Women's Suffrage: That Adjective Male 1866

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
by Carrie Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Shuler
The Averted Triumph
The Negro's Hour

That Adjective Male 1866

Before the Civil War, there was no movement in the United States to secure Negro suffrage. Of the “thirty seven States which composed the Union at the time of the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, all save six used the word 'white' as descriptive of the elector. Five of the six were in New England, and the sixth was Kansas.“[1]*

The war aftermath presented two imperative and difficult problems which demanded immediate attention; one, the reinstatement of the seceding States in the Union, the other, the determination of the status of the Negro. Both led inevitably to the discussion of questions involved in the right to vote. Representation in Congress had been apportioned to the Southern States by the federal constitution (Article 1, Section 2) according to the number of free persons, plus three-fifths of all other persons, meaning slaves. It was clear that no such apportionment could continue. Slaves within the seceding States had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln as a military emergency, January 1, 1863. Some months before the close of the war, the Thirteenth Amendment to the federal constitution, forever abolishing slavery throughout the entire Union, was submitted to the several Legislatures and was proclaimed as ratified, December 18, 1865, some months after the close of the war.[2]*

The Congress then asked itself what is now the status of the Negro, and answered its own question in lengthy debate, the crux of which was that “He is no longer a chattel, but although a freeman, he is neither alien nor citizen.“ The Republican party, “the party that had won the war and freed the slaves,“ felt keenly that the Negro was a charge upon it. Many proposals were offered in that Congress for the settlement of these two momentous problems, each involving almost endless subsidiary controversies. Each proposal was defended and opposed by earnest, sincere groups, and into every discussion the question, “Shall the Negro be enfranchised,“ injected itself. At no time since the convention which drafted the Declaration of Independence had political debate reached so high a level. The rights of man had again come into the foreground of the nation's chief consideration. The principles of human rights were quoted, analyzed and applied. Rights, freedom, liberty, and, most frequently of all, the “consent of the governed,“ were the expressions which marked the trend of the debate.

The Northern victors were in a forgiving and magnanimous mood. The nation's orators painted fascinating pictures of a restored and contented nation, with slavery abolished, with full and complete justice given all races, classes, and both sexes, and with a patriotic unity of service for the common welfare. To be sure, the details were blurred or wanting, but the picture was heartening and inspiring. Despite the oppressively high cost of living, the looming burden of taxes and the many homes of mourning, a comforting belief was widespread that great and amazing good had come to the nation out of the terrible suffering and sacrifices of the war. A very definite impulse to extend to all a far greater need of justice than the world had yet dreamed possible seized the people. They were inspired to this end by the great men upon whose leadership the country had learned to rely with confidence. Negroes were justified in trusting for protection to the party that had freed them, nor was it to be altogether a concession of the strong to the weak, for during the war a quarter of a million black men had been enlisted and trained for the Union Army.

Women were equally justified in the hope that the lofty expressions of sentiment and frank admissions of gratitude for their war sacrifices would be written into law. They too had not only served in the hour of danger but their services had frequently been decisive in character. As in all modern war, women had quietly taken the places of men in stores, shops, factories and fields, and kept the nation's needs supplied by their unremitting, although often unskilled toil. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, returning to the United States from England where she had engaged in practice, had organized the scattered efforts of women into a nationwide constructive force. This had been accomplished in June, 1861, under the name of The Sanitary Commission, which was placed under Government authority. Scraping lint, making bandages, packing boxes and gathering materials to go to the front, had absorbed the time of thousands of women. The organization had been supported entirely by women's work and during the war had raised ninety two millions of dollars to aid in the care of the sick and wounded of the army. It was the forerunner of the Red Cross, and its work was so much more thoroughly done than anything before attempted by women as to call forth expressions of astonishment from foreign observers.

While the Sanitary Commission had been supporting the Union, the women of the South had been as devotedly and ably supporting their side of the nation's controversy. Nurses in the army hospitals-North and South-knew no respite and gave all the possibilities of their strength to temper the suffering of the wounded men.

