify
It is doubtful if any man, even among suffrage men, ever realized what the suffrage struggle came to mean to women before the end was allowed in America. How much of time and patience, how much work, energy and aspiration, how much faith, how much hope, how much despair went into it. It leaves its mark on one, such a struggle. It fills the days and it rides the nights. Working, eating, drinking, sleeping, it is there. Not all women in all the States of the Union were in the struggle. There were some women in every State who knew nothing about it. But most women in all the States were at least on the periphery of its effort and interest when they were not in the heart of it. To them all its success became a monumental thing. The action of their respective Legislatures in ratifying the Federal Suffrage Amendment was greeted by the women of every State with a vast State pride and gratification because that commonwealth stood forth before the world as an upholder of the American ideal of democracy.
To the women of ten States of the Union this pride and gratification were denied. The men of ten States left it to the generosity of the men of other States to enfranchise their own wives, mothers, sisters, daughters. One of the ten was Delaware—the only one north of the Mason and Dixon line. The other nine were Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.
In preceding pages it has been set forth that the original plan of the opposition was to secure thirteen refusals to ratify. This was later modified into a plan to secure the adoption of forthright rejection resolutions in thirteen States. If this had proved successful it would have been next in order to ask for a Proclamation of Defeat. By the use of this rejection resolution, it was hoped, too, to raise the question whether a succeeding Legislature could adopt an amendment that the preceding Legislature had formally rejected. The rejection resolution read:—
Resolved, by the General Assembly of the State of — the House and the Senate concurring, That the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States be, and hereby is, rejected as an unwarranted, unnecessary, undemocratic and dangerous interference with the rights reserved to the States or to the people in both State and Federal Constitutions, and be it further,
Resolved, That a copy of this resolution be filed with the Secretary of the United States as the expressed will of the people of — as registered in their constitution and by their elected representatives in the General Assembly to retain the fundamental rights of local self-government vested in the States or in the people; and be it further,
Resolved, That we call upon our sister States of the Union to uphold and defend the right of each State to decide who shall vote for its own officers, and to oppose and reject any amendment to the Constitution of the United States that would transfer control of State franchises to the Federal Congress without the consent of the people themselves as duly exercised under their several State Constitutions.
The resolution used was practically the same in all States except that the words “unwarranted,” “unnecessary,” “undemocratic” and “dangerous” were used interchangeably.
The keynote of the opposition that was to be directed against ratification of the Federal Suffrage Amendment by the Southern States had been struck as early as June 10, 1919, just six days after the submission of the Amendment, in a statement issued by Senator Lee S. Overman of North Carolina. The prominence of Senator Overman in Administration councils, his long service in the Senate and his prestige throughout the South made an indelible impression upon those to whom his message was directed.
“In my opinion,” said he, “the Woman Suffrage Amendment just adopted by Congress is a reaffirmation of the Fifteenth Amendment. I wonder if this is appreciated throughout the South? This latter amendment simply goes a step further than the Fifteenth Amendment. In addition to saying that the right of suffrage shall not be abridged by reason of race, color or previous condition of servitude the new amendment adds the word ‘sex.’ The language is not identical, but it is evident that the Woman Suffrage resolution is a postcript to the former amendment, which we have always opposed in the South. . . . The illiterate colored woman, for instance, irrespective of her non-conception of the duties of citizenship, may vote and pair with the most intelligent woman of the Caucasian race. Congress reserves the right of ‘appropriate legislation’ to enforce this mandate, regardless of the State. That is the condition in a nutshell. I wonder if woman suffrage advocates in the South have taken into consideration all the embarrassing features possible under such legislation.”
Through the years since the “Force bill” had ceased to be operative there had been talk of its revival and the dread of that possibility ever hung over the heads of Southern legislators like the sword of Damocles. Coincident with the passage of the Federal Woman Suffrage Amendment had come the demand for “self-determination” on the part of the black people of the Southern States. A dispatch from Paris the last week of June, 1919, had carried the story of the appearance there of an American Negro, William Trotter, who was seeking to have the Negro question taken up by the Peace Conference along with the Irish, Jewish and other “racial” questions. This demand created a further disturbance in the minds of representatives from Southern States.
There was also the occasional question whether Southern representation in Congress should be reduced in accord with the federal constitution. There had been threats of this in political conventions. Threats might become an actuality. Damaging figures could be arrayed against the South. In 1916, 159,749 votes cast in Georgia elected 12 members of Congress, while 999,781 votes in California elected 11 members of Congress. In other words, 13,312 votes in Georgia had as much power as 90,889 votes in California.
