The Congress of the United States Surrenders
It is doubtful if any group-men or women-who ever kept ward and watch over legislation at Washington ever came to know the true inwardness of the Congress of the United States as suffragists came to know it. For one thing, the suffrage vigil was so long maintained. For another, it engaged the energies of so many different women with so many different points of view from so many different parts of the country, all flashing in their reflections of the congressional body like so many mirrors held up to nature, man's nature, at every conceivable angle. Toward the end of the vigil they were coming and going from the headquarters of the National American Woman Suffrage Association at Washington from every State in the Union, in relays of dozens, of fifties, of hundreds. They constituted the largest lobby ever maintained at the national capital, the “Front Door Lobby“ as the press called it, in tribute to its above-board methods and policy.
They learned Congress through and through, those women. Its way of work, its machinery; its tricks; the men in it, their pet foibles, their fundamental weaknesses, their finer abilities, their human quality. Quietly sitting in the galleries of House or Senate, listening to floor speeches, or watching floor tactics, they learned. They learned talking across desks, in animated discussion with those same men in private Senatorial and House offices. Pleading at public hearings, before committees of House or Senate, they learned.
They learned the cheap bi-partisanship that dominates the Congress; its insensate capacity to block justice for party advantage. They learned that the State's rights cry of the Southern Congressman voiced a great principle-to be used as expediency dictated, now hushed into selfrighteous acquiescence in federal control of the liquor question, now raised in uproar against federal interference in the suffrage question. They learned that Massachusetts Republicans could find it in their hearts to be stern State's righters when it came to the point of defeating suffrage, though determined federalists on all other scores. They learned that, as in the State Legislatures, so in the federal Congress, there was the imprint of something dark and sinister, something that suggested and interfered and often controlled-the old trail and the old invisible enemy.
And, finally, they learned that here and there in the Congress were men who stood up like mountain peaks, as unswerving in their devotion to the principle of selfgovernment as they were intelligent in their understanding of it. It was on these men that suffragists banked their hopes as they went forward with their final program to secure the submission of the Federal Suffrage Amendment, a program that, after January, 1917, had to be shaped at every step by the impending exigencies of war.
Early in 1917 the National American Woman Suffrage Association called its Executive Council to meet in Washington prior to the opening of the Special War Session of the Congress scheduled for April of that year. By its authority, at a great theatre meeting packed to the doors, it pledged the loyalty of its organization to the country in the event of war and offered its services at command. The offer was received in person by the Secretary of War.
The Association, keenly alive to the fact that idealism was aroused by the crisis of war, urged its constituency to unite at once in a stupendous appeal to Congress for the immediate submission of the amendment. The appeal followed. Letters, telegrams and petitions poured in on the Congress by hundreds and thousands. Men were talking in that day and hour of democracy, of liberty and justice, as they had talked after the Civil War, yet in the light of past experience suffragists had little faith in any real change in the reactionaryism of Congress. So little faith that in a conference on the congressional campaign a resolution was adopted to the effect that if the Sixty-fifth Congress should fail to submit the Federal Suffrage Amendment before the next congressional election, the suffrage association should select a sufficient number of Senators and Representatives for replacement to insure passage by the Sixty-sixth Congress.
In the War Congress five Senators introduced the suffrage resolution in the Senate and six members in the House, one being Miss Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman member of Congress. Hearings followed in quick order. The Senate Committee, for the first time, voted unanimously to recommend its passage.
In the House an incredible amount of work had been put into an attempt to secure a suffrage committee, the Judiciary Committee systematically opposing and blocking its consideration. But on September 24, 1917, the House voted itself a suffrage committee, by a vote of 180 to 107, with 3 answering present and 142 not voting. It had taken four years of ceaseless agitation to secure this result. Of the favorable votes 82 were Democratic, 96 Republican; of the unfavorable, 74 were Democratic and 32 Republican. Of those not voting 59 were Democratic and 81 were Republican.
In November came the decisive suffrage victory in New York. Forthwith up and down and across the nation resistance began to crumple. Inevitably the effect reacted upon Congress.
In December the National American Woman Suffrage Association held its annual convention in Washington. During this convention each senior Senator was asked to invite the junior Senator and the House membership of his State to his office on a fixed morning and to allow the suffrage delegation from home to address them. Thirty such get-together meetings were held, congressional delegations from the smaller States combining to receive their suffrage delegates. In the afternoon the suffrage delegates met again in convention, and the roll of States was called, the president of each responding with a brief account of the morning's experience. A thrill of approaching triumph possessed the big convention when, to the call of Arkansas, the clear-cut tones of its president responded: “The Arkansas congressmen, with two exceptions, say they will be pleased to vote for the Federal Amendment!“ If the border States were coming in, all would be well. As the sense of that fact penetrated, a glad shout went up, which none present who did not know history would have understood. State after State followed, with such favorable reports of pledges that none could doubt the approach of victory. A speech in the form of an address to Congress was later made by the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association at a great public meeting, and adopted by the convention, and a deputation of suffragists from each State handed a printed copy to their Senators and Representatives.