Nor had the war work of women been confined to these usual feminine services. During the early years of the war a constant demand had been made by the abolitionists for the emancipation of the slaves. The replies of President Lincoln indicating that the country had given no mandate for such an act, Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the woman suffrage leaders, organized a National Loyal League and set themselves the task of supplying that mandate. When Senator Charles Sumner presented the first instalment, 100,000 signatures, he said: “I offer a petition now lying on the desk before me. It is too bulky for me to take up. I need not add that it is too bulky for any of the pages of this body to carry.“ The petition eventually presented to Congress numbered 300,000 signers and was acknowledged by President Lincoln and members of Congress as furnishing an authoritative public demand for the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Civil War developed military heroines, too, though the greatest of them died unacknowledged by her nation. Anna Ella Carroll proposed, urged and finally persuaded the military authorities to substitute the Tennessee River for the Mississippi as the base of operation and this strategy was generally admitted as having more speedily won the war. Colonel Scott, Assistant Secretary of War, pressed upon Judge Evans, a friend of Miss Carroll, the necessity of keeping the origin of the Tennessee campaign a secret while the struggle lasted. Men of high positions in military affairs of the government, including President Lincoln, also made it clear to Miss Carroll that it would be dangerous to success to make known the fact that the Government was proceeding under the advice of a civilian and especially a woman civilian.“ The war over, the story leaked out, but before a demand was made for congressional recognition of her service, death had claimed those who knew it best.

Women had also participated in the civic and political life of the nation in ways hitherto unknown. Women for the first time were appointed, during the war, to positions in federal departments of government and filled them with credit. The Freedman's Bureau upon which Congress first tried to build the reconstruction measures was the idea of Mrs. Josephine Griffing. In the second Lincoln election there was grave anxiety on the part of Republicans as to the outcome, since loyal voters were at the front. Then Anna Dickinson entered the campaign, young, eloquent and soul-stirring, speaking “as if her lips had been touched with a live coal from the altars of Heaven.“ Numerous Republican leaders gave her frank credit for having turned some of the doubtful States.

And the climax of the men's gratitude?

In the midst of this early after-war period, so pregnant with hope for the future, wherein speeches, interviews and press articles were common and fulsome in praise of the unexpected but admittedly decisive help that women had given to the Civil War, Susan B. Anthony was visiting her brother in Leavenworth, Kansas. One day, while quietly perusing the morning paper, she received a shock. She read that a proposal had been made to introduce the word “male“ into a forthcoming amendment to the federal constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment was not yet ratified. Another amendment was predicted. What form it might take no one knew, yet she was quick to see that if this phrasing went into it, it would stamp women as a definitely disfranchised class throughout the land and degrade them to a political status inferior to the one they then occupied. Still wearied from the constant toil and anxiety of war work, she waited to learn no more but hastened at once to her home in Rochester, New York, stopping at several points on the way to confer with men and women who before the war had been sincere champions of the cause of woman suffrage. Nowhere did she find encouragement that the earlier zeal for women's rights could be revived, but her intrepid soul was undaunted. She arrived at her home September 23, 1865, and the next morning began a campaign that was not to end until a proclamation announced the ratification of a woman suffrage federal amendment, fifty-five years later.

She visited every town where before the war there had been an influential group who stood for women's rights, held meetings, aroused old friends and inspired new ones into activity, secured favorable press comment and everywhere started the circulation of petitions to Congress. When Congress convened on December 4, petitions were already arriving, protesting against the introduction into the constitution of the word “male.“ Few Senators or Representatives escaped a bombardment of letters and petitions urging that the nation should take no such backward step as to write the word male into the constitution.

Throughout the winter the congressional debate in Washington continued, often much jumbled and wandering far afield, but with the Fourteenth Amendment very slowly and very definitely emerging from the chaos of thought as the final congressional deduction.

Miss Anthony without respite traveled, planned and aroused, Mrs. Stanton wrote and inspired, and the women at home sought signers to the petitions, which poured into the Congress incessantly. Groups of women, watching and working, followed the debate from every great centre of population, and higher and higher rose the justifiable expectation that the noble expressions of faith in the just application of sacred American principles made by Congressmen, party officials and leaders of popular thought were to be written into law. The climax of hope was reached when Senator Charles Sumner, long a tried and supposedly true friend of the woman's cause, delivered a speech which literally “rang around the world.“ “Equal Rights for All“ was the theme, and every possible plea for the ballot was reviewed, unanswerably, eloquently and passionately. Indeed in after years he replied to an appeal for a message on woman suffrage as follows: “Take that address,“ said he, “substitute sex for color and you have the best speech I could make on your platform.“

The great speech did not definitely mention women but no word excluded them, and those who believed he meant all when he said so, found in it nothing to shake their faith.

A few days later, while the noble and stirring appeal of this address was still ringing in their ears, each watching group of women was chilled to the soul with the apprehension of coming disaster. Senator Sumner, in presenting a petition for suffrage for women constituents led by Lydia Maria Child, one of the most gifted and cultured women in the land, apologized for it as “untimely and injudicious.“ That this advocate of “Equal Rights for All,“ and long time defender of “woman's rights“ would repudiate the women's claims at the first opportunity to translate theory into reality was an outcome no woman had suspected. Did his defection signify apostacy of other friends, the women asked each other in alarm, and worked the harder to avert that possibility.