Spread out on the record this precarious position of justice in the South was a menace to the whole Democratic party at each election. The leaders of that party were not blind to the danger. Every effort was made by them to persuade Southern Legislatures to ratify the Federal Suffrage Amendment. They prophesied that the rejection of the Amendment in these States not only meant certain defeat for the Democratic Party at the polls in 1920 but that the hostility of Northern women voters might be aroused to the extent of insisting on enforcing the Fifteenth Amendment, “with all the horror of racial strife and loss of self-government.”
President Wilson wired the Governors of all the Southern States urging ratification from the viewpoint of expediency and warning them that the National Democratic party's success was at stake. Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer, and the Chairman of the National Democratic Committee, Homer Cummings, also sent urgent requests to party leaders and to members of the Legislatures. The only outcome was the condemnation of the President, who was called a “meddler,” and resentment against the national chairman for what was termed “outside interference.”
The press in many of the Southern States was favorable. It scored the legislators for their ignorance and unprogressiveness. The Press of Savannah, Georgia, said: “The majority of the Legislature is opposed to suffrage. Of course we can't blame them for that. The fault is not theirs that their intellects are limited or their consciences dwarfed. We, the people, have elected them. We are to blame, not they. No rational person hopes to defeat the Amendment. All that can possibly be done is to write down Georgia as one of the few, if not the only State, that opposes right and justice with her own feeble bulk.”
Georgia, the “Empire State” of the South as she is self-styled, was the first to reject the Federal Suffrage Amendment. In well informed circles there was no great surprise over this action. Before the session convened members of the Georgia auxiliary to the National American Woman Suffrage Association and their friends in the Legislature realized the impossibility of ratification and decided to wait a year in the hope of a growing suffrage sentiment. Usually when the advocates of a measure withhold it, the opponents make no objection. Not so in Georgia. The opposition introduced ratification resolutions in Senate and House for the announced purpose of defeating them. “Never in any legislative body have the opponents of a measure shown themselves so bloodthirsty and vindictive” declared a Representative on the floor. In both Houses these resolutions were referred to the Committees on Constitutional Amendments, one of which had five bills proposing to amend the State Constitution so as to enfranchise women, on which no action had ever been taken. When the joint hearing was held, a rejection resolution was substituted. In both committees the vote was unfavorable to suffrage.
In the Senate the report was unexpectedly called a few days later and a motion to disagree with the Committee report was lost. As ratification was considered hopeless, friends in the Senate attempted to postpone action indefinitely by a filibuster which lasted for several days and was the means of recommitting the entire suffrage question to the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, with the understanding that it would remain there the balance of the session. But July 24, the same day that this agreement was made, a rejection resolution was introduced in the Senate, reported favorably by the Committee and, after several hours' debate, was carried. The Senate also voted down a proposition to submit a suffrage amendment to the State Constitution. On the same day the rejection resolution was carried in the House.
During the debate in the Senate a bitter attack was made on the Amendment with many acrimonious and personal references. It was called “a vicious piece of legislation.” Susan B. Anthony was declared “the worst enemy the South ever had.” One Senator affirmed, “we opponents of the Amendment are trying to save the women of Georgia from a repetition of reconstruction days. It is not a question of woman suffrage but of protecting Georgia womanhood.” Another said: “It would deprive the South of every right to control its own suffrage and place it forever under the dominant North.” He “cared not what position the Democratic Party took in the matter,” he “would insist on Georgia recording what she believed to be a vital matter of right even if her action ends the life of what was once the Democratic Party.” Still another said: “Women should not be allowed to vote. Their privilege and obligation is to bear children . . . the sole intent of this voting privilege is to equalize white women with Negro women . . . these suffragists, men and women, are out with a propaganda for race suicide. Women are now refusing to bear children because of the policy of woman suffrage; women who vote came here to induce Georgia women to refuse to bear children which was the sole aim and end for having women at all, according to Bible doctrine.”
In the House the final period of debate was one of the most tempestuous since the reconstruction days. At times there were a dozen Representatives on their feet at the same time, clamoring for recognition. The grant of unanimous consent gave opportunity for a parliamentary battle exceeding in interest anything that the Georgia Legislature had ever indulged in. During the debate one proponent of suffrage said: “I heard it stated that a very high official in the Democratic Party in this State has publicly announced that if the suffrage is given to women he will quit the Party. But where will he go? The Republicans are for it. The Socialists stand upon it. Even the Bolsheviks are on this platform. If we take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the earth, we will find it in Russia, in Germany, in England, in Scandinavia, in Switzerland and the islands of the sea. It would be interesting to see the eminent gentleman, like Noah's dove, finding no place for his foot till with wearied wing he comes back to the ark of his fathers.”
Both Senate and House passed resolutions rejecting the Suffrage Amendment, the subject-matter of both being practically the same, but neither resolution was passed by both Houses. As there was no joint resolution no resolution ever reached the Governor, so the action was null and void. By over-reaching itself Georgia's virulence was, officially, as if it had not been. If the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House had been less anxious to send the official notice of the rejection of the Federal Suffrage Amendment to the Congress they might have remembered that they had failed to sign a joint resolution.
