We have brought together the evidence that the answer to our question in the foreword to this book is—politics. The evidence that it was politics that made America, the cradle of democracy, 27th instead of first on the list of countries democratic enough to extend the right of self-government to both halves of their respective populations.
That evidence tends to make clear, too, how slowly men as a whole retreated from the “divine right of men to rule over women” idea, and how slowly women rose to assume their equal right with men to rule over both. Long after men's reason convinced them that woman suffrage was right and inevitable the impulse to male supremacy persuaded them that the step would be “inexpedient.” The lower types of men have always frankly resented any threatened infringement of the rights of the male and although the higher classes of male intelligence defined the feeling toward woman suffrage in other terms, at source the highest and lowest were actuated by the same traditional instinct.
Men believed what they wanted to believe in believing that women did not desire the vote. In 1916, 38,000 women of Maine signed petitions to the electors asking for the vote; but when the question was put to the men voters at the election, only 20,000 responded with “aye.” In 1917, 1,030,000 women in New York said, over their signatures, that they wanted to vote; but only 703,000 men voted affirmatively on the question at election time. These examples, were there no others, bring into high relief the fact that in the suffrage struggle there were more women who wanted to vote than there were men who were willing to grant them the privilege.
Superimposed upon this biological foundation of male resistance to female aggrandisement was the failure of political leaders to recognize the inescapable logic of woman suffrage in a land professing universal suffrage. On top of this, and as a consequence of it, lay the party inaction which gave opportunity to men who were far from inactive on the suffrage question, because they feared that their personal interests would suffer should the evolution of democracy take its normal course.
Had not the Republican party enfranchised the Negro by whip and bayonet it would have been easier for women to gain their enfranchisement without party endorsement, but suffragists, left to make their own appeal to majorities accustomed to be told how to vote, found that the lack of political endorsement was as effective as a mandate to vote against. Lax election laws and methods often opened doors for corruption, and by, and with, the assistance of party officials, suffrage elections were stolen.
The damage thus wrought to the woman suffrage cause, and the nation's record, was far more insidious than the loss of any election would imply. The alleged rejection of suffrage became to the unknowing public an indication of an adverse public sentiment, and tended to create rather than correct indifference, for the average man and woman move with the current of popular opinion. The inaction of the public gave a mandate for further political evasion of the question to party leaders, some of whom were certainly cognizant of and others working factors in the criminal schemes which produced the misleading result. Around and around the vicious circle went the suffrage question. “Get another State,” said President Roosevelt, excusing national inaction. “ Congress has given no indication that it wants woman suffrage,” said Governor Pierce of Dakota, as he vetoed the Territorial Bill which would grant suffrage to women. The Congress looked to the States for its cue, the States to Congress, both to the parties and the parties to the various financial interests, which in turn were responsible for the election of a picked list of members of Congress, of Legislatures and of the party leadership.
Had more statesmen and fewer politicians directed the policies of parties, women would have been enfranchised in the years between 1865 and 1880 and American history, along many lines, would have changed its course. Party suffrage endorsement was won in the United States after forty-eight years of unceasing effort, but when the final victory came women were alternately indignant that it had been so long in coming, and amazed that it had come at all. Many men expressed disappointment that women did not at once enter the party campaigns with the same zeal and consecration they had shown in the struggle for the vote. These men forgot that the dominant political parties blocked the normal progress of woman suffrage for half a century. The women remembered.
The Republicans found that the Negro fresh from slavery knew too little to play the “game of politics.” All parties may find in the years to come a still more formidable problem in the woman vote, but for a different reason. If women do not make docile partisans, it will be because through the long weary struggle they have learned to know too much. “Wars are not paid for in war time, the bills come afterwards,” said Franklin, and so it may be said of the cost of political blunders. American women who know the history of their country will always resent the fact that American men chose to enfranchise Negroes fresh from slavery before enfranchising American wives and mothers, and allowed hordes of European immigrants totally unfamiliar with the traditions and ideals of American government to be enfranchised in all States after naturalization, and in fifteen States without it, and be thus qualified to pass upon the question of the enfranchisement of American women.
The knowledge that elections can be controlled and manipulated, that a purchasable vote and men with money and motives to buy can appear upon occasion, that an election may be turned with “unerring accuracy” by a bloc of the least understanding voters, that conditions produce many politicians but few statesmen, began long ago to modify for Americans the fine pride in political liberty still the boast upon the 4th of July. That this knowledge should have made conservative types of men and women hesitant to extend the suffrage is not strange, nor is it to be held against conscientious men that they had to struggle with real doubts as to the wisdom of adding women to the electorate.
On the other hand, in spite of all weaknesses of the American government, no conscientious man or woman should ever have lost sight of four counter facts, (1) The United States will never go back to government by kings, nobilities or favored classes. (2) It must go forward to a safe and progressive government by the people; there is no other alternative. (3) Women have had a corrective influence in department after department of society and the only one pronounced “a filthy mire” is politics where they have not been. (4) The problem of leading government by majorities through the mire to the ideal which certainly lies ahead is one which women should share with men.
Looking backward, however, it is not resentment at the long scroll of men's biological inhibitions and political blunders unrolled in the suffrage struggle that is, for suffragists, the final picture. The final picture fills with the men and the groups of men, Republican men, Democratic men, with a vision of real democracy luring their souls, who in the political arena fought the good fight for and with suffragists. Their faith in and loyalty to the suffrage cause, their Herculean efforts, their brilliant achievements, their personal sacrifices, leap out from the record compellingly, riding down all else.
On the outside of politics women fought one of the strongest, bravest battles recorded in history, but to these men inside politics, some Republicans, some Democrats, and some members of minority parties, the women of the United States owe their enfranchisement.
And if we have made here a case for our assertion that American politics was an age-long trap for woman suffrage, we hope that we have not failed to make, as well, a case for these higher-grade American politicians who rescued woman suffrage from that trap and urged it forward to its goal.