The 19th Amendment
The majority of Americans today enjoy a comfortable lifestyle when compared to other citizens of the world. This is not a knock against them; however, it is important to note that these benefits are rarely given away freely. Throughout America’s past, brave citizens have petitioned, rallied, fought, and died for the rights that we consider “givens”. The right to vote, which many people today shirk and scoff at, was not guaranteed to anyone that wasn’t a white property-owning male until relatively recently in our country’s history. Understanding and recognizing the circumstances that led to the passage of the 19th amendment, as well as the influential persons, relevant court cases, and prominent organizations that helped enact change, is the least a competent American can do to give thanks to those that fought for their rights before they were born.
The struggle for women’s rights gained steam in the mid 19th century. Undoubtedly, the Seneca Falls Convention was the wind that fanned the initial flames of change. It would be slightly preposterous to say that prior to this convention women never wanted to vote or never voiced that opinion. However, the associations that blossomed from this event were well enough organized that they had no choice than to be recognized by the opposite sex. These organizations blossomed from the abolitionist movement, which encouraged the participation of women in an effort to free the slaves. In July of 1848, Elizabeth Stanton and Lucretia Mott, two social activists, held a convention on women’s rights in Seneca Falls, New York. Over three hundred people attended the event, which spanned two days. It consisted of lectures and discussions on the social, economical, religious, and political role of women, and questioned the power structure put into place solely by those with a Y chromosome. 80 years before this convention, the revolutionary heroes of the American Revolution enumerated their problems with the British regime, and explained why they were breaking away to form their own nation in the Declaration of Independence. Elizabeth Cady Stanton channeled her inner Thomas Jefferson when she penned The Declaration of Sentiments, which detailed the “injuries and usurpations” which had been perpetrated by men. Elizabeth Stanton closes her statement by saying: “Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation—in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.”
As previously stated, the movement for women’s rights was very closely tied to the abolitionist movement. In fact, the American Equal Rights Association was created in 1866 to further strengthen the bonds of those fighting for gender and racial equality. However, much like the Civil War divided the nation along borders of North and South, it also divided those who were intent on giving women the right to vote. After the North prevailed in the war, the 14th and 15th amendments were passed during the Reconstruction Era. These served to make previously enslaved African-Americans citizens of the United States, and disallowed citizens from being denied the vote due to race or previous condition of servitude. Despite that being good news for those fighting for racial equality, the success of these amendments left those fighting for gender equality in a quandary. They asked themselves, “Do we take this as a small victory, a stepping stone on the path to our true goal? Or do we deny this half-hearted attempt at equality and wait for the right to vote to be guaranteed to all?” This wasn’t an easy question to answer, and the AERA split in twain in 1869. The National Woman’s Suffrage Association was...
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