According to one newspaper, “Alabama craved the privilege of being first to reject the Federal Suffrage Amendment without a technicality.” She was. From the beginning of the ratification campaign there was evidence of a determination on the part of Alabama's United States Senators that the adverse vote they had registered against the Federal Suffrage Amendment in Washington should be vindicated by their State Legislature. The defeat of ratification in Alabama can, therefore, be laid squarely at the door of the Democratic Senators Oscar W. Underwood and John H. Bankhead. Governor Kilby and Lieutenant-Governor, Nathan L. Miller, both maintained neutral attitudes. The liquor opposition worked openly. The national Democratic leaders urged ratification on the grounds of party expediency, all the more because the Republicans were claiming credit for nine of the eleven ratifications already secured at that time. The State Democratic Committee, 20 to 13, adopted a resolution which read, “We pledge our support in every proper way to accomplish the result desired.” But the opposition machine was welloiled and not a cog in a single wheel failed to turn. Governor Kilby transmitted the resolution without recommendation. By joint resolution the Senate and House were to act simultaneously on July 17, but the House broke the agreement and the Senate alone took action. After defeating a motion to defer action and one to postpone indefinitely, the Senate passed a resolution to reject the Amendment.
The women hoped for postponement in the House, as the rejection resolution carried the provision that a message should be sent to the federal Secretary of State, the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House before the State of Alabama could be recorded as rejecting the Amendment. On August 13, the Republican minority in the Legislature, five members in the House and one in the Senate, issued a statement declaring that they intended to vote in favor of ratification in accordance with the mandate from their party. But on September 2 the Senate defeated the ratification resolution and on the 17th the House adopted the rejection resolution.
No one had expected Mississippi to ratify, though members of the Mississippi auxiliary to the National American woman Suffrage Association pointed to the statement of Senator John Sharp Williams as indicating encouragement. He favored “a white woman's primary in which the women of the State might say whether they wanted the ballot or not.” He was “inclined to woman suffrage” and thought that “with safeguards it might be made a bulwark of white supremacy in the State.” There was also the favorable attitude of State officials. Retiring Governor Theodore G. Bilbo had replied to Governor Burnquist of Minnesota, when he took the poll of Governors, that the Mississippi Legislature would be called in the autumn and he expected ratification. His farewell message, delivered in person, closed with the words “Woe to that man who raises his hand against the onward march of this progressive movement.” The newly elected Governor, Lee M. Russell, in his inaugural address January 20 devoted more time to the question of ratification than to any other topic. Mississippi women argued that their legislators could not consistently urge State's rights as a reason for not ratifying, because the same legislators had ratified the prohibition amendment in fifteen minutes' time, and the same principle was involved. They did not know the elasticity of a Mississippi legislator's logic. The men who did not hesitate to ratify a federal amendment under which it was made a crime for a man to buy a bottle of beer in New York, refused to ratify a federal amendment which placed the white women of their State on the same constitutional level as the colored men.
Without warning to the friends of suffrage a rejection resolution was offered in the House on January 21. It was not referred to a committee but rushed to a vote and, amid cheers and laughter, after ten minutes' debate it was carried. The resolution was sent to the Senate and by it referred to the Committee on Constitution. A new resolution ratifying the Amendment was then presented and failed of adoption. Then the rejection resolution was re-committed to the Constitution Committee, where it rested until March 30, when in Committee of the Whole a ratification resolution was substituted. The vote in the Senate was ayes 22; nays 22, the Lieutenant-Governor H. H. Casteel, breaking the tie and casting an affirmative vote. News of this favorable action spread all over the country and the suffrage centre of interest was suddenly shifted from Republican Delaware to Democratic Mississippi. Telegrams came pouring into Mississippi, offering congratulations and appealing to the House to make Mississippi the thirty-sixth State.
When the substitute resolution to ratify was presented to the House the next day, March 31, a motion as made that the House “do not concur with the Senate resolution of ratification.” Hoots, catcalls and jeers drowned the words of speakers. In the midst of the confusion calls for the vote became loud and insistent. The author of three State suffrage bills introduced at this session attempted to speak against ratification. Representative R. H. Watts of Rankin County interpolated, “I would rather die and go to hell than vote for woman suffrage.” And the press said, “The boys cheered nearly a minute.”
The substitute resolution was read at 3 o'clock, at 3:15 the vote had been taken; the resolution to ratify announced as defeated, and the clerk was reading another bill. A curious incident of the suffrage action in Mississippi was that the Legislature later passed bills making provision for the women to vote in primary and general elections, both contingent upon the ratification of the Federal Suffrage Amendment!
