When on June 2, 1920, the United States Supreme Court rendered that, to suffrage, momentous decision that State referenda were not permissible, thirty-five States had ratified the suffrage amendment; eight had defeated ratification. The final decision therefore rested with the remaining five States that had not yet taken any action. These States were the Northern States of Connecticut and Vermont and the Southern States of North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee.
The poll of the Legislatures of North Carolina and Florida indicated an adverse majority so of course these States were expected to take adverse action, in accord with the remainder of the South. This limited the immediate prospect of the thirty-sixth ratification to Connecticut, Vermont, and Tennessee. None of the Legislatures of these States was in session, so none could ratify unless its Governor called a special session. Responsibility thus narrowed down to the Governors of the three States. Temporarily, the case of Tennessee was dismissed from consideration because of an amendment in its State constitution which read:
“Article III, Section 32: No convention or general assembly 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 General Assembly shall have been elected after such amendment is submitted.“
(Florida's constitution also contained this provision.)
This provision of the Tennessee constitution had stood unchallenged for half a century and was accepted as prohibiting a special session for the purpose of ratifying the Suffrage Amendment.
There was no longer any doubt of the ratification of the Amendment if it could be put before any one of the three Legislatures of Connecticut, Vermont, and Tennessee. All were favorable to ratification and the general sentiment in these States was not only very friendly, but the Republicans in the one-party Republican States of Connecticut and Vermont, and the Democrats in the one-party Democratic State of Tennessee, were pledged to aid ratification. Yet the presidential election of 1920 was coming nearer and nearer, with women's chance to vote in it hanging upon a thirty-sixth ratification and that ratification hanging upon a special session. It was believed that the Governor of Tennessee could not call such a session. As has already been shown, the Governors of Connecticut and Vermont would not.
Feeling was tense and irritable throughout the country. Suffragists regarded the situation with the amazed irascibility of a plaintiff given a verdict by a jury but with the judgment mysteriously and suspiciously withheld. A more surprising manifestation came from hundreds, if not thousands, of women who had taken no part and had shown no especial interest in the campaign for suffrage, but who now developed a more raucous attitude toward the delay than did the better disciplined suffragists. Women whose sympathies with the suffrage struggle had never been apparent, now, because the thirty-sixth State was not more speedily achieved, even went so far as to throw bitter invective at suffragists who had given the whole potentiality of their lives to the cause.
There were other causes of irritation. After the ratification of the thirty-fifth State on March 22, political leaders had concluded that there would be a thirty-sixth State and that millions of women would vote in November. The prediction had been widely heralded that these new voters might turn the scale in the coming election, and in consequence a hectic effort to enroll them in advance had been made by all parties. Suffragists, non-suffragists and anti-suffragists had been appointed to official posts and the first duty assigned them had been the organization of the coming women voters. Although hosts of women flocked to the organizing meetings, many declined to be organized as voters before they had attained that dignity. National chairmen of the political parties were harassed on the one hand by suffragists and their State party organizations, who entreated them to use every possible effort to find a thirty-sixth State; and on the other by women anti-suffragists and a powerful party minority, threatening a variety of disasters were that State found. Two considerations tipped the scale suffrageward, one that the politics of the thirty-sixth State might easily be a determining factor in the coming presidential election; the other that if there should be no thirty-sixth ratification each dominant party would be held blamable and the premature organization of women might prove a boomerang.
It was in the midst of this impasse that the Supreme Court handed down its decision. It validated all the ratifications already effected, cleared the Amendment of legal doubt and emphasized the fact that completed ratification required the action of only a single State. Immediately a fresh campaign to persuade the two Northern Governors to action was begun, and the Republican party left no stone unturned to persuade them to call special sessions, but neither would budge. It left the Republicans, whose majorities in Congress had submitted the Amendment and whose proportion of the State ratifications was the larger, seemingly unable to deliver the thirty-sixth State.
Meanwhile Democratic hopes had turned slowly but steadily to Tennessee. Colonel Joseph H. Acklen, general counsel of the Tennessee Suffrage Association, on May 11, had published an opinion in the Nashville Banner declaring that should the Supreme Court of the United States hold that ratification of federal amendments may be accomplished only by the exact procedure outlined in the federal constitution, then Section 32 of Article III of the Tennessee constitution would be abrogated and a called session could legally ratify the Suffrage Amendment. The opinion attracted little attention at the time but it convinced the women of the State auxiliary of the National Suffrage Association. (That auxiliary was now known as the Tennessee League of Women Voters. Its old title was the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association.) At their annual convention a week later they discussed the situation and determined to be on watch. The decision clearly recognized and applied the principle that no State possessed the authority to alter or modify in any way whatsoever the method of amending the constitution, and Colonel Acklen urged the Tennessee League of Women Voters to agitate the question of a special session.
This the League lost no time in doing. Telegraphing to the headquarters of the National Suffrage Association for help, it turned its forces to the problem of converting the State press, the Governor and the Legislature to the idea that the Supreme Court decision had made ratification in Tennessee possible. Its first appeal was made to the State Democratic convention. The convention, with enthusiastic applause, carried a hearty resolution endorsing ratification of the Amendment and recommending a special session. Armed with this resolution, the women requested the Governor to call the Legislature. The National Suffrage Association added its request, but he gave them no encouragement.
“There will be no extraordinary session of the sixty-first General Assembly,“ said he. . . . “I am forbidden by the constitution of Tennessee to call an extra session of the Legislature to act upon any amendment to the constitution of the United States. That matter is delegated to the succeeding General Assembly.“
The agitation proceeded nevertheless. The Tennesseean, the Chattanooga News and the Tennessee League of Women Voters were simultaneously taking a poll of the Legislature and from time to time publishing interviews with the legislators. On June 20 the Governor, still believing that Tennessee had no authority to ratify, again declined to call a session. The newspapers were timidly discussing the possibilities of the session, the suffragists alone being confident. It was then that the chairman of the Tennessee Ratification Committee wrote the National Suffrage Association:
“Our only hope lies in Washington. In Tennessee all swear by Woodrow Wilson. No one here believes he has clay feet. The Democratic State Convention on the 8th of June exhausted every adjective in our voluminous Southern vocabulary to approve, praise and glorify his every word and deed. If he will but speak, Tennessee must yield.“
Inspired by her faith, the entire State Board of the League of Women Voters, thirty-two women, signed a telegram to the President, urging him to ask Governor Roberts to call the session and assuring him that the Legislature would ratify if called. A copy of the telegram was sent to national suffrage headquarters and with it a plea for more help. Through its Washington representative, the National American Woman Suffrage Association secured the intercession of President Wilson, who asked the United States Department of Justice to render an opinion to the Tennessee Governor concerning the application of the Supreme Court decision to the constitution of Tennessee. This was done within an hour by Assistant Attorney-General Frierson, a citizen of Tennessee, and the following was made public by the White House in, the afternoon, fifteen hours after the telegram had been sent from Nashville:
“The ruling of the Supreme Court in the recent Ohio case, and the consideration which I gave to this question in preparing these cases for hearing, leaves no doubt in my mind that the power of the Legislature to ratify an amendment of the Federal Constitution is derived solely from the people of the United States through the Federal Constitution and not from the people through the Constitution of the State. The power thus derived cannot be taken away, limited or restrained in any way by the Constitution of a State. The provision of the Tennessee Constitution, if valid, would undoubtedly be a restriction upon that power.