Yet the road to victory was not to be strewn with roses. The chairman of the Congressional Committee of the National Suffrage Association reported that the new Congress had brought three sharp surprises: (1) The discovery that, because there was likely to be a struggle over the Chairmanship of the new Committee on Woman Suffrage, many of the Democratic leaders were inclined to defer indefinitely the appointment of members of the Committee; (2) The announcement by Democratic leader Kitchin that the Suffrage Amendment would be voted upon on December 17, a most unpropitious date, being the day before that assigned for the vote on the Prohibition Amendment; (3) the determination of Chairman Webb, of the Judiciary Committee, to have his Committee report the Suffrage Amendment. In spite of the fact that the Woman Suffrage Committee had been created late in the previous session for the specific purpose of dealing with the suffrage question, Mr. Webb held that his committee alone possessed the right to deal with constitutional amendments. To offset these plans of opposed members required work every day and all day and most of the night on the part of the Association's Congressional Committee.
But all the obstacles were finally overcome and the Woman Suffrage Committee was put in operation December 15, with Mr. Raker of California as Chairman. The Suffrage Amendment, being extricated from the vexatious contest over jurisdiction, was transferred to it from the Judiciary Committee, and the date for voting on the amendment was postponed to a more propitious date, to be set in the future.
The new Suffrage Committee, with energy before unknown, gave five entire days to suffrage hearings, and at last committee smiles, of old reserved for the antis, were turned toward the suffragists. The Rules Committee settled the date for the vote as January 10, 1918.
Fifty-three members of Congress were secured as a Steering Committee to organize the friends of the suffrage measure in the House. The month before the vote was tense with work and hope. A far-flung yet intensive publicity campaign drove the question of the Amendment into every nook and cranny of the nation. From home constituencies the pressure on Congressmen became tremendous, while on the ground, in Washington, suffrage representatives of those constituencies besieged Capitol and Senate and House office buildings. When the day of the vote, January 10, finally arrived capital and nation were awaiting the day's roll-call with taut interest. The moment the House galleries were opened suffragists and general public, packed for hours in the foyers, surged eagerly forward. Every available seat was occupied and remained occupied throughout a dramatic session that lasted until seven o'clock in the evening.
The suffrage question was labored and re-labored. Men rose to make interminable speeches on man's God-given right to tell woman what she must and must not do, sentimental speeches, speeches that put all womanhood to blush by the reflection of womanhood in some man's mind. They rose to speak with force and fire in an effort to make other men forsake old fashions of autocratic thought and feeling and espouse fundamental democracy. They rose to score a party advantage. They rose to points of order. They rose merely to get into the picture, the Congressional Record. The hours were packed with incident, with suspense. The intensity of suffragists had long ago communicated itself to many House members who by now were as strongly committed to the success of the measure as the heart of suffragist could wish. Down on the floor and out in the cloak-rooms tottered men so ill that they should have been in bed, but on hand at any hazard to vote for suffrage. Enthusiasm could not be repressed when the Republican leader, James R. Mann, of Illinois, walked feebly to his seat. Everybody knew that he had left a hospital in Baltimore to answer to the suffrage roll-call. Another man, who was in such pain from a broken shoulder that he wandered about cloak-rooms and corridors like a soul possessed, was in his seat on the Democratic side, just the same, when his name was called. This was the Southerner, Representative Sims, of Tennessee. Another sick man, Representative Barnhart, of Indiana, was brought in from a hospital bed to remain long enough to vote. Another who thrust aside illness to vote was Mr. Crosser, of Ohio. Still another case of suffrage loyalty that deeply moved the few who knew among the waiting women was that of Representative Hicks, of New York, who came from the death-bed of his wife to cast his vote, and returned home for the funeral.
Down the roll-call, name by name, droned the voice of the clerk. Yes-No-name by name, came the answering vote. It was close indeed. Of the 410 votes polled, 274 were aye and 136 were no, a two to one vote being necessary to carry. But it was enough. Just forty years after the introduction of the Amendment in Congress it had gone over the top with the required two-thirds.
The vote over, the corridors filled with women from the galleries, relaxed, smiling, happy women. On the way to the elevators a woman began to sing “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,“ and the surging throng stood still to join in the expression of gratitude that was rising spontaneously from many hearts. From pillar to pillar the triumphal notes reverberated; they mounted to the dome of the old Capitol, a sound never heard there before; they floated out into the upper air. Many a member who had voted no was seen with hat pulled low over his eyes, listening as he hastened toward the exit-perhaps comprehending that on that day a new thing had come to the nation.
In that House vote was evident again the influence of the New York victory in 1917. Of the 39 New York Representatives, there being 4 vacancies, 35 voted aye. Without New York the vote would have been lost and without the preceding victory in November the aye vote of New York would have been mainly a no vote.