The same Legislature passed a suffrage referendum bill which was voted on in November, 1920, after the enfranchisement of women, and received ayes 39,186; nays, 24,296. Even in Mississippi the people were for suffrage, more than three to two. But the amendment was not adopted, as the law requires a majority of all the votes cast in an election. By then, however, women had already been enfranchised under the Federal Suffrage Amendment. Unfortunately for Southern women, the State law in Mississippi required registration four months and in Georgia six months before election. Since ratification was not completed until August, the women in these two States were barred from voting in 1920, the only States where women were not allowed to participate in the election.
South Carolina women had no illusions about ever securing the vote from South Carolina men through ratification or otherwise. Their experience in 1917 with a State referendum bill, defeated by the Senate and withdrawn at the women's request from the House, because they knew it would fail, had given them a realization that their legislators did not favor votes for women by any method whatsoever. One newspaper made it plain from the beginning that “the electorate, and the General Assembly of South Carolina representing it, will never vote for woman suffrage for no better reason than that other States vote for it. Nor will the State be governed by the exigencies of the National Democratic party or any other party when it considers the matter of limiting or expanding its electorate.”
On January 14, 1920, the joint resolution to ratify was introduced and referred to the Judiciary Committee which reported it unfavorably. In the House on January 22 a concurrent resolution to reject the Amendment was carried. This House action of voting on a measure without referring it to a committee or placing it on the calendar was unprecedented. In debate a speaker wanted “a joint resolution which will kill the infernal thing now and forever.” Another said he had told some of the women lobbyists that “more hell and the devil would be raised over this thing than anything else.” On January 29 the rejection resolution was carried in the Senate.
The Virginia Legislature assembled on August 13, 1919, in special session and the Federal Suffrage Amendment was submitted by the Governor without recommendation. As the session was called specifically for good roads and as answers to a questionnaire submitted to members showed that it would be impossible to obtain ratification, the Virginia auxiliary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association intended to wait for the regular session of 1920 to press for action. However, the opponents of suffrage hurried through a rejection proposal in the House without debate ten minutes before the 1919 adjournment. The Senate voted to postpone action until the next session.
In 1920 conditions in Virginia were not greatly improved for, although there were 61 new members in the two Houses who had been elected since the last Legislature, it was acknowledged to be not only a reactionary but a very wet body. These men resented the ratification of the prohibition amendment and it had crystallized their sentiment against the approval of any federal legislation.
The Federal Relations Committee reported in favor of the rejection resolution. In both Senate and House a ratification resolution and another to refer ratification to the voters were substituted for the rejection resolution.
In the Senate on February 6, after a debate of twelve hours, the rejection resolution was adopted by a vote of 24 to 10 and on February 12 the House also adopted it by a vote of 62 to 22.
Although the Virginia legislators voted against the Federal Suffrage Amendment, they knew that it would be ratified and on March 12 a Qualifications Bill to enable Virginia women to vote contingent on ratification of the Federal Amendment and a resolution to submit to the voters a woman suffrage amendment to the State Constitution were adopted by both Houses. This action was intended to appear magnanimous. But it appeared only futile. In Virginia a referendum amendment must pass two consecutive Legislatures and then be submitted to the voters for their decision before it becomes a law. As only three States were then needed to complete ratification, Virginia women would be enfranchised under the Federal Suffrage Amendment long before the Virginia referendum could reach the voters.
All the Republican Senators in the Virginia Legislature voted for ratification, but most of the Democratic Senators and members of the Lower House ignored the request to ratify that came from the head of their own party, the President of the United States. They publicly declared that as far as they were concerned their party “could go to smash,” “that Democracy could go down,” that “it makes little difference in Virginia who has control of the Government in Washington.” They scorned the hundreds of telegrams and letters from their own constituents and the 32,000 State petitioners requesting ratification. As one Senator said, “They set their minds in defiance of justice and fair dealing. They didn't get the pulse of the times.”
In Maryland, as in other States, the women had tried for many years to get some form of suffrage from their Legislature but without success. When the Federal Suffrage Amendment was submitted in June of 1920 pressure was at once brought by the Maryland auxiliary to the National American Woman Suffrage Association to induce Governor Harrington to call a special session, but he advised waiting until the regular session because the Legislature had not been elected with the question of the Amendment before the people. After the regular session convened January 7, 1920, the ratification resolution was introduced in the Senate and sent to the Committee on Federal Relations, while in the House it was sent to the Committee on Constitutional Amendments. A hearing was set for February 11, but when informed that the date was inconvenient for speakers and suffrage leaders who would be in Chicago attending the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the chairman of the Senate Committee agreed to postpone the hearing until the 18th. The surprise of the suffragists was therefore great when on February 10, at the reconvening of the session, the chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments insisted on the hearing for February 11. A canvass of the Committee showed a majority in favor of the date being February 18, so the suffragists returned to their homes.