“If the people of a State through their Constitution can delay action on an amendment until after an election, there is no reason why they cannot delay it until after two elections, or five elections, or until the lapse of any period of time they may see fit, and thus practically nullify the article of the Federal Constitution providing for amendment.“
On the same day President Wilson telegraphed Governor Roberts:
“It would be a real service to the party and to the nation if it is possible for you, under the peculiar provision of your State Constitution, having in mind the recent decision of the Supreme Court in the Ohio case, to call a special session of the Legislature of Tennessee to consider the Suffrage Amendment. Allow me to urge this very earnestly.“
Governor Roberts had no prejudices per se against a special session, for on March 11 he had announced that he would call a special session of the Legislature when and if the Amendment should be ratified by thirty-six other States, in order to preclude the possibility of contesting elections in which women had voted “without previous enactment of State laws relating to payment of poll tax and registration.“ With the proposal of the President, supported by the Frierson letter, a new light was thrown on the political screen. The next day, June 24, an elaborate opinion was handed the Governor, at his request, by State Attorney-General Frank M. Thompson, which declared that ratification of the Suffrage Amendment by a special session would be legal. The National American Woman Suffrage Association on June 25 gave to the public the opinion of Hon. Charles Evans Hughes, its counsel. In part it said:
“The provision of the Constitution of Tennessee attempts to take away from an existing Legislature of that State the authority to ratify the amendment as proposed by Congress for ratification by the Legislature, and to place this authority in a Legislature subsequently chosen. This, in my opinion, is beyond the power of the State. In the adoption of the Federal Constitution, the State assented to the method of ratification by the State Legislature without any such qualification and the State Legislature sitting as such after the amendment has been duly proposed by Congress has, in my judgment, full authority to ratify.“
Chief Justice Clark of the North Carolina Supreme Court volunteered a similar opinion. The widely published opinions of these high legal authorities of both dominant parties instantaneously changed the direction of expectation throughout the nation. Democratic presidential candidates sent drastic telegrams to the Governor urging that Tennessee put an end to the uncertainty of the woman's vote. In response to combined entreaties, the Governor announced that he would call a session-whereupon a long-drawn breath of relief swept over the nation. Newspapers carried the news that the Democratic State of Tennessee had come forward as the gallant rescuer of the befogged Suffrage Amendment. Cartoonists discovered a wide diversity of humorous features with which to carry the same message; and Tennessee, “the perfect thirty-six,“ became the talk of the hour. Democrats were exultant; Republicans exceedingly generous.
The relief and joy in suffrage and political party headquarters were not, however, universal. The opposition had not given up hope and it now gathered its forces for the most terrific battle it had ever waged. That battle might have been a mere flurry had it not been for two unfortunate facts: First, the political situation within the State was the worst possible for united action on any measure, and second, the Tennessee League of Women Voters was ill-qualified at that particular date to take care of so serious a campaign.
Tennessee had been a Democratic State since the Civil War, although one-third of its Legislature was Republican. The Republicans came mainly from the eastern mountain regions which had remained loyal to the Union in the Civil War and loyal to the Republican party ever after. They were regarded by the majority party with frigid tolerance and the only time that there were Republican victories in the State was when there were rifts in the Democratic forces. In one-party States the normal party antagonisms practically cease, but the instincts for division reappear as factions in the majority party. In Tennessee, these factions within the Democratic party were now at each other's throats. Staid citizens anxiously shook their heads, remembering a similarly bitter occasion when a shocking murder had resulted from a factional political quarrel. The prevailing fear that a tragedy might ensue, or that the State might be thrown into the hands of the Republicans, tended to widen the breach as each group laid the responsibility for the gravity of the situation upon the other. A persistent rumor, untraceable to any definite source, ran through each faction to the effect that the Republicans, provided with unlimited funds, were making a deal with the leaders of the opposing faction. Suspicion, animosity and uncompromising hate possessed the entire State.
The Governor was a candidate to succeed himself against two rival candidates. A whispering campaign of scandal involving the Governor was traveling fast. Every person in the State was classified as for or against him. No neutrals were permitted and when workers sent by the National Suffrage Association entered the State they were regarded with suspicion, each side accusing them as favorable to its rival. The Governor, obviously indifferent in his own feelings toward the question of woman suffrage, now found it an exceedingly troublesome issue. His political opponents alternately charged that he did not intend to call the extraordinary session; or if he did, that he and his friends could be depended upon “to dish the Amendment.“ Whatever the harried Governor's personal impulse may have been, he was certainly much disturbed by these opposing conditions and weighed the question to call or not to call each day, with varying conclusions.
Many Tennessee women had been anxious to vote in the primaries on August 5, and might have done so had the session been called at once. The rival candidates' forces therefore scolded, threatened, ridiculed and dragooned the Governor in the effort to get him to call a special session; and were without doubt not a little moved in their anxiety for early action by the hope that the scandal afloat would drive the new women voters into their camp. On the other hand, the Governor's friends, recognizing that possibility, assured him daily that enfranchising the women before August 5 would be equivalent to putting a weapon in the hand of his enemy with which to slay him. So suffragists and the opponents of suffrage in State and nation watched, waited and grew wroth, while embittered Tennessee fought her way to and through the primaries.
Most unfortunately of all perhaps, some of the leading Democratic women suffragists of the State had yielded to urging from the men and become involved in the political quarrel, some being arrayed on the Governor's side, some on the other. Although the active and efficient chairman of the Ratification Committee of the State auxiliary to the National American Woman Suffrage Association was strictly neutral, the Governor refused to deal with her on the ground that she belonged in the enemy camp. He appointed his own Committee of Women to work for ratification, with a former president of the Tennessee Suffrage Association as its chairman. Then he announced that he would call the special session for August 9, four days after the primaries.
Meanwhile the chairman of the Governor's Committee of Women hurriedly began to organize and to take a poll of the Legislature. At the same time she appealed to the National Suffrage Association for official recognition of her committee. The Tennessee League of Women Voters had no objection to its one-time president, but she was not, at the moment, an officer. Other women were officers and responsible to their constituency for the success of ratification. These women found themselves in the curious position of having their official duty taken from them by the Governor. He had summarily waved aside the organization which had produced the conditions that made ratification possible. As the Equal Suffrage Association it had blazed the trail through the early gloom of Tennessee prejudice, and later had conducted without pause the agitation, education and organization which had so largely converted the State to the justice of woman suffrage. At the moment the local groups of the League, under direction of their Congressional Chairmen, were engaged in getting the poll of the Legislature. It was the usual routine with all auxiliaries of the National Suffrage Association, the principle being applied that the legislator was responsible to his constituency, and that they alone should solicit his voting pledge. Without the League and its many connections, ratification was dubious.