One thing that the House debate did was to bring into sharp relief the competition now existing between Republicans and Democrats for whatever credit and advantage should accrue from suffrage successes. A ludicrous but complicating instance of this was developed out of the National Suffrage Association's effort to express the gratitude of suffragists to Republicans and Democrats alike for help given. With punctilious care letters of appreciation were sent to all the sick men who had come to the Capitol at such sacrifice, and a statement was issued to the press covering a copy of the letters and mentioning by name the leaders of both parties, President Wilson, Colonel Roosevelt and others, who had notably helped the suffrage cause. Thereupon the Republican papers published the letter after carefully eliminating the Democratic names, and Democratic papers published it after eliminating the Republican names. Both Republicans and Democrats forthwith angrily charged the suffrage association with partisanship and a special call upon all the gentlemen mentioned had to be made, with suitable explanations. The non-partisan attitude of the suffrage association never varied but from this date forward there was continual difficulty in convincing partisans that it was not favoring their rivals.
By chance, on the date of the House vote the British constitutional suffragists won their full enfranchisement through the vote of the House of Lords, and cabled congratulations to their American sisters, with the suggestion that January 10 be made a holiday for both countries.
While the debate had been in progress in England, hundreds of women waiting in the corridors, because there was no place for them within, anxiously queried each passing policeman for news. Said one of these, “Lord Cromer's hup but ee won't do ye much âarm.“ In the United States there is no House of Lords but the Senate is this nation's citadel of fixed opinion, and it was “hup,“ and all the efforts of the suffragists, massed now on it, failed to secure a vote. Women came from all parts of the country to plead with the Senators of their States-Southern women with petitions, and with evidence of the popular change of sentiment in that section. Nothing availed. President Wilson attempted to influence the situation. He was supported in his effort by a number of the most influential Southern newspapers. One of the publicity activities conducted for the National American Woman Suffrage Association was a department of editorial correspondence devoted to correcting the errors of editorial statements and opinion and to the conversion of newspaper editors to the Federal Suffrage Amendment. This work had borne fruit in the South as elsewhere. In September a deputation of Southern women called upon the President and urged his more active help, and he frankly promised it.
At this eleventh hour certain Democrats conceived the idea that another form of amendment might prove more acceptable to the Southern Senators and as many sheets of paper were wasted in the attempt to write one as Charles Sumner had used in his efforts to avoid the word male in the Fourteenth Amendment. Senator Williams, of Mississippi, on June 27, proposed to make the amendment read “the right of white citizens of the United States to vote, etc.“ Three others were proposed.
The Prohibition Amendment had been submitted December 17, 1917, and the spirit of fair play was beginning to arouse widespread resentment against the discrimination shown to the woman's amendment. Editorial writers and cartoonists put forth pungent comment worthy of the historical crisis. A national petition signed by the 1,000 “best known men“ in the United States, a list of imposing quality, was secured, which called forth a large number of editorials and, in printed form, was presented to Senators. The date for a vote was at last set for October 1, 1918.
As the day drew near the poll indicated that two more votes were needed and the National Suffrage Association appealed to the President. In laying the poll, 62 for to 34 against, before him, the appeal said:“You who have proved yourself a miracle worker on many occasions may be able to produce another on Monday, the miracle of putting vision where there was none before.“
But the miracle was beyond the President's power to achieve, though he labored by day and by night with Southern Democrats, urging them by letter and by interview to give way. On September 30 he delivered in person his memorable message to the Senate urging its favorable action. In part he said:
“I had assumed that the Senate would concur in the amendment because no disputable principle is involved, but only a question of the method by which the suffrage is to be extended to women. There is and can be no party issue involved in it. Both of our great national parties are pledged, explicitly pledged, to equality of suffrage for the women of the country.
“Neither party, therefore, it seems to me, can justify hesitation as to the method of obtaining it, can rightfully hesitate to substitute federal initiative for State initiative, if the early adoption of this measure is necessary to the successful prosecution of the war and if the method of State action proposed in the party platforms of 1916 is impracticable, within any reasonable length of time, if practical at all.
“And its adoption is, in my judgment, clearly necessary to the successful prosecution of the war.
“They (the people of Europe) are looking to the great, powerful, famous democracy of the west to lead them to the new day for which they have so long waited; and they think, in their logical simplicity, that democracy means that women shall play their part in affairs alongside men and upon an equal footing with them.
“If we reject measures like this in ignorant defiance of what a new age has brought forth, of what they have seen but we have not, they will cease to believe in us.
“They have seen their own governments accept this interpretation of democracy-seen old governments like that of Great Britain, which did not profess to be democratic, promise readily and take action.“
But October I dawned with the suffrage measure still short two votes. Responsibility for failure to get the extra votes needed was laid by each party upon the other. Friendly Republicans every day had passed the opinion to suffragists that “any President can get the votes necessary to put over a question if he wants to when it lacks so few. The fact is the President is not sincere.“ And every day friendly Democrats had expressed the conviction that the Republicans could get those needed votes if they wanted to. “Their party is not opposed to federal action. The truth is the Republicans do not want the Amendment to pass at all and certainly not while Democrats are in control of the Congress, because that would be almost sure to line up the new women voters as Democrats.“
Those suffragists who knew just what the President was doing knew that he was not only sincere but using the full extent of his influence with his party. On the Republican side, William Wilcox, Chairman of the National Committee, went to Washington to urge the Republican minority to give way. The suffragists knew that Mr. Wilcox was sincere and that the pro-suffrage Republicans were sincere. They knew that the obstacle was a minority bloc led by the Senators of Massachusetts and South Carolina. They knew that on the Republican side the opposition would be over-ridden just as soon as the success of suffrage could accrue to the benefit of a Republican administration. They knew that on the Democratic side the minority was but using the Republican opposition to protect its own deep sectional bias on the woman question and the Negro question, ever looming behind the blind of the State's rights question.