Next morning Baltimore papers announced that the hearing would be held Feb. 11. The suffragists learned that the preceding night the Speaker had transferred the Suffrage Amendment from the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, which was favorable, to the Committee on Federal Relations, which was hostile! None of the members of the Suffrage Ratification Committee spoke at the hearing. The House Committee refused a hearing; the Senate Committee granted one for February 17. Early that morning, suffragists gathered from all over the State and at 10:30, led by a band, they marched into the State House. They presented resolutions and petitions representing over 125,000 residents of Maryland. The women made their appeal to Governor Ritchie, successor to Governor Harrington. Answering, he said that the platform of the Democratic party of the State on which he was elected opposed suffrage and that he could not ask the legislators to repudiate their platforms. Early in the afternoon the rejection resolution was reported favorably and carried in both Senate and House. In the House 33 of the 45 Republicans and 2 of the 56 Democrats, and in the Senate 7 Republicans and 2 Democrats voted against the rejection resolution.
As a visible demonstration of its belief in State's rights, on February 24, the Senate and House voted to send seven anti-suffrage members to West Virginia to urge that Legislature to reject the amendment. The next day two resolutions were introduced in the Legislature. One was to “repeal, rescind and recall the resolutions ratifying the so-called Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” The other authorized and requested the Governor of Maryland to call on the national government, in behalf of the State of Maryland to “have the so-called Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act declared null and void.”
On March 30, by a vote of 20 to 7, the Senate passed a joint resolution “authorizing and directing the Attorney-General of Maryland to bring suit or suits to prevent the Secretary of the United States from proclaiming the Federal Suffrage Amendment prior to the holding of a referendum thereon in certain States, and to test the validity, should the same be ratified by the elected Legislatures of three-fourths of the States.”
In September, just before the Legislature adjourned, it was discovered that the resolution of rejection had not been sent officially to the Governor of the State and by him to the Secretary of State in Washington. It was brought before both Houses again on September 22, at which time the ratification resolution was voted down.
There was great expectation in Democratic circles that North Carolina would ratify. Democratic leaders emphasized that the Republican States of Connecticut, Vermont and Delaware having failed, it would be of strategic value if the Democratic party could get the glory of the thirty-sixth ratification. Furthermore, it was maintained that if the North Carolina Legislature defeated the Suffrage Amendment it would defeat the Democratic candidate for President in November; while if it ratified it would virtually assure success to the Democratic party in November.
Of all the Southern States North Carolina now presented the greatest hope, not only because of the number of prominent men in federal and State positions in favor of ratification, but because the North Carolina press was almost a unit for it. The Republican State convention in March had for the first time seated two women delegates and had put a woman on the ticket for State Superintendent of Public Instruction; in April the Democratic State convention had seated forty women; United States Senator Simmons and Governor T. W. Bickett, always opponents of suffrage had announced themselves in favor of ratification. The only discouraging symptom was the attitude of United States Senator Overman who said, “I have been and still am opposed to woman suffrage. It is fundamental with me, deep and inborn . . . but I recognize the fact that it seems inevitable.”
Could the Democratic convention which was held in April of 1920 have dodged the question and deferred action, undoubtedly it would. But the friends of ratification were there in force. The suffrage plank as it came from the Committee recommended that the Federal Suffrage Amendment should not be ratified but that a State amendment should be submitted to the voters. Two minority reports were offered, one to present to the convention the question whether the platform should contain a plank for ratification, and the other to eliminate all reference to woman suffrage. Men said that never in the history of the Democratic party in North Carolina had there been such a contest over a platform. Finally a substitute was presented for all the reports which read: “This Convention recommends to the Democratic members of the General Assembly that at the approaching special session they vote in favor of the ratification of the proposed Nineteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution.” This was carried 585 to 428.
The attention of the whole country thereupon focussed on North Carolina and many people believed that this convention majority, though small, forecast favorable action in the Legislature. Early in the summer, in response to an appeal by President Wilson, Governor Bickett had replied in part, “I hope the Tennessee Legislature will meet and ratify the Amendment and thus make immediate action by North Carolina unnecessary. We have neither the time nor money and such action on the part of Tennessee would save this State the feeling of bitterness that would surely be engendered by debate on the subject that would come up in the Legislature. I have said all that I intend to say on the subject of ratification. While I will take my medicine, I will never swear that it tastes good, for it doesn't.”
The North Carolina political situation was further complicated by an exciting Gubernatorial primary. There were three candidates in the field for Governor. Two of them opposed ratification and one made defeat of the Federal Suffrage Amendment his chief issue.