The National Suffrage Association, dismayed at this unexpected tangle within its own forces, sent a representative to reconnoitre. A call upon the Governor's staff confirmed the rumor that the chief executive was surrounded by a hostile group, who not only did not want the session called but would prevent it if they could. From both friends and foes of the Governor it was learned that the session was considered doubtful. The Governor's tactical mistake in appointing an independent woman's committee was recognized by his enemies at its full value, and the Tennesseean, the leading newspaper in Nashville, had a series of editorials and cartoons in readiness with which it intended to lampoon him in relentless fashion. Perceiving that such an attack would arouse the Governor's friends to urge the withdrawal of the promise of a session, the representative of the National American Woman Suffrage Association pleaded for delay in the publication. This was reluctantly granted. The Governor was campaigning afield but a doubty Leaguer, driving her own car, took the representative to the place of his next meeting. In a brief midnight interview she pleaded for a compromise which would enable the recognition of both committees by the National Suffrage Association and by the Governor. The plea was graciously granted and she returned to Nashville, with the signed compromise in her pocket, at five o'clock in the morning, having motored all night. The Tennesseean would not accept the agreement. Then further delay was begged until the president of the National Suffrage Association could reach Nashville. This plea, too, was granted and a hurry telegram was sent to New York. On June 15 the president of the Association, after a twelve hours' notice, started for Tennessee, expecting to remain less than a week. But it was not until the comedy-tragedy of the Tennessee ratification passed into history, more than two months later, that she was able to return.
The Tennesseean reluctantly withheld its planned attack upon the Governor and in an interview with the chief executive on Sunday, August 18, between trains, the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association assured him that the Association recognized that ratification would be accomplished only by his aid and the aid of his followers in the Legislature; that it was not interested in the local politics of any State; that it recognized the Governor's right to appoint any committee he chose but that it could not repudiate its own auxiliary. She pointed out that there were Republicans in the Legislature and also Democrats of the opposing faction. She undertook to guarantee that the officers of the League of Women Voters would neither work for nor against him but would give their undivided attention to ratification. From that moment the national suffrage president served as liaison officer between the Governor and the suffragists-and found the position most delicate and difficult.
The National Suffrage Association knew one thing that Tennessee did not know, and that was that the opposition meant to wage a desperate, and probably unscrupulous, battle to prevent ratification in the thirty-sixth State. It knew that every weak man would be set upon by powerful forces, and that every vulnerable spot in the campaign would be discovered and attacked. It knew that the chances of success depended upon preparedness to the “last buckle on the last strap.“ It was no easy task to arouse either men or women to comprehension of the dire need of the hour. All factions professed to stand for ratification. Both the National Democratic and the National Republican Committees had urged the Governor to call a special session and the Legislature to ratify. Both Democratic and Republican national platforms had confirmed this request. Both Democratic and Republican State conventions had urged a special session and ratification. The Legislature about to be called had extended presidential and municipal suffrage to women, and more than a majority of its members were pledged to ratification.
Suffrage men were inclined to pooh at any expression of doubt as to the result. Yet there was not long to wait before warnings against false security began to materialize. The opposition began its work with an old campaign device. In order that legislators might “save their faces“ when they should repudiate their pledges, a plausible excuse must be found. Suddenly there appeared in the press and, directly after, in every street-corner conversation the remarkable claim that those legislators who voted for ratification would violate their oath of office. It was held that though ratification might be legal if secured by the Legislature called into special session for the purpose, that fact did not free men from their oath to uphold the State constitution as it read, even if it included an invalid provision!
Every wheel in the opposition machinery was set in motion to spread this idea and to fix it indelibly in the minds of Tennessee. The anti-suffrage press hammered it home in daily editorials. Anti-suffrage lawyers, surprisingly ignorant of the relation of the federal constitution to State constitutions, contributed further confusion to the situation by labored opinions on the inviolability of the oath of office. Men who had never been credited with political virtue came forward to warn legislators of the wickedness of voting for ratification under such circumstances. The Bar Association, in session, contained so many members who held this remarkable view that the friends of suffrage present did not introduce an intended resolution favoring ratification, lest it be rejected. With amazing docility, intelligent men fell into the trap and for three weeks this device of the opposition threatened defeat of the Amendment in the special session.
It was obviously the first duty of suffragists to destroy this legal contention. An invitation to address a luncheon of the Kiwanis Club of Nashville gave the president of the National Suffrage Association an opportunity to discuss it. An excerpt was published in all leading papers of the State and for the first time the answer to the claim, which had already gained widespread and distinguished support, was put squarely before the people of the State. She said:
“Those who are urging that legislators who vote for ratification will be violating their oath to support the State constitution forget that every legislator takes an oath of loyalty to two constitutions. The oath is no more in support of one than of the other. In fact the obligation to take an oath to support the constitution comes from the federal constitution (Article VI, Section 3). The possibility of conflict between the two was foreseen and the federal constitution (Article V, Section 2) declares that to be the supreme law of the land, and âthe judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.â The legislator does not vote to nullify the Tennessee constitution when he votes to ratify the Federal Suffrage Amendment. Any part of a State constitution is already nullified when it conflicts with the federal constitution. His oath first supports the federal constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, and, second, such portions of the Tennessee constitution as are in agreement with the federal constitution, for all others, including the provision in question, would be held to be nullified and to all intents non existent should the question of their legality ever reach the Supreme Court.“
Committees were hurriedly appointed in all the chief towns and cities and suffragists were given instructions to visit all influential lawyers and secure either an opinion upon the mooted point, or their signature to an opinion on the question: When a legislator takes a joint oath to support the federal and the State constitutions, does he violate his oath when voting in accord with the provisions of the federal constitution? As fast as these opinions were secured, they were printed by the favorable press. After a two weeks' vigorous campaign in this direction a large majority of the important lawyers of the State were publicly recorded against the assumption.
A tour of the chief cities of the congressional districts was next planned and a hurry call issued to the local groups in each district to send their leaders forward for conference with State and national officers of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. There were public meetings, newspaper interviews, talks with political leaders, and a private conference with workers at each point. At the conferences the poll of all legislators from the District was carefully reviewed, and arrangements were made for deputations of constituents, or a succession of them, if needed, to wait on every member not already pledged to vote favorably on ratification in the special session.
To every conference the question was put: “Are there any known bribable legislators from your district?“ Sometimes the entire group ejaculated a name in unison, so well established was some legislator's ill repute in this connection. The same question was put to all political leaders in private talk, and was often met by a surprised look of suspicion, to be quickly covered by an expression of canny determination not to reveal any names. However, further discussion usually secured the names. All such names were checked by a secret mark on the poll list. Several names were checked as bribable by eight different persons, each thoroughly acquainted with practical politics and each having given his opinion without the knowledge of the others.
The women of Tennessee, alarmed by the unexpected development of hostility, and now understanding the false grounds for their belief in prompt action, laid aside their political differences and worked together in a manner worthy of imitation by the men of the State. The Southern summer heat was merciless, and many legislators lived in remote villages or on farms miles from any town. Yet the women trailed these legislators, by train, by motor, by wagons and on foot, often in great discomfort, and frequently at considerable expense to themselves. They went without meals, were drenched in unexpected rains, and met with “tire troubles,“ yet no woman faltered and there was not a legislator who had not been visited by his women constituents before the Legislature met. In many instances, members were visited by deputations of men, or by joint delegations of men and women. Each day the poll was corrected in Nashville as the reports of interviews were received by wire and by mail. Each day the prospects were carefully estimated. Although several men under suspicion as bribable had signed pledges to vote for ratification they were never included in the private estimate. It was intended to make the poll so safe that it would not be endangered if the bribable fell from it.