When on October 1, 1918, after five days of debate, the vote was at last taken, the Amendment was defeated, as expected, by a vote of 62 to 34. So narrowed had the struggle become that the death of two favorable Senators, one in New Hampshire and one in New Jersey, and the appointment of anti-suffrage Senators to the vacancies created, caused the adverse vote. The Amendment would also have passed had two Republican Senators from suffrage States voted aye, one Senator Borah of Idaho, a suffragist and a Republican who clung to the State's rights method; the other Senator Wadsworth of New York, the husband of the president of the national association of anti-suffragists. Again, it might have carried if two northern Democrats, outside the State's rights area, had voted aye, Senator Hitchcock of Nebraska and Senator Pomerene of Ohio, but each of them represented a State wherein the controlling factor in politics, as has already been shown, was opposing woman suffrage to the bitter end.
The grim facts disclosed by the vote pointed the way inexorably to a disagreeable task. If there were not men enough in the Senate who could change their minds it had become the inescapable duty of suffragists to change the men. According to the announced agreement of the Executive Council in April, it was decided to conduct campaigns against four men in the coming autumn elections. Two were Republicans in Republican States, Senator Weeks of Massachusetts and Senator Moses of New Hampshire; one a Democrat in a Democratic State, Senator Saulsbury of Delaware, and one, Senator Baird, a Republican in the two-party State of New Jersey. The prospects were unpromising, as many other issues were involved in the campaign.
When a representative of the National American Woman Suffrage Association announced to an executive session of the Massachusetts Suffrage Association that the only hope for the Federal Suffrage Amendment lay in the defeat of Senator Weeks, the announcement was received with a gasp of dismay. “We can never do it,“ the women ejaculated; “he is the very heart of the Republican machine.“ But an Anti-Weeks Committee was formed and it laid before the voters his reactionary votes in the Senate. A Democrat replaced him.
When the women of Delaware were told in the same way that the Amendment depended upon the defeat of Senator Saulsbury, they exclaimed: “Impossible! he is the Democratic leader of the State and this is a Democratic State.“ But they began a campaign and were able to score heavily against him with the argument that he was a representative who wouldn't represent. Everybody knew that suffragists had made a town-to-town canvass in Delaware before the United States Senate vote in October to secure signatures to a petition to Senators Saulsbury and Wolcott asking their support for the Amendment, and knew, too, that 11,111 signatures had been obtained. And everybody knew, too, that though this petition was enormous for a State of three counties only, it had had no appreciable effect, for both Senators had voted no. Delawareans showed their resentment of this fact by voting to put Mr. Saulsbury's rival in at Washington.
In New Jersey Mr. Baird was re-elected with a much reduced majority, and in New Hampshire, where large Republican majorities are usual, Mr. Moses was elected with only 1200 majority.
The success of the Amendment in the Sixty-sixth Senate was assured, provided death or disaster did not take away a friend, for there was not a vote to spare. But the suffragists decided to try for earlier action without waiting for the convening of the Sixty-sixth Congress. The chairman of the Suffrage Committee, Senator A. A. Jones of New Mexico, had changed his vote, on October 1, from yes to no, in order to move a reconsideration, so that the way was clear for another chance with the Sixty-fifth Congress, still in session. All the clearer because the large vote of women in the November elections had so impressed political leaders that it was hoped that two men in the Sixty-fifth might be in repentant mood and change their vote on reconsideration.
Many additional events had strengthened the suffrage position. In the elections of the year over 40,000 women in Arkansas and 386,000 women in Texas had voted in the primaries. This showing, surprising to the South, had been achieved despite the fact that the women of Arkansas had voluntarily paid a poll tax to gain the privilege and that the women of Texas had had but seventeen days in which to register. Ex-Governor Ferguson, who had presented the minority resolutions report in the 1916 National Democratic Convention, had been effectively disposed of at the Texas polls and the women's vote was credited with this result. In New York, where women went to the polls for the first time, the estimated number of women voters was one million, and the November press recorded a large vote of women in all States.
The 1918 elections had also brought three more States into the full suffrage list, Michigan, South Dakota and Oklahoma, the last a section of former slave territory. The Vermont Legislature had broken the record of New England's staid conservatism by extending the municipal vote to women in 1917; the Legislatures of North Dakota, Michigan, Nebraska and Rhode Island in 1917 had extended presidential suffrage to their women and in 1919 Indiana and Missouri had followed suit. The managers of political parties were finding a vexatious situation in the task put upon them of enlisting and organizing the new voters in these States while men and women were charging each party with responsibility for the failure to secure the vote for the women of all States.