On August 10 the Legislature met in special session to consider questions of taxation. The enemies of ratification had been busy; on August 11 a round-robin signed by sixty-three House members was sent to the General Assembly of Tennessee, which read: “We, the undersigned members of the House of Representatives of the General Assembly of North Carolina, constituting the majority of said body, send greetings to the General Assembly of Tennessee and assure you that we will not ratify the Federal Suffrage Amendment interfering with the sovereignty of Tennessee and other States of the Union. We most respectfully request that this measure be not forced upon the people of North Carolina.”
The news of this statement, as it flashed over the country, caused consternation in Democratic ranks. The fact that such action had been taken before the Legislature had really organized showed party leaders that a force determined to defeat ratification was at work. The ratificationists decided to make a sudden and decisive coup, and pursuant thereto on August 13, the Governor appeared before the joint Assembly. He said in part: “It is well known that I have never been impressed with the wisdom of or the necessity for woman suffrage in North Carolina. . . . But, gentlemen, in the words of Grover Cleveland, a condition not a theory confronts us. Woman suffrage is at hand. It is an absolute moral certainty that inside of six months some State will open the door and women will enter the political forum. No great movement in all history has ever gone so near the top and then failed to go over. . . . We may just as well realize, gentlemen, that this country is no longer an association of States but a nation. Whatever a majority of the people of the nation want is going to be the supreme law of the land. . . .I realize more keenly now than ever before that State's rights have passed away. . . . The very most this General Assembly can do is to delay for six months a movement it is powerless to defeat. This being true, I am profoundly convinced that it would be the part of wisdom and grace for North Carolina to accept the inevitable and ratify the Amendment.”
There was pathos in this courageous but reluctant recognition of and capitulation to the new order. It could not have been an easy task to stand before a Legislature representing two and one-half millions of North Carolina people and tell them that the political faith handed down by their fathers and grandfathers and treasured by them as fundamental bases of government were but musty relics of bygone days.
The Governor was severely criticized for asking the Assembly to ratify for party reasons without urging on members the sanctity of convention obligations. Republicans declared they were obeying the behests of their State and national conventions, even as Democrats should be expected to live up to theirs. The Republicans in Senate and House were resentful. The result of the Governor's message was to leave the Democrats unmoved and to incense the Republicans.
In the afternoon news came from Tennessee of the Senate victory and on the same day the resolution to ratify was introduced in the Senate of North Carolina, referred to the Committee on Constitutional Amendments and, within fifteen minutes, reported favorably, 7 to 1. Simultaneously the resolution was introduced in the House and referred to the Committee on Constitutional Amendments.
August 17, amid scenes which had not been witnessed since the days of the Civil War, the North Carolina Senate began consideration of ratification. Great crowds surged through the Capitol, the east wing being assigned to ratificationists and the west wing to rejectionists. For five hours a heated debate raged, with charges and counter-charges. When agreement to vote was reached a resolution was unexpectedly made to defer action until the regular meeting of the Legislature in 1921, and was carried 25 to 23. It is quite possible that when this resolution to block immediate action was introduced it took the friends of suffrage unawares, but it is also true that there were suffrage Senators who were glad to make use of any excuse to avoid a vote on the direct issue before the election.
The opposition forces planned to bring the ratification up under special order in the Lower House in the meantime and dispose of it quickly. “Call it up and kill it right” was the way the anti-suffrage floor leader described it. The ratification resolution was called up in the House on August 18 and defeated. A rejection resolution was immediately reported by the Constitutional Amendment Committee. It was tabled in the House without a dissenting voice. Thus closed the North Carolina chapter on ratification.
The attention of Democratic leaders next turned to Louisiana. The women there had early strengthened their position by uniting all organizations under one head called the Ratification Committee and there were many favorable assets. All of the newspapers in the State except four advocated the Federal Suffrage Amendment; Martin Behrman, Mayor of New Orleans, who had killed the State suffrage amendment in 1918, had not only become converted to woman suffrage but to ratification; the New Orleans Democratic Association and the State Central Committee were in favor.
The opposition centered in New Orleans where certain elements, mainly the liquor interests, aroused in the campaign of 1918, opposed woman suffrage in any form. And there was other opposition. On reaching Baton Rouge in April, suffragists from the National American Woman Suffrage Association saw women who had worked for suffrage for twenty-five years and more enlisted on the side of the anti-suffragists, because of their State's rights belief.
On May 10, the General Assembly convened and on the 11th the joint resolution for ratification was presented in both Houses, while a State amendment and a bill providing for the payment of poll taxes by the women, in case the State amendment became a law, were introduced in the House. On May 13, Governor Pleasant submitted the Federal Suffrage Amendment to both Houses with a message of many pages urging the Legislature not to ratify it but instead to submit a State amendment. On the same day arrived two anti-suffrage representatives from Maryland. They appealed to Louisiana to join hands with Maryland and kill the Federal Suffrage Amendment, and entered no protest against State suffrage if Louisiana should desire to adopt it.