The problem of arriving at an exact account of the ayes and nays was embarrassed by the fact that ten vacancies existed and by the further fact that there was a question of the eligibility of certain other members to serve at the special session, since they had been appointed to public office after the regular session.
Meanwhile the need of added political influence was not forgotten. The Democrats having announced that the National Committee would meet in Columbus on July 19 in connection with the ceremonies of notifying Governor Cox of his nomination for the presidency, the National Suffrage Association appointed a committee of Democratic women to be present, under the leadership of a director of the Association who was also a proxy member of the Committee. This committee presented a memorial from the Association and made three definite requests. (1) A resolution of endorsement; (2) an expression from Mr. Cox; (3) the appointment of a representative of the Democratic Committee to go to Tennessee and North Carolina to work for ratification.
Representatives of the National Suffrage Association further advised the Democratic National Committee that suffragists were surfeited with resolutions and that what the women of the country desired was that the Democratic Committee should use its full power to bring about ratification in States like Tennessee and North Carolina and not content itself with the mere adoption of a resolution.
All that was asked was done. The Committee resolved its hope for Tennessee ratification, two Tennesseeans were privately appointed as national representatives of the party to work for ratification, and Candidate Cox gave a frank and urgent request for Tennessee's ratification. At his own request two private conferences with the National Suffrage Association's committee were held and he agreed that he would come to Tennessee on his campaign trip if needed to urge ratification. As an additional expression he wired the president of the National Suffrage Association:
“I am gratified over the news that you are to remain in Nashville for the ratification campaign. It gives me added reason for expressing confidence that the Tennessee Legislature will act favorably, which will greatly please the Democratic party.“
The Republicans unexpectedly called their National Committee to meet at Marion on July 21 in connection with their notification ceremonies. The National Suffrage Association thereupon hastily appointed a committee of Republican women, and provided it with a memorial similar to that sent to the Democratic Committee and instructed it to make the same requests. The Committee passed the following resolution:
“Resolved, That it is the sense of the Executive Committee of the Republican National Committee that the Republican members of the Tennessee Legislature should be and hereby are most earnestly urged and requested by this resolution to vote unanimously for ratification of the woman suffrage amendment in the special session of the Tennessee Legislature which is to be called, and the chairman of the Republican National Committee is hereby authorized to communicate this resolution to each Republican member of said Legislature.“
This was wired to each Republican member of the Tennessee Legislature and confirmed by letter. The National Suffrage Association's Committee then called upon Mr. Harding, who declared that he was ready to throw the full weight of his influence for ratification, and the news was sent broadcast by the many correspondents then in Marion. Mr. Harding also wired the president of the National Suffrage Association and gave the message to the press himself:
“I am exceedingly glad to learn that you are in Tennessee seeking to consummate the ratification of the equal suffrage amendment. If any of the Republican members of the Tennessee Assembly should ask my opinion as to their course, I would cordially recommend an immediate favorable action.“
The opposition had been at work for several weeks upon a plan to defeat ratification by a solid Republican adverse vote, on the ground that should Tennessee ratify, “the Democrats would get the credit.“ The rumor of this had been persistent and disconcerting. The action of the National Republican Committee at Marion and the endorsement of Presidential Candidate Harding checked that effort, but did not eliminate it from the possibilities. Representative Fess, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, now urged each Republican member of the Legislature by telegram to join in a solid vote for ratification. Several State Committeemen and Harding clubs wired the Republican chairman of Tennessee, H. H. Clements of Knoxville, urging a solid vote for ratification. He publicly announced that he did so urge the Republican members of the Legislature and added, “I feel safe in pledging every Republican member of the Senate and House for the immediate ratification of the Amendment.“ Later the National Republican Committee sent a member, Mrs. Harriet Taylor Upton, to Nashville to join Republican legislators in the counter-campaign to secure a solid party vote for ratification. The combination of these influences secured nearly all the Republican votes for ratification; without them ratification would have failed.
Although the public announcement had been made a month before that the special session would be called for August 9, the official call was not issued until August 7. The ratification resolution went before the Legislature with the strongest political support it had had in any State or at any time. The preparations were complete. When, on July 25, the poll had shown a certain majority, the announcement had been given to the public, while deputations continued to visit the doubtful members and meetings were still held. A. L. Todd, presiding officer of the Senate, and Seth Walker, Speaker of the House, had agreed to introduce the resolution to ratify. Most of the best known lawyers of the State, including the Attorney-General, had given opinions not only upon the constitutionality of ratification by the Tennessee Legislature but upon the specific question as to whether men would violate their oath of office if they should vote for ratification, so that the argument which three weeks before had threatened to send the resolution to defeat had been largely eliminated from the field.
The League of Women Voters, the Governor's Committee of Women, the Democratic Woman's Committee and the Republican Woman's Committee had all been at last united under the leadership of Miss Charl Williams, Vice-Chairman of the National Democratic Committee. With all these influences on the side of ratification and with a majority of the Legislature pledged in writing to vote for ratification in the special session the prospects to onlookers seemed uninterestingly obvious, and the effort to accumulate further evidence of demand for the Tennessee ratification appeared to them a senseless waste of energy. Yet experienced suffragists faced the coming events with anxiety, and each congressional chairman to whose workers the legislators' pledges had been made was urged to be present when the Legislature met.
On Saturday evening, August 7, the great foyer of the Hermitage Hotel was packed with men and women bedecked with suffrage yellow and anti-suffrage red and the “War of the Roses“ was on. The “anti“ women had made an eleventh-hour attempt to show numbers and had brought women from all parts of the country, especially from Southern States. All the women who had become familiar figures in anti-suffrage contests were there, and many more. Mysterious men in great numbers were there, taking an active part in the controversy, while in and out through this crowded “third house“ moved the bewildered legislators.
That very day the ominous possibilities of the “invisible government“ were made manifest. Seth Walker, Speaker of the House, who had willingly joined the Men's Ratification Committee and had not only pledged his vote verbally and in writing to several persons but had accepted the invitation to introduce the resolution, sought out the president of the League of Women Voters and announced a change of mind. By evening it had become clear that he would assume the floor leadership against the Amendment. Before midnight, suffragists had other worries. During the evening groups of legislators under escort of strange men had left the foyer and gone to a room on the eighth floor. As the evening grew late legislators, both suffrage and anti-suffrage men, were reeling through the hall in a state of advanced intoxication-a sight no suffragist had before witnessed in the sixty years of suffrage struggle.
Sunday passed and Monday, August 9, came. The Legislature met at noon. The Governor's message recommending ratification was delivered and both Houses adjourned for the day. With nothing to do, members again accepted the invitation to the eighth floor, where a group of anti-suffrage men dispensed old Bourbon and moonshine whisky with lavish insistence. Tennessee had been a prohibition State before the Eighteenth Amendment had been submitted, and the State had also ratified that amendment. Why was not the law enforced, asked the women. “Now see here,“ was the answer, “in Tennessee whisky and legislation go hand in hand, especially when controversial questions are urged.“ Denial of this traditional license when a great issue was at stake would be resented as an interference with established custom by suffragists and anti-suffragists-“This is the Tennessee way.“ Suffragists were plunged into helpless despair. Hour by hour suffrage men and women who went to the different hotels of the city to talk with the legislators came back to the Hermitage headquarters to report. And every report told the same story-the Legislature was drunk! “How many legislators?“ was the abashed query. No one knew. “Are none sober?“ was next asked. “Possibly,“ was the answer.