Large honorary committees of prominent men, including many contributors and workers in party campaigns, had been organized and were compelling party leaders to sense the responsibility for delay. These leaders were nettled by the Senatorial impasse and far more actively interested than ever before. On February 11, 1918, the Democratic National Committee, and, on February 12, the Republican National Committee, had resolved for the passage of the Amendment. Through the spring and summer this action had been seconded by the action of many State party conventions and by the Congressional Committees of both parties. So the two National Party Chairmen and their immediate predecessors all went to Washington to labor with their respective minorities. At last the women heard the cracking of the party whip.
For their own part the suffragists were leaving no stone unturned in the search for the needed votes. Both the hopeful and the doubtful Senators were being bombarded with home petitions, letters and telegrams. Deputations of women and men called upon them. The daily telegrams, carefully listed on disconcertingly long sheets of paper, were laid by secretaries on their desks. Scrap books, in which were neatly pasted the favorable editorials from their State press, were handed them. Public opinion was vastly on the side of action by the Senate, so it seemed not too much to expect that at least two Senators would yield their obstinacy to the overwhelming public demand.
The details of one campaign to secure a Senatorial vote are worthy of record, since it was typical of many like efforts to lose woman suffrage in a thicket of conditions. When Senator Gallinger of New Hampshire died, an Amendment vote and a working friend were lost. The Republican Governor was urged by the National Republican Chairman to appoint a man to the vacancy who would vote for the amendment. The National and State suffragists supported this request by earnest and continued effort; while Senators Lodge and Weeks of Massa-chusetts made appeals for an appointee who would vote against suffrage-and were probably supported by those mysterious forces which had long controlled politics in New Hampshire. Mr. Drew was appointed ad interim and was polled in opposition. Mr. Moses had been elected at the November election and had voted against the Amendment on October 1.
Immediately after his election a Republican woman was sent to interview him. The campaign against him had not left him pleasantly disposed toward suffragists but he was made to understand that the women's opposition had been directed toward his suffrage attitude only. He promised the interviewer to support the Amendment should he be asked to do so by a resolution of his Legislature. As the New Hampshire Legislature would not convene before January, 1919, the National Suffrage Association proposed a still stronger mandate and sent three workers into the State, who with New Hampshire women made a canvass of the legislators in their own homes for signatures to a petition to Senator Moses. The Legislature is the largest in the United States (426 members) although the Senate is small. The signatures of two-thirds of the total membership were secured as petitioning Senator Moses to vote for the Federal Suffrage Amendment and a deputation of suffragists took the petition to Washington, emphasizing the fact that a resolution required only a majority vote, whereas the petition carried the names of two-thirds of the Legislature. Senator Moses made reply that the petition would not serve the purpose expected and that he would insist upon the resolution. The Legislature met the first week in January and a public hearing before both Houses was granted to suffragists, after which by a majority of 74 the House passed the resolution endorsing the passage of the Federal Suffrage Amendment. The Legislature then adjourned for the week-end.
A hasty poll was made by personal interview with the State Senators to make “assurance doubly sure,“ and found the majority standing firm for the resolution. Andrew J. Hook, a Senator who had not been interviewed when the petition to Senator Moses had been in circulation, now said he would vote for the resolution if the women could bring him a petition from a majority of the members of the Republican town committees in his district asking him to do so. There was but a single day in which to do this work and there were ten towns to be covered, but it was done. The petition was presented to Senator Hook on January 14 when the Legislature again convened. The resolution came up at once and was disposed of by a vote of 6 ayes and 15 nays! Mr. Hook voted No!
An explanation of the way his mind worked was later revealed. After stipulating that he must have a petition from his district, he had gone to the suffrage headquarters and had said that if the women could get twelve Senators to vote for the resolution he would make the thirteenth. The women replied that the majority was already pledged and that they were already at work upon the petition he requested. When Senator Moses received the news of the action taken by the House, he had hastened to Concord to confer with Senators, apparently to urge them to save him from his rash promise, and when the Legislature reconvened three of the most powerful lobbyists of the State were in Concord and at work against the resolution. Mr. Hook, learning that enough men had been induced to fall from the poll so that twelve men would not vote for the resolution, ignored his first proposal, never withdrawn, and fulfilled with all conditions by the suffragists, and remembered only the second. Thus may a politician emerge from under a broken pledge with honor intact!
A group of New Hampshire Senators explained to a representative of the Manchester Union Leader why they had broken their agreements, which they readily acknowledged they had done. They had agreed, they said, to vote for the petition in the full belief that it would be killed in the House where it was likely to come up first and therefore would never reach them. But, one Senator had added, “You can't depend on this House; it is liable to do most anything.“
While this campaign was in progress a letter appeared in the New Hampshire press declaring that the National Republican Committee had no right to dictate to Senators how they should vote. It was signed by Senator Wadsworth of New York who had actively and continuously sought to prevent a favorable vote on suffrage by the federal House and Senate. On January 3, two days before his death, Colonel Roosevelt had written Senator Moses a letter in which he said: “I earnestly hope you will see your way clear to support the National Amendment. It is coming anyhow and it ought to come. When States like New York and Illinois adopt it, it can't be called a wild-cat experiment.“ Mr. Moses considered his opposed attitude justified by the failure of the New Hampshire Senate to concur in the House resolution, overlooking the discreditable process of securing that result.