On May 17, John M. Parker was inaugurated Governor. It had been expected by people throughout the country that Governor Parker would be of great assistance in the ratification campaign. As a Progressive, in 1916, he had been a candidate for Vice-President of the United States on a platform that endorsed suffrage by national amendment. In his campaign speeches in the autumn of 1920, while running for Governor, Mr. Parker had repeatedly said, “I am for suffrage; it is almost here and we must have it.” Yet there appeared mysteriously, with or without his knowledge, in many parts of the State copies of his platform containing a State's rights plank, presumably designed to placate those who were opposed to the Federal Suffrage Amendment. This was not known to the women and they were totally unprepared when, shortly after his inauguration, he announced that he “was going to keep hands off the suffrage fight; it was a matter for the Legislature anyway,” and even refused to receive a deputation of women from the Louisiana auxiliary to the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In answer to a telegram from President Wilson, urging his “interest and influence,” he answered that he found a great difference of opinion among the legislators, large numbers opposed to any kind of woman suffrage and, all being Democrats, any dictation on his part would be unwise.
Early in June a hearing was held in the House chamber. The hour was eight-thirty in the evening. One of the suffrage speakers reported to the National Suffrage Association: “I will never face anything more thrilling or more fearsome. I stood on the press platform just below the Speaker's desk, with the press people sitting all about me; legislators on the floor and on the aisle steps, the president and members of the National auxiliary in the seats with the legislators, or perched on the tops of the desks. . . . They were all over the place where they could be conspicuously seen and heard, especially heard. The audience was terribly near. I could touch the first of them and away up to the roof was a sea of faces. . . . I could not write my speech beforehand. It had to be born out of the inspiration of the day's events, the occasion and the other speeches. . . . When I looked at the men, most of them crouching behind an old tradition of State sovereignty and a pitiful makebelieve fear of Negro domination, I was filled with such indignation that my speech came tumbling out. . . . I challenged the quality of their democracy and said they voted with their party only because of one issue—the Negro question, but that in everything else they were more spiritually akin to Henry Cabot Lodge and the other Tories. The women raised one great shout and many of the men joined them. I told them that in the Mississippi Valley, on the border of the great West and out through all the reaches of the great West itself, no such word was known as the one reiterated over and over again in the Legislature of Louisiana and on the streets, and that was the word “sovereign” prefixed to the name of their State; that we knew no sovereign States, we knew only the United States, the Union, where more and more the selfish interests of sections were being merged in the common good of all people.”
Ex-Governor Pleasant, in his argument against ratification, said: “The South never has stood for the Fifteenth Amendment. It is true that seven Southern States are recorded as having ratified it, yet it was done by carpet-bag rule. It was ratified in these halls with Negroes sitting as legislators and a carpet-bag Governor in the office below. Ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment not only would give suffrage to the white women but to the Negro women of the State. If we ratify the Nineteenth Amendment we ratify the Fifteenth and give suffrage to the Negro man.”
Reviewing these arguments, Mr. Phanor Brezeale cried that he did not believe “that any law can be enacted that will let you, redblooded as you are, stand by and let the Negro vote. The death knell of force bills was sounded in '78 and you know it. I know it, too, because I was there in my parish with a gun, and the only reason that I was not imprisoned is that a friend furnished me a fast horse, and today there is a federal indictment pending against me up there. . . . I can promise you one thing and that is that if the Federal Amendment is ratified there'll be no Negro women voting in the parish of Natchitoches.”
That sentence caught the fancy of the crowd. “No, nor in Red River, either,” roared a deep voice. “Nor in Plaquemine.” “And they won't vote in Sabine, you can bet!” “Neither anywhere.” J. Y. Sanders, United States Congressman, appealing for ratification and answering the Negro argument, said in part: “There ain't but one thing—and you might as well remember it—that keeps Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama white and that is this: that we have decreed that the palladium of our liberty and the cornerstone of our civilization rests for all time in the white Democratic primary and that once the primary is over there is not, nor, under God's providence shall there ever be, any general election.”
From May 27 to July 8, Senate and House played football with the ratification, State suffrage and poll tax resolutions. In the meantime Champ Clark, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, addressed the General Assembly and urged ratification. In answer to an appeal from members of the National's auxiliary, Homer Cummings wired Mr. Behrman to help on the grounds of party advantage and James M. Cox, Governor of Ohio, Democratic nominee for President of the United States, wired members of the Legislature to act favorably, saying, “the Legislature owes such action to the Democratic Party.”