In agony of soul suffragists went to bed in the early morning, but not to sleep. The members of the Tennessee Legislature, however, largely slept themselves sober during the night and hope revived.
Presiding Officer Todd introduced the resolution in the Senate on the tenth, according to agreement, and the entire Shelby County delegation introduced it in the House. At the request of the antis the Senate and House Committees to which the resolution had been referred granted a hearing on the evening of the twelfth. Meantime the opponents tested their strength in the House by introducing a resolution referring the Amendment to county conventions in order “to hear from the people.“ Suffrage legislators promptly tabled it by a vote of 50 to 37. The suffrage men also tabled another resolution declaring ratification of any amendment in that session to be in violation of the spirit of the State constitution.
One of the largest crowds ever assembled in the Capitol attended the suffrage hearing. The suffragists entrusted their side to a group of brilliant and distinguished Tennessee lawyers. The evening furnished the suffrage side with two disagreeable surprises. Major Stahlman, of the Nashville Banner, who had faithfully promised support to suffragists at the Kiwanis Club, spoke for the antis. Later it was learned that he had assumed direction of the opposition lobby. His sudden change of position was regarded as another ominous sign.
The other incident that startled the suffragists was this: A man arose and read a letter from Presidential Candidate Harding:
“I beg to acknowledge your esteemed favor of August 4th. Your letter is the first bit of information I have had concerning the provision in your State constitution. I have heard something about a constitutional inhibition against your Legislature acting upon the Federal Amendment, but I did not know of the explicit provision to which your letter makes reference. I quite agree with you that members of the General Assembly cannot ignore the State constitution.
“Without having seen the document myself I should be reluctant to undertake to construe it.
“I have felt for some time that it would be very fortunate if we could dispose of the Suffrage Amendment, and I have done what I could in a consistent way to bring about the consummation of ratification. I have tried throughout it all to avoid trespassing upon the rights of State officials.
“It has not seemed to me a proper thing for a candidate on the federal ticket to assume an undue authority in directing State officials as to the performance of their constitutional duties.
“I did say and I still believe it would be a fortunate thing for Republicans to play their full part in bringing about ratification. I should be very unfair to you and should very much misrepresent my own convictions if I urged you to vote for ratification when you hold to a very conscientious belief that there is a constitutional inhibition which prevents your doing so until after an election has been held. (Italics ours.)
“I hope I make myself reasonably clear on this subject, I do not want you to have any doubt about my belief in the desirability of completing the ratification but I am just as earnest about expressing myself in favor of fidelity to conscience in the performance of a public service.“
Candidates Harding and Cox had both been fully informed of the alleged technical obstruction in the Tennessee constitution and of the campaign among the lawyers of the State to offset it. In the flood of impressions circling around a presidential candidate, the explanation had apparently slipped away in Mr. Harding's case, and the effect of this letter upon the campaign was to hand a cudgel to the opponents. It opened the way for Republicans to creep out of their pledged obligations with a pose of extra conscientiousness and for a return of the argument which had been largely eliminated by intensive effort. To watching suffragists that letter came like a bolt from a blue sky, and again there was no sleep.
The anxiety was stilled for a time by the prompt and generous action of the Tennessee Senate. The Senate Committee met immediately after the hearing on the twelfth and voted to report the Amendment favorably by a vote of 8 to 2. The two dissenters made ready to present a minority report. Although the debate in the Senate on the thirteenth had been awaited with anxiety, only two speeches were made in opposition. One of these was so vituperative and vulgar that it not only aroused the fighting qualities of the friends of suffrage but called forth denunciation from the entire State. Many were the letters of apology sent to suffrage headquarters from prominent men on behalf of the State for this attack upon individual suffragists. Senator Collins, who had been brought from a sick bed to cast his vote for ratification, stood tremblingly clinging to his desk, as with shaking voice he eloquently defended women against the attack.
Senator Monroe, who was carried on the anti poll, created a sensation when he announced that he had been reminded of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and requested in that connection by Northern women antis to vote against the Amendment. “But,“ said he, “I am going to vote for ratification in order to give back to the North what the North gave to Tennessee when it ratified the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.“ Others for various reasons announced changes of attitude. The minority report was promptly rejected and ratification passed August 13, 25 ayes and 4 nays. To the outside world, watching, this result was an expected and normal action. To the suffragists on guard in Tennessee, it meant a reversal of the usual policy-the opposition had centered on the House instead of the Senate.
The political fate of the women of the nation now rested in the hands of a minority of a single legislative chamber. From day to day the House ominously postponed the date of the vote. Though the postponement meant that the pledged majority was still standing fast, in vain did the suffrage members try to get the resolution on the calendar. Meanwhile the male anti-suffrage lobby, from early morning of each day until the wee small hours of the next, threatened and cajoled the embattled sixty-two who had signed pledges. They were baited with whisky, tempted with offers of office, loans of money, and every other device which old hands at illicit politics could conceive or remember. An alleged attempt to kidnap a suffrage member was made. Various schemes were started to get rid of enough suffrage legislators to allow the opposition a chance to act, a favorite proposal being that men might conveniently get messages calling them home.
Engaged in this nefarious intrigue was what old-timers recognized as the former “whisky lobby“ in full force, the one-time railroad lobby which was alleged to have directed Tennessee politics for years, and a newer manufacturer's lobby. All pretense was thrown aside and all three worked openly as one man, although who paid the bills the public never knew. Every day men dropped from the poll. In some cases the actual consideration was noised about. One man who had written nine letters in which he declared that he would be on hand “to vote for woman suffrage until I am called up yonder“ had fallen early. Before the end all men checked as bribable on the poll, taken before the Legislature met, fell from it.
The American Constitutional League, Everett P. Wheeler, president (formerly the Men's Anti-Suffrage League), formed a branch in Nashville, and its members, mainly politicians, joined in the bombardment of legislators friendly to suffrage. The Maryland Legislature sent a memorial, which was read at the opening of the Tennessee Legislature, urging rejection of ratification, and representatives of the Maryland League for State Defense (formerly the Men's Anti-Suffrage League of Maryland) joined the lobby. Women antis pressed the sharp point of Negro woman suffrage into Southern traditions; the men antis bore hard on the alleged illegalities of ratification by the Tennessee Legislature; all of them quoted Mr. Harding's sympathy with the oath-violating theory. Men and women, as organized anti-suffragists, issued daily press bulletins assuming the responsibility for the campaign of opposition, while, as usual, other men, whose presence in Nashville was unannounced to the outside world, were applying the “third degree“ in a hotel bedroom.
The House Committee met on the evening of the sixteenth and reported favorably on the seventeenth. The vote on the resolution having been set for that day, the debate was opened by T. K. Riddick of Memphis (Shelby County), a distinguished lawyer who had allowed himself to be elected to a vacancy for the sole purpose of aiding ratification. Said he:
“I have in my pocket the pledges of sixty-two members of this House which the people of Tennessee will have the opportunity to read. If those men fail to keep faith I shall go from this chamber ashamed of being a Democrat, ashamed of being a Tennesseean.“
Seth Walker made what the mountaineers called “a bear cat of a speech,“ saying that it had been charged that his change of attitude was due to a certain railroad which he named; this he resented, but he conspicuously failed to give an explanation of his strange volte face which was amazing the entire nation. The antis brought the debate to a close by a motion to adjourn, passed by a vote of 52 to 44. The previous tests had indicated that suffragists were in control of the House, but this one gave evidence that the position had been reversed. Suffrage anxiety was intense.