Once again the suffragists asked the perennial and always unanswerable question, why do men repudiate ordinary principles of honor in United States politics when to do so in business and private life would make them outcasts from all contact with decent people? This New Hampshire experience is illustrative of American legislative history rather than the record of an exceptional case. “Slippery politicians“ has become, in consequence of custom, a term of good usage in political vocabularies.
In the general result the November elections changed the control of the Congress from Democratic to Republican. Americans, with their habit of finding the solution of political and economic problems by oscillation between the two major parties and being hard pressed by the aftermath of war, had repudiated the Democratic party at the polls. So that while the Sixty-fifth Congress had been Democratic the Sixty-sixth was to be Republican.
The Democrats who were friendly to suffrage, realizing that the Republican Congress would submit the Suffrage Amendment and thus win the loyalty of unknown numbers of new voters, now made desperate attempts to pass the measure before the session should close and put an end to the Sixty-fifth Congress. Open and private letters to Senators were sent by members of the Democratic Cabinet. Several caucuses of friendly Democrats were held, to try some new approach to gain the needed two votes. There were similar conferences of friendly Republicans. On December 2, on the eve of his sailing for Europe for the Peace Conference, President Wilson addressed a joint session of the Congress and included in it another earnest appeal to pass the Federal Suffrage Amendment.
On December 8 the National Suffrage Association held a Woman War Workers mass meeting in Washington from which hundreds were turned away for lack of room and an overflow meeting was held. At both meetings resolutions urging the submission of the Amendment were adopted and a copy was presented to each Senator.
The date of February 10 was at last fixed for the vote on reconsideration-and the Amendment was lost by a single vote, the record standing 63 to 33. Not a Senator had changed. The gain of one vote had come through the appointment of William P. Pollock of South Carolina to a vacancy. He accepted the President's advice and not only voted for the Amendment but spoke for it, a fact which threw his State into an uproar of controversy in which abuse was more often heaped upon him than praise.
Twenty States cast all their votes in Senate and House in favor; and three, Alabama, Delaware and Georgia, all their votes in both Senate and House against the Amendment. Only three Senators west of the Mississippi River voted against, Borah of Idaho, Reed of Missouri and Hitchcock of Nebraska. Both Senators in nine States voted against the Amendment: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
New York suffragists felt keenly that the one lacking from their majority was their Senator Wadsworth. And what is a representative for if not to represent, they asked? And what constitutes a mandate from a constituency? By a majority of more than 100,000 the State had enfranchised its women in November, 1917; in the winter of 1918 the Legislature had called upon him by resolution to vote for the measure. In September, 1918, his party, meeting in State convention, had called upon him to vote for the Amendment, and he was himself a member of the Resolutions Committee which presented the resolution. This action had been taken at the request of a majority of the Republican County Conventions of the State. In 1918 the National Republican Committee by resolution had called upon him and other Senators to vote for the measure and in 1919 his Legislature had again called upon him to support the Amendment. Women knew of no stronger expression of public demand that could be made. Turning to history, they found no mandate so complete given to any Congressman at any time to persuade him to sacrifice his individual inclination to the public demand.
Following the vote, the Woman Citizen, in an editorial, entitled “They shall not pass,“ said: “Men come and men go, but a truth goes marching on. Not a banner will be furled, not a marcher will break step, not a friend will desert, not a political party will falter, not a newspaper will lapse into silence. All the way down the lines leading from Washington to New England, to the Solid South and to the Great West, those with ears to the ground will hear the tramp, tramp of millions of feet, responding to the call, Forward, Forward March! And there will be men's feet, women's feet, soldiers' feet and children's feet in that mighty tramp! It is the tramp of the people. âThey shall not pass?â They shall pass and soon.“
The Amendment having been voted down, could not again come before the Sixty-fifth Senate, but Democrats, convinced that the failure of the Democratic Senate to pass the amendment would prove a handicap in the coming election, were unwilling to give up. A serious effort was made to devise a slightly different form of the Amendment which would not only win the one vote needed but allow consideration. Men and women from the South went to Washington and attempted to unite their party Senators upon such an amendment. Most of the forms drawn were unacceptable to the suffragists, but one was finally approved. Two Senators of the opposition agreed to vote for it and the two-thirds vote was therefore assured. The resolution was introduced and referred to the Suffrage Committee where a favorable report was promptly secured.