In May, 1866, the first Woman's Rights Convention since that of May, 1860, was held in New York. Suffrage forces had been reorganized, and new recruits had taken the places of defections. At the opening of the convention, resolutions were adopted calculated to fix the purpose of the convention, which was to plead with Congress to consider suffrage for women as a question of immediate importance, and if nothing more could be achieved to protest against putting the word male in the constitution as defining electors. Twice resolutions were passed and delivered to Congress, fortifying the appeals that were being sent in by petition. An address to Congress prepared by Miss Anthony was also read, adopted and later laid upon the desk of every Senator and Representative. In part, Miss Anthony said:

“Men and parties must pass away, but justice is eternal; and they only who work in harmony with its laws are immortal. All who have carefully noted the proceedings of this congress, and contrasted your speeches with those made under the old régime of slavery, must have seen the added power and eloquence that greater freedom gives. But still you propose no action on your grand ideas. Your joint resolutions, your reconstruction reports do not reflect your highest thought. The constitution in basing representation on 'respective numbers' covers a broader ground than any you have yet proposed, but the only tenable ground of representation is universal suffrage, as it is only through universal suffrage that the principle of 'Equal Rights to All' can be realized. With you we have just passed through the agony of death, the resurrection and triumph of another revolution, doing all in our power to mitigate its horrors and gild its glories. And now think you, we have no souls to fire, no brains to weigh your arguments; that after education such as this, we can stand silent witnesses while you sell our birthright of liberty? ... Our demand must ever be: 'No compromise of human rights. No admission in the constitution of inequality of rights, or disfranchisement on account of color or sex.'“

Three conspicuous figures upon the program at this convention were Theodore Tilton, Henry Ward Beecher and Wendell Phillips. There were no men who exercised a more compelling political leadership than they at that moment. No voices in the land were so eloquent as those of Beecher and Phillips, and their influence was enormous, with the people, with Congress and the Republican party. In the light of what happened afterwards, their speeches were fraught with historic significance. Said Henry Ward Beecher:

“I can scarcely express my sense of the leap the public mind and the public moral sense have taken within this time. The barrier is out of the way (slavery abolished). That which made the American mind untrue logically to itself is smitten down by the hand of God; and there is just at this time an immense tendency in the public mind to carry out all principles to their legitimate conclusions, go where they will. There never was a time when men were so practical, and so ready to learn. I am not a farmer, but I know that the spring comes but once a year. When the furrow is open is the time to put in your seed if you would gather a harvest in its season. Now, when the red-hot plowshare of war has opened a furrow in this nation, is the time to put in the seed. If any man says to me 'Why will you agitate the woman question, when it is the hour for the black man?' I answer, it is the hour for every man, black or white. When the public mind is open, if you have anything to say, say it. If you have any radical principles to urge, any organizing wisdom to make known, don't wait until quiet times come. Don't wait until the public mind shuts up altogether. Progress goes by periods, by jumps and spurts. We are in the favored hour. I, therefore, say whatever truth is to be known for the next fifty years in this nation let it be spoken now- ... I therefore advocate no sectional rights, no class rights, no sex rights, but the most universal form of right for all that live and breathe on the continent. ... I propose that you take expediency out of the way, and that you put a principle that is more enduring than expediency in the place of it-manhood and womanhood suffrage for all. You may just as well meet it now as at any other time. You never will have so favorable an occasion, so sympathetic a heart, never a public reason so willing to be convinced, as today.“

So far, splendid!

But the speech of Wendell Phillips sounded alarm anew for the women. His had been the staunchest, most uncompromising soul among the many great men friends of women's rights. Now he pleaded with the same culture and eloquence for ultimate justice that always characterized his addresses, but he seemed to put the date afar off, subtly and skillfully skirting around the practical questions of immediate policies.

Interviews with Congressmen, begging them to heed the petitions which were pouring in, followed the convention. The work did not cease until June 16, 1866, when Congress submitted the Fourteenth Amendment. It was an omnibus and a compromise amendment covering all the mooted points and contained the word male three times.[3]* Nationwide protest was expressed by press and platform. Said the Springfield Republican: “No one can deny that it was a mean thing to put the word male into the Fourteenth Amendment, it was an implied denial of suffrage to women.“

Thaddeus Stevens, author of the amendment and majority leader of the House, had based representation upon the number of legal voters in the original draft,[4]* but conservatives made such vigorous protest that he was forced to introduce the word male. These protests were especially vigorous from California, Oregon and Nevada, where the possibility of Chinese preponderance was feared. Charles Sumner afterwards confessed that he had covered nineteen pages of foolscap in his effort to formulate the amendment so as to omit the word male.