That night the suffrage leaders with heavy hearts confessed their despair to each other. “There is one thing more we can do,“ said the president of the National Suffrage Association, “only one, we can pray.“
In the interim representatives of a group of newspapers called upon the Governor and threatened to defeat him at the election if he did not “pull off his men.“ He stood firm. On the eighteenth the House was again packed and hundreds of would-be onlookers were turned away. The debate continued. “What is a greater crime than for interests, from New York to San Francisco, to send lobbyists here to break your pledges, or for certain newspapers connected with railroads to threaten you as they have been doing for the last ten days,“ demanded Joe Hanover, floor suffrage leader. L. D. Miller of Chattanooga closed with a ringing speech in which he said:
“When the special interests made an attack on this Legislature in January they had a gang of lobbyists to put over their infamous bills. I recognize in the lobbies these same special interest servers. You have an opportunity on this occasion to rid this State of an incubus that has had its claws in this Legislature for fifty years. Let us show by our votes that the special interests are done in Tennessee.“
The moment had become intensely dramatic; every onlooker knew that the fate of the question might depend upon a single vote. Of the ninety-nine elected members of the House, ninety-six were present. One had resigned and his place was vacant. The other two, both suffragists, were kept at home by serious family illness. Dr. J. Frank Griffin had hastened home from California to cast a suffrage vote. R. L. Dowlen, who had just undergone a serious operation, was brought from his bed to the capitol to vote for the resolution. Seth Walker, in a last effort to rally the weakening lines of the anti-ratificationists, at the end of the debate shouted in melodramatic manner, “The hour has come. The battle has been fought and won“-and moved to table the resolution. But the vote on tabling stood 48 to 48! The room rang with the cheers of the galleries. One more vote had been won for suffrage. The roll call showed that Banks Turner who was carried on the anti poll had dropped into the suffrage column. Unwilling to believe the roll-call, Mr. Walker demanded a second and it was taken. He left his Speaker's seat and, with arms thrown around Banks Turner, whispered insistent entreaties in his ears as the names were again called. Shivers ran down suffrage backs as Mr. Turner passed his call without response. Heads stretched forward and every eye centered on the legislator and the Speaker, while a breathless silence pervaded the room. The fans ceased to wave. Even the overpowering heat was forgotten. At the end of the roll-call Mr. Turner threw off the Speaker's arm, drew himself up proudly and shouted a defiant no. Cheers and shouts burst forth again and the galleries would accept no discipline from the chair. The vote still stood 48 to 48 against tabling.
A motion to ratify the Amendment was then made and the vote was taken in a tension that was well-nigh unbearable; 49 ayes, 47 nays. The House broke into an uproar, and the cheers of triumph that rang through the old legislative chamber were heard far down the street.
The second additional vote that had been won for suffrage was that of Harry Burn, a twenty-four-year-old Republican, who forthwith became a hero to the suffragists and a traitor to their opponents. He had been placed on the suffrage poll as conditioned, for he had promised to vote for the resolution only if his vote should be necessary for ratification, otherwise he was going to vote against it, as he believed his constituents were opposed. From the vote on the motion to table he saw that his vote was necessary and so changed his attitude on the ratification motion.
Although 49 was a majority of 96, the number of members present and sufficient for legal ratification, Tennessee was accustomed to consider 50 the majority of 99, the total elected membership, as a “constitutional majority.“ Seth Walker, in order to move a reconsideration, changed his vote from no to aye, which made the final record 50 ayes to 46 nays, thus giving the constitutional majority.
Thus, by a freak of politics, the last vote needed by the Tennessee standard to enfranchise the women of a great nation was cast by a man who was clearly staking heavily to defeat it.
According to the printed rules of the House in Tennessee, a motion to reconsider any ordinary measure may be made by any person voting on the majority side, and that person controls the right to bring the motion up at any time within three days; no other person may bring it up. On each one of these three days the House met with full quorum present, but the Speaker did not bring up his motion to reconsider. The two suffrage absentees had returned and there were suffrage votes to spare. During that three days' period the opposition again worked desperately. One suffrage member was called every half hour through two nights, each time with a different appeal to change his vote. Another was urged every half hour all night to come downtown to see an important man. A man who was laboring day and night in the midst of the anti forces to break the suffrage majority finally implored his daughter-in-law to renounce publicly the suffrage side and come out in opposition. With tears in his eyes he entreated: “It will mean a great deal to you and your daughter in the future if this amendment is defeated.“
Whereupon the spirited seventeen-year-old daughter, present at the interview, spoke for her mother: “Mother and I would rather live in poverty all the rest of our lives than get money by treachery to our sex. We will not desert the suffragists and we are not proud of the work you are doing.“ A man who was carried on the suffrage poll was reported by suffrage men as wavering, and was boldly claimed by the opposition. A confession was secured by U. S. Senator McKellar that he had been offered a position under the Excise Commissioner for his vote. A telegram to the President of the United States brought prompt rebuke to the Commissioner, who left town at once. And the man ceased to waver. Young Harry Burn was the chief object of persecution. He was threatened with exposure of an alleged bribe if he did not remain out of the Legislature until the vote on reconsideration was over. Men declared they had affidavits to prove that he had been bribed by suffrage floor leader Hanover and the Governor's secretary between the vote on tabling and that on ratification. The presentation of affidavits disproved that charge. The efforts at intimidation led Mr. Burn to make a statement to the House:
“I desire to resent in the name of honesty and justice the veiled intimation and accusation regarding my vote on the Suffrage Amendment as indicated in certain statements, and it is my sincere belief that those responsible for their existence know there is not a scintilla of truth in them. I want to state that I changed my vote in favor of ratification first because I believe in full suffrage as a right; second, I believe we had a moral and legal right to ratify; third, I knew that a mother's advice is always safest for her boy to follow and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification; fourth, I appreciated the fact that an opportunity such as seldom comes to a mortal man to free seventeen million women from political slavery was mine; fifth, I desired that my party in both State and nation might say that it was a Republican from the East mountains of Tennessee, the purest Anglo-Saxon section in the world, who made national woman suffrage possible at this date, not for personal glory but for the glory of his party.“
A few hours later the president of the League of Women Voters received a telegram from Mrs. J. L. Burn, the young man's mother. The telegram read:
“Woman was here to-day, claims to be wife of Governor of Louisiana, and secured an interview with me and tried by every means to get me to refute and say that the letter I sent to my son was false. The letter is authentic and was written by me and you can refute any statement that any party claims to have received from me. Any statement claiming to be from me is false. I stand squarely behind suffrage and request my son to stick to suffrage until the end. This woman was very insulting to me in my home, and I had a hard time to get her out of my home.“
An amusing indication of the state of suffrage nerves occurred when during this three-day period Harry Burn was reported as having left Nashville. His hotel said he had gone and the clerks did not know where. There was consternation again among the suffrage forces. Had he deserted after all? Had he been kidnapped? An hour later his name appeared upon the register of another hotel to which he had moved.