The end of the session was approaching and owing to Senatorial procedure in the closing days unanimous consent was necessary to get the favorable report upon the calendar. Most, if not all, the Democratic opponents agreed to make no objection to unanimous consent. Optimistic Democrats claimed that a large additional Southern vote would be secured should the amendment come to vote, since the proposal was certain to pass. To this optimism was opposed the assurance of hostile Republican Senators that the House had agreed to find objection to the new form and would not agree to the amendment, even though the Senate should pass it. They further declared that there was no assurance that a suffrage amendment would ever pass, since House leaders had also agreed not to allow any form of the amendment to pass the Sixty-sixth Congress even though such provision should pass the Senate.
Both claims were false and in any event there were votes enough to pass the new amendment in the Sixtyfifth Senate. The Chairman of the Senate Committee was on watch day and night to find opportunity to ask unanimous consent for the presentation of the favorable report. At this point it was observed by many friends of the measure that Senators Wadsworth and Weeks spelled each other in a vigil so that one or the other could always be present to object whenever consent should be asked. This small incident aroused much additional acrimony, the friendly Democrats again contending that the Northern opposed Senators were merely postponing action in order to throw to the Republicans whatever political credit might accrue from the passage of the Amendment in the Sixty-sixth Congress, and Republican Senators accusing the Democrats of attempting to cover their years of opposition to federal suffrage action, by the appearance of support at the eleventh hour. Both accusations contained much truth, and the sorry fact was that the Sixty-fifth Congress adjourned with the Amendment not yet submitted.
From one of the earliest ships to bring soldiers from France, a lively boy soldier ran down the gang plank ahead of his fellows and astounded the group of women, waiting to serve coffee and sandwiches, with the excited question, “Have you got it yet?“ “Got what?“ they inquired. “Why, the vote,“ he answered. “Not yet,“ replied the women, whereupon the young patriot ejaculated in a tone of scorn, “O hang, you ought to be ashamed. The German women have it.“
The more intelligent people of America had come to much the same opinion. The President's war message to the Congress and the one hundred congressional speeches that followed had implied that entrance into the World War was necessary to prevent the recrudescence of an autocracy ruled world. “Making the world safe for democracy“ had become the text of sermons, speeches and appeals pronounced on behalf of conscription, food conservation, extra production, liberty loans, and loyalty pledges. Though an American Ambassador said to an English audience in 1921 that “the United States had gone to war to save its own skin,“ this was not the interpretation given in the midst of the contest. On the contrary, the moral aims of the war were more and more stressed in all the allied nations as the campaign to uphold the home defenses proceeded. The leaders everywhere seemed in accord with General Smuts of South Africa when he said that the war was a great crusade for human liberty. “It began,“ said he, “as a great military war, but all that has happened has transformed it into a great moral and spiritual crusade.“
During the years of the war the story of the unexpected and heroic services of women had been inextricably interwoven with all reports of the war for democracy. Mr. Balfour said in the United States: “Behind every man in the trenches there are ten persons making it possible for him to stay there. In 1917 seven of the ten were women.“ General Joffre said: “We have two armies, one in the trenches and one behind the trenches. The one in the rear is composed largely of women.“
In the United States the women were not lagging behind those of Europe in heroic war services. A Woman's Council of Defense with Dr. Anna Howard Shaw as Chairman had united the women of the nation in the home defense work and various organizations were sending hundreds of women overseas. The National Suffrage Association was itself maintaining a hospital in France.*
It was after the women of Great Britain, Canada, Germany and many other countries had been enfranchised that the Senate, on February 10, 1919, again refused to allow the Federal Suffrage Amendment to go to the Legislatures. The contrasting generosity of the British Parliament had been shown January 4, 1919, when “in seventy-eight minutes it passed a bill of seventy-eight words,“ making women eligible to sit in the House of Commons. American leaders of both political parties were then battling hard with their respective reactionary minorities, for it was clear that there might be an enormous advantage accruing to the party that should finally enfranchise women. The spirit of these leaders had come to resemble that of an omnibus conductor in London during one of the great suffrage processions. After a vain attempt to make headway through the surging crowds, he shouted: “O sy, give wimmen the vote and let's get on with the traffic!“
The armistice came, bloodless revolutions erected republics where kaiser and emperor had once reigned, and elections were held for Reichstag and State assemblies in which all men and all women were permitted to participate. The press carried the news to the farthest corners of the earth that millions of German women had not only voted but that thirty had been elected to the Reichstag.
This was the spirit and these the events of the world while in the United States the wilful thirty-three, as the press quite generally designated that bi-partisan minority of the Sixty-fifth Congress, refused to budge. They showed no comprehension of the changed thought of the world, nor were they characterized by that party loyalty which demands that men yield personal prejudice to the superior claim of party advantage.
In accordance with the plan adopted in 1916 at the Atlantic City Convention, the National American Woman Suffrage Association's State auxiliaries had continued hard at work during the winter of 1919, and before the end of the legislative session twenty-four State Legislatures had petitioned Congress to pass the Federal Suffrage Amendment, and five of these, New York, Idaho, Nebraska, Ohio and Missouri, had called upon an opposed Senator to change his vote.* Before May 1, 1919, the number of States in which presidential suffrage had been extended was fourteen.* One of these, Michigan, had entered the full suffrage list in 1918 and in one, Vermont, the Governor had vetoed the presidential suffrage bill. Inclusive of Arkansas and Texas where women had the right to vote in the primaries, women would vote for presidential electors in thirty States, a fact which was still proving the most persuasive of all arguments for extending full suffrage to women.