The truth was that the congressional mind was much disturbed by the political situation and the popular mind was much divided in opinion. The biennial congressional election was approaching and the Republican party could not face it with calmness. The steadying influence of President Lincoln had been removed by his assassination in April, and Vice-President Andrew Johnson, a pro-war Democrat, had taken his place. The President and the Congress held incompatible theories of reconstruction. A consequent feeling of rancor had arisen which made the next election an appeal to the voters to decide between the President and Congress. A genuine fear lest President Johnson should make connections with Democrats, North and South, and thus produce a party strong enough to overthrow the Republicans was entertained by many. The reception of the Fourteenth Amendment was uncertain and the suffrage phase of reconstruction was the particular point where moral courage yielded to political timidity. Most congressional abolitionists were firm in their conviction that the Negro freemen would not be able to protect themselves against their former masters unless they were equipped with the vote. Their efforts to convert their fellow members were making progress, much stimulated by continual rumors of the mistreatment of the Negroes in the South.

But Nevada, received into statehood (1864) after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, had audaciously specified a denial of the vote to Negroes in her constitution. In the autumn of 1865 Negro suffrage had been submitted to popular vote in Connecticut, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Territory of Colorado, and the District of Columbia and had been defeated in all of them, although the Republicans were in power in them all. Urgent pleas were hurriedly issued by national leaders of the Republican party to those in control of State party organizations to start activities which would hasten the removal of this handicap to national action.

State party leaders returned excuses for delay in taking further referenda upon the ground that public sentiment was opposed to the entire question. Leaders in the Congress began to sense a baffling struggle ahead. The combination of this hesitancy on the part of the North to enfranchise the Negro, the vexatious conflict between the President and the majority in Congress, the convincing proof that freedom for the Negro was not an accomplished fact in the South, tended to increase timidity and conservatism. Expediency was being rapidly substituted for principle. Although abolitionists were urging Negro suffrage, and although several amendments of the Fourteenth Amendment had been proposed to this effect, no endorsement of Negro suffrage had yet passed Congress.

Every argument which could be made for Negro suffrage applied to women. There was no escaping that fact. The Negro was making little demand for the vote. The women were making an unprecedented one. How to get the Negro in and keep the women out constituted an ever present conundrum.

The reason for the growing sordidness of attitude was twofold. The politician held fast to the idea that if the surrendered States were to be retained in obedient and humble mood, the Negro with his certain tendency to vote in conjunction with northern ideas must be enfranchised; the average abolitionist, that the Negroes must have the vote to protect themselves from their late masters, and both politician and reformer united in the conviction that if Negro suffrage was ever to come, the North must endorse the act which extended it. Yet the North not only showed no desire to take this step but anti-slavery men were not entirely united as to the wisdom of such demand. Mr. Garrison himself, though foremost for the abolition of slavery, was not quite ready to join this advanced movement.[5]*

The Fourteenth Amendment merely presented an option to the South to enfranchise the Negro or subtract the colored man from the basis of representation; it did not confer the vote upon the Negro, yet it threatened to punish States if they allowed him to remain unenfranchised. In after years James G. Blaine wrote: “Under the strain and anxiety of finding the way to carry the next election and to hold the South in line, the outspoken moral courage, which a few months before had exalted the nation, withered and left the nation wondering, doubting and depressed.“

The Congress adjourned and entered the campaign of 1866 with confused misgiving.

In the common sacrifices made necessary by war the people of all nations are united by sympathetic ties rarely existent at other times. The Civil War was no exception to the rule and men had sincerely felt and honestly expressed their gratitude to women for the part they had performed, but as the victory receded further and further into the past, and vexatious problems continually injected themselves in ceaseless procession for solution, the gratitude faded, the services themselves were forgotten. In the next mood, the question of the extension of suffrage to either Negroes or women made the nerves of politicians tingle and filled them with exasperation.


* Thorpe, “Constitutional History of the United States,“ Volume 3, page 459.


*Thirteenth Amendment, Sec. 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Sec. 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


*Fourteenth Amendment, Sec. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United Stí teÅ and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without the process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Sec. 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Sec. 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State Legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Sec. 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Sec. 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.


* “History of Woman Suffrage,“ Volume 2, page 354.


* “Life of Frederick Douglas,“ page 463.

Sources +