Men were found listening at the transoms of suffrage doors, a telegram between the receiving and operating telephone desk was stolen and given to the press. Men, whom nobody seemed to know or what they represented, mysteriously appeared and joined the opposition forces. All day and all night suffrage lines were guarded. Suffrage women picketed the hotel floors where suspicious incidents had taken place and suffrage men polled the suffrage members every two hours during the day and watched over them at night.
On the 18th the opposition held a mass meeting where two things of note occurred. In a speech, Seth Walker confidently announced that three men had deserted the suffrage side and that in consequence the defeat of the Amendment was certain. The other incident was a letter from Presidential Candidate Cox surprisingly similar to that of Mr. Harding and dated on the same day. More doubt and confusion. Again the public did not know whether to believe that the two candidates were playing politics or were sincere in their desire to see the Amendment ratified, and the opposition made the most of the situation. Again the oath loyalty argument was revived and made to work. Could it be true that three men had deserted, suffragists asked. Faithful suffrage men did not sleep until they had sounded every pledged man, and when they found the sterling 49 still standing firm they recorded Seth Walker's claim as a political “bluff.“
The vote on reconsideration was expected hourly on Friday, and the galleries were again packed. A manufacturer had given a holiday to his women employees and sent them red-rose bedecked to help fill the galleries and swell the anti numbers. It was clear that every vote might be needed. T. A. Dodson had received a message that his baby was dying and had just taken his train when it was discovered that his vote might prove crucial. A suffragist drove her motor on a flying trip to the station, taking two suffrage men with her. They reached the train just as it was moving out and the men promised the legislator a special train which would get him home as soon as the regular one if he would come back. He returned, remaining while needed, was given the special train, paid for by Newell Sanders, a Republican and ex-State Senator, and reached home to find the baby happily recovering. The hours passed, the quorum was present, the suffrage voters were all there, but Mr. Walker, perceiving the futility of so doing, did not bring up his motion to reconsider. At the end of the session the suffrage majority carried a motion to meet on Saturday morning, the 21st. According to the custom, but not the printed rules of the House, it was possible after the three days for any member to call up a motion to reconsider, and the suffrage members intended to bring it up on Saturday morning and vote it down.
The city of Nashville looked forward to another exciting session, but before Saturday's breakfast the news was all about town that 38 anti-ratification House members had ignominiously fled in the dead of night. They had gone in small groups to a station near Nashville where they boarded an L and N train which carried them across the border into Alabama. This move of last resort was intended to prevent any further action by destroying a quorum and to give time to anti-suffrage workers to break down a suffrage member.
The House met on Saturday morning with 50 suffrage men and 9 antis present and with women suffragists occupying the seats of the absentees. The anti-suffrage chaplain added a bit of irony to the situation when he played that “God's richest blessings be granted our absent ones.“ The suffrage garrison prepared to enjoy itself and harassed Speaker Walker by overturning every ruling and voting down every decision of the chair. Speaker Walker announced that an injunction against forwarding the certificate of ratification to Washington had been issued that morning by Judge Langford of the Supreme Court and that the injunction had been served upon the Governor, the Secretary of State and the Speaker of both Houses. The ratificationists went on with the legislative program. The pending motion to reconsider was called up and voted down. The ratified Amendment was ordered returned to the Senate and it was returned. It was common knowledge that the Governor could not be enjoined by the laws of the State and lawyers now begged him to ignore the injunction and forward the certificate, but the Governor was non-committal while neither the Attorney-General nor any of his assistants could be located! The Attorney-General's office mysteriously professed no knowledge of their whereabouts. After a two days' absence, however, Attorney-General Thompson emerged from his hiding place, brief in hand, supporting a plea which was heard by Judge Lansden, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, on August 23. The plea was for a writ of certiorare et supersedeas and it was issued, thus dissolving the injunction of the lower court, and clearing the way for the Tennessee certificate to be sent to Washington.
During this time the Attorney-General issued two opinions which were seconded through the press by many other equally prominent lawyers throughout the State.
1. When a Legislature has taken favorable action on a federal amendment, it has exhausted its power to act and no motion to reconsider is applicable even for the limit of three days.
2. Had a motion to reconsider been applicable in the case of a federal suffrage amendment, that power was exhausted according to the printed rules of the House when three days had passed; for no contrary custom of the House could be held to have legal value.
On Tuesday, August 24, at 10:17 A.M., Governor Roberts, in the presence of interested suffragists, signed the certificate and sent it by registered mail to the Secretary of State. It was delivered at 4 A.M. on the 26th, and was at once referred for examination to the Solicitor who had been sitting up all night in order to be on hand when it should arrive. An open threat to secure an injunction to prevent the issuance of the Proclamation certifying to the ratification of the Amendment had been continually made by the opposition. In July Justice Bailey of the District of Columbia Supreme Court had declined to issue such an injunction upon action brought by Charles S. Fairchild and the American Constitutional League. On August 25, Justice Seddons of the same court had refused the same application. The Secretary of State, Bainbridge Colby, however, took no chances and arose early on the morning of the 26th. At eight o'clock, without ceremony, he signed the Proclamation.
The group of workers of the National Suffrage Association, returning from Tennessee, arrived in Washington the morning the Proclamation was signed and found a great victory celebration awaiting them. In the evening, to a packed theatre audience, they told the story of the Tennessee campaign. The Secretary of State was there to represent the Administration, and on behalf of the nation congratulated the suffragists upon their freedom.
On August 27 the Tennessee suffrage group returned to New York city, the home of the national suffrage headquarters. The Governor of the State and representatives of the Republican and Democratic National Committees were at the station to welcome them and so were the “old guard“ suffragists. With the 71st Regiment Band at the head and with the old familiar banners waving, they marched together for the last time to the Waldorf Astoria, where all made speeches of self-congratulation. Mrs. Harriet Taylor Upton, National Chairman of the Republican women, told how the Republicans carried Tennessee, and Miss Charl Williams, National Chairman of the Democratic women, told how the Democrats did it. Others told how resourceful and fearless the Tennessee women had been, how heroic were the faithful 49 in the midst of the whirlwind of opposition and how the victory was everybody's victory who had labored in the cause.
A hurry call had been sent to all the mayors of Tennessee, urging them to join the women's celebration by ordering the ringing of bells and blowing of whistles. And the whistles did blow and the bells did ring merrily and sincerely in most Tennessee towns, for the people in the main stood by the ratifying Legislature. From ocean to ocean, from “Canada to the Gulf,“ the celebrations continued. Meetings, processions, flag raisings, transformations from suffrage associations into Leagues of Women Voters were the order of the day for the month that followed. None was more significant than the draped flag over the tablet that marked the site of the chapel where the world's first woman's convention had been held in 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York; none more significant than the wreaths of flowers hung on the old building where the world's first woman's jury had sat in 1870 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Here the story of woman suffrage in the United States should appropriately end, but there was more to come-and come in Tennessee-before the long suffrage campaign was permitted to pass into history as a closed issue.