The President called a special session of the new Congress to meet May 19, 1919. On May 21 he addressed it and again recommended the passage of the Federal Suffrage Amendment. The Amendment was introduced by six members in the House, promptly reported by the Suffrage Committee on the twentieth, and placed on the calendar for the twenty-first.
James R. Mann was now the chairman of the Suffrage Committee in the House and to his organizing abilities the quick work of getting the vote was due. The Amendment was brought up almost immediately on the twenty-first and after two hours of discussion it was passed by a vote of 304 ayes, of which 200 were Republicans, 102 Democrats, 1 Prohibitionist, 1 Independent; 89 nays, of which 19 were Republicans and 70 were Democrats. Forty-two votes more than the required two-thirds had been secured. Seventy-one of the affirmative votes were cast by Representatives from the Southern States. The Democrats polled 54 per cent of their membership, the Republicans 84 per cent of theirs for the Amendment. Of 117 new members elected in November, 103 voted for the Amendment, fifteen returned members changed from negative to affirmative and no affirmative changed to negative.
The Democratic National Committee, not waiting for the Senate to act, called on the Legislatures of the various States to meet in special session and ratify the Amendment.
On June 4, 1919, after a two days' debate, the measure again came to vote in the United States Senate.
Four amendments were submitted, all by Southern Democrats for the obvious purpose of securing delay. One by Senator Underwood of Alabama proposed to refer the ratification of the amendment to State conventions. One amendment to this amendment was offered by Senator Phelan, of California, defining the character of such conventions. One was proposed by Senator Harrison, of Mississippi, introducing the word white as defining citizens, one by Senator Gay, of Louisiana, providing that enforcement of the amendment be left to the States. All were lost.
Three times the galleries violated the rule against demonstrations. There was applause when Senator Spencer, of Missouri, defended Missouri suffrage sentiment against his senior colleague, Senator Reed. Laughter when Senator Underwood, who shared dishonor with Senator Reed as the chief obstructionist in the debate, absentmindedly gave a loud “aye“ when his name was called on the main amendment and then hastily changed to “no.“ And a great wave of rejoicing when from the chair the voice of the presiding officer, Senator Cummins, rang out more clearly than the galleries had ever heard it as he announced the victory. Sixty-six Senators had voted aye; thirty had voted no.
The crowds of women issuing from the Senate Chamber that day did not sing as they had done on January 10, 1918, the day the amendment had first passed the House. To their weary senses the only meaning of the vote just taken was that the Senate had at last surrendered, given over its stubborn resistance, given in to the people it represented. “The ayes were the ayes of Congress, but the voice was the voice of the people“ ( Woman Citizen).
That afternoon, in the presence of representatives of the National Suffrage Association and many friendly Senators, Speaker Gillette, and, on the following day, Vice-President Marshall signed the Federal Suffrage Amendment with a gold pen, christened “the victory pen,“ now in the archives of the National American Woman Suffrage Association at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
“I join with you and all friends of the suffrage cause in rejoicing over the adoption of the suffrage amendment by the Congress. Please accept and convey to your association my warmest congratulations,“ cabled President Wilson from Paris.
A parting reception was held at the big suffrage house, before it was closed forever as a suffrage headquarters, the thanks to men who had helped were spoken, and many a hearty handclasp of suffrage workers and faithful friends in the Congress marked the close of the long battle. The Association thanked the political parties for their help and asked the continuance of their support; the parties congratulated the Association and promised that support.
Only a few weeks earlier the suffrage association had finished with State referenda. Almost coincidentally, it had come to the end of its work with the Congress. It faced now a new era of suffrage work, the work for ratification.
* For account of women's war service see Volume VI of the History of Woman Suffrage.
* Legislatures that memorialized Congress on behalf of the Federal Woman Suffrage Amendment in 1919: Colorado Jan. 3; Michigan Jan. 3; Indiana Jan. 9; South Dakota Jan. 9; North Dakota Jan. 11; Washington Jan. 13; Arkansas Jan. 14; Oregon Jan. 14; Utah Jan. 14; New York Jan. 15; Wisconsin Jan. 16; California Jan. 17; Nebraska Jan. 17; Kansas Jan. 20; Texas Jan. 20; Arizona Jan. 21; Idaho Jan. 23; Minnesota Jan. 23; Missouri Jan. 23; Montana Jan. 23; Nevada Jan. 28; Illinois Jan. 29; Wyoming Feb. 1; Ohio Feb. 5.
* Illinois 1913; Michigan 1917; Nebraska 1917; North Dakota 1917; Rhode Island 1917; Indiana 1919; Iowa 1919; Maine 1919; Minnesota 1919; Missouri 1919; Ohio 1919; Tennessee 1919; Vermont 1919; Wisconsin 1919. Kentucky's Legislature granted presidential suffrage in 1920.