It was clear from the first that the State amendment was only a subterfuge, and as such it was killed. Ex-Governor Pleasant, its chief sponsor, was reported to have said that he did not care whether it went through or not, all he wanted was to kill ratification. With the resolution to let the voters of the State decide the question of woman suffrage by vote at the polls defeated, the poll tax resolution was withdrawn. The ratification resolution was defeated in the House and action indefinitely postponed in the Senate. The Legislature then completed its record before adjourning July 8 by passing the rejection resolution in the House and withdrawing it from the Senate files.
The Florida Legislature was still in session when the Federal Suffrage Amendment passed Congress, and on June 5, 1919, Sidney J. Catts, Governor, sent a message to the Legislature, pointing out that Florida could be the first State to ratify if it chose. “Move that the Governor's message be referred to the Committee on Unfinished Business,” yelled a chorus of voices. This was met with loud guffaws of laughter, as that is a committee that never reports. “Suffrage lost by skylarking in the House” read the newspaper headlines next day and under them was this: “The suffrage amendment resolution would no doubt have passed, as earlier in the session a resolution proposing submission of a State suffrage amendment had carried, but that the spirit of fun had permeated the House and practically killed all business.” The Legislature adjourned on June 6 without taking action on the Governor's message asking for ratification.
The constitution of Florida regarding ratification of federal amendments reads: “No convention or Legislature of this State shall act upon any amendment of the constitution of the United States proposed by Congress to the several States, unless such convention or Legislature shall have been elected after such amendment is submitted.” It was later that this same provision in the Tennessee constitution was held to be outruled, but even at this time it was known that the Legislature of Florida had ratified the federal prohibition amendment, though half of the members composing it were elected before the amendment was submitted.
To the request of the National Suffrage Association for a special session, the answer of the Governor was a most emphatic “no,” bolstered up with a statement which read: “I have no intention of calling the Legislature to consider the woman suffrage amendment. I did my best to pass the same at an extra and a regular session. The legislators were very much opposed and it would do no good to call them together again for the same purpose.”
There was, just the same, a continuation of appeals all through the year. Legislators were interviewed and no stone was left unturned to secure a session. Florida, as well as Tennessee, was affected by the decision of the United States Supreme Court regarding the Ohio referendum case, and when this decision came in June, 1920, and legal obstructions were by it set aside, it was hoped that Florida, where many towns had given municipal suffrage, would break the shackles that bound her to tradition and take her place as one of the ratifying States. But she did not. Florida was the only State in the Union that successfully evaded action.
During the last year of the campaign there hung on the wall at the national suffrage headquarters a large map of the United States which recorded the suffrage history of each State by a system of differently colored stars. When the campaign was completed, 38 of the States bore an additional star to show that they had ratified the Federal Suffrage Amendment while 9 had a black star to show that they had failed to ratify it. Florida had none. These black-starred States were in a row along the Atlantic seaboard from Delaware to Louisiana, the majority constituting the heart of what was once the Southern Confederacy.
But was the black record really made in defense of State's rights against federal dictation?
Not a bit of it. The proof? It was the South that led the campaign for prohibition by federal amendment. The measure was introduced in the Senate by a member from Texas, and of the nineteen Southern Senators who voted against the submission of the Federal Suffrage Amendment, fourteen voted to submit the federal prohibition amendment. Fifteen ratifications of the prohibition amendment took place the year following its submission. Eleven of them were those of Southern States. Every State that failed to ratify the woman suffrage amendment on the alleged ground of federal interference ratified the federal prohibition amendment.
An argument which claims that it is a violation of State's rights for New Jersey, Connecticut or Rhode Island to ratify woman suffrage and impose it upon South Carolina, Alabama or Georgia, which rejected it; but that it is no violation of State's rights for Southern States to ratify federal prohibition and impose it upon New Jersey, Connecticut or Rhode Island, which rejected it, is more ingenious than convincing.
To summarize: Of the ten States that did not ratify the Federal Suffrage Amendment, Florida took no action in either House; Georgia's vote was null and void as Senate and House did not act on a joint resolution; Delaware ratified in the Senate and refused to take action in the House; Mississippi ratified in the Senate and defeated ratification in the House; North Carolina voted to postpone action on the ratification resolution in the Senate and tabled the rejection resolution in the House; South Carolina passed a concurrent instead of a joint rejection resolution and each House voted on a different measure; Louisiana passed a rejection resolution in the House but the Senate Journal shows the rejection resolution to have been withdrawn from the Senate files; Maryland discovered just before the Legislature adjourned that its rejection of February 17 had not been officially conveyed to the federal Secretary of State and on September 22 voted down a ratification resolution, but did not present the rejection resolution, as the Federal Suffrage Amendment had been proclaimed a month before. Alabama and Virginia adopted joint rejection resolutions in both Houses. These two States, therefore, represented the total results in the campaign of the opposition to secure thirteen rejection States.