The Tennessee Legislature recessed from day to day, as there was no quorum. The call had included 132 bills as needing attention by the Legislature. The majority of the anti-ratificationists stubbornly remained in Alabama or at their homes and awaited the call of their masters. The ratification members, unwilling to remain in Nashville without a quorum, had gone home also. Anti-ratification mass meetings were still in progress and the speakers were defiantly threatening to undo ratification in the Courts. Meanwhile the Governor and the Sergeant-at-Arms were striving to get a quorum of the Legislature. It was publicly announced that on August 30 the “red rose brigade“ would return. Four hours were spent on that day in an effort to secure the quorum of 66 members, but at no time could more than 63 be found. The filibusters had returned with “a great show of being ready for business.“ The full suffrage majority was not in Nashville and the ratificationists who were there feared to help compose the quorum lest some unfriendly act be passed. Ratification legislators, arrested and brought into the House, escaped by other doors while the 46 anti-ratificationists held their seats.
Finally it was announced that the ratificationists would all be in their seats on the 31st, whereupon the antis failed to appear, lest they could not muster a sufficient vote to overthrow the suffrage action of August 21. The scene had lost its attraction for both suffragists and anti-suffragists, who now deserted the balconies. Without the yellow and the red, the place looked lonesome. Even Mr. Walker absented himself on this date.
On September 11, however, the anti-ratificationists won the game of hide-and-seek and got control of the House, many suffrage men being absent. Amid shouts of glee, by a vote of 47 to 37, they passed a motion to expunge from the record all that had taken place on the 21st except the record that there had been no quorum. Mr. Riddick, on behalf of the ratificationists, contested every step with points of order. The entire controversy raged around the question of a quorum. By the rules of the Legislature two-thirds, 66, of the elected number constituted a quorum in the House. There was a quorum when the House ratified. There was a majority but not a quorum by Tennessee rules when the House voted down the motion to reconsider and returned the ratified Amendment to the Senate. Mr. Riddick contended that the authority for procedure was drawn from the federal constitution and that no rules of the House could supersede. He claimed that the authority for a quorum composed of a majority was drawn from parliamentary usage. In these views he was sustained by the Attorney-General whose opinion he quoted. The anti members refused to accept this interpretation. A resolution to reject the Suffrage Amendment as a substitute for the one to ratify, which the antis held to be pending on reconsideration, was voted on, 47 to 24, with 20 not voting. This rejection resolution was sent to the Senate with instructions that it be forwarded to the Governor. The suffrage House members now enjoined the Chief Clerk of the Senate from receiving it. On September 12, the Senate was in a turmoil of indignation as it discussed the resolution received from the House and resented “attempts to control its business.“ By a vote of 17 to 8 it refused to accept the resolution and returned that message, whereupon House members volubly informed Senators that if their resolution was not received there would be no passage by the House of the per diem for Senators nor other Senate legislation. The threats proved persuasive and on September 13, the Senate, having turned a somersault overnight, accepted the resolution by a vote of 21 to 4. Then the Senate forwarded the resolution of rejection to the Governor, who in turn sent it to the Secretary of State.
With the suffrage question thus disposed of to the satisfaction of each contending faction, the Legislature settled down to business, and remained in session until September 16, when it adjourned after passing-over the Governor's veto-the Appropriation Bill which gave to each member $100 extra for expenses incurred in remaining longer than the twenty days of the special session allowed by the constitution. Although the laws of the State of Tennessee declare desertion of a legislative post to be a felony, this law was not enforced and the fleeing opposition members of the House drew their per diem and extra allowances without protest!
On September 12 Speaker Walker and a group of anti men appeared in Washington to entreat the Secretary to withdraw the Proclamation. Failing in their mission, they went on to Connecticut with the avowed purpose of persuading the political group which had so stubbornly resisted all efforts to secure a special session in that State to continue that policy in order that the legality of the ratification of the Amendment might rest upon the case of Tennessee. They returned to Washington and again sought an interview with the Secretary of State in order to renew their appeal. Interviews in the press widely announced that they had not surrendered and would contest the ratification of Tennessee in the Courts.
The American Constitutional League (formerly the Men's Anti Woman Suffrage League) and the Maryland League for State Defense (formerly the Maryland Men's Anti-Suffrage Association) were still declaring through numerous press communications that ratification would be proved invalid. The women antis still continued their publicity service, announcing with frequency that litigation would be started not only to invalidate the Amendment but the entire presidential election.
None of the threatened litigation alarmed the nation, but it doubtless served to convince political leaders that another State was desirable to make assurance doubly sure.
Governor Holcomb of Connecticut, although still unyielding, now called a special session to provide for registering women. When calling it he warned the legislators that they must confine themselves to the business contained in the call-and omitted the Suffrage Amendment from the list. No such restriction had ever been put upon a Connecticut Legislature and the Governor himself had said, two years before, that he had no power to prevent the transaction of any business when once the Legislature had been called in special session. The members, a majority of whom had long been pledged to ratification, determined to show independence and to ratify.
As soon as the special session opened, Governor Holcomb appeared and asked that it adjourn without action, as it was his intention to issue another call to meet a week later to ratify the Amendment and to enact other necessary legislation. Both Houses refused, and by unanimous vote in the Senate and with only eleven voting in opposition in the House, ratified the Federal Suffrage Amendment, even though the Governor had failed to transmit the certified copy. In further defiance of the Governor they passed several bills, none of which was included in the call. They then adjourned until September 21.
When the Legislature again met, the Governor appeared and asked the members to ratify the Amendment. Many refused, as it seemed an acknowledgment that their former action was invalid, but reason conquered tempers and, as the Connecticut auxiliary to the National Suffrage Association strongly recommended a second action to make legality absolutely certain, the Amendment was again ratified. The same day, to placate the members who wished the first record to stand, a motion was made to reconsider and confirm the action of the first session. Thus terminated a continuous struggle of fifteen months to secure ratification from a Legislature which all that time had been ready to act favorably, and which finally ratified the Amendment not once but three times. The ratification of Connecticut stilled any restless questioning of the validity of Tennessee and forever established the Amendment as a part of the federal constitution.
Governor Clement of Vermont retired from office December 31, 1920, and was succeeded by Governor James Hartness. The Vermont Legislature met in regular session in January, 1921. The resolution to ratify the Federal Suffrage Amendment was read in the House for the third time on January 28 and passed, ayes 202, nays 3. On February 8 it was passed unanimously by the Senate.
The threats of the Tennessee antis had died of inattention and the threatened invalidation of the Amendment had by now narrowed down to two cases. One-the Leser vs. Garnett case, claiming that thirty-six States had not legally ratified the Amendment, the ratifications of West Virginia, Missouri and Tennessee being cited as invalid-brought a decision from the Maryland Court of Common Pleas that thirty-six had duly ratified. The case was carried to the Court of Appeals (Maryland) where on June 28, 1921, the Judge affirmed the decision of the lower Court that these ratifications were valid. It was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, where a decision sustaining the two prior opinions was handed down. The other, a similar contention, known as the Fairchild case, which had been pending in different form since July, 1920, was also dismissed by the Supreme Court of the United States. Thus all efforts to declare the Amendment invalid came to an end.
The final announcement of these decisions appeared in small paragraphs in obscure corners of the newspapers. Hardly anyone noted them. Woman suffrage was already everywhere recognized as an established fact.