The Inevitable: an Analysis of Carrie Chapman Catt's Address to the U.S. Congress (1917)

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The Inevitable: An Analysis of Carrie Chapman Catt’s Address to the United States Congress (1917)

In November 1917, Carrie Chapman Catt, leader of National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), gave an address to the United States Congress expressing her belief that woman’s suffrage was inevitable, and requesting that Congress see it as such and vote to pass the amendment. Catt’s speech was based on facts and figures (ethos) from our own country’s history, logic, reasoning, and common sense (logos); it was hard for any man to argue with, which was her goal. Catt had given hundreds of speeches in her life, and in this case, she planned her approach to be factual and unemotional to get through to those that thought of women as being not intelligent enough and too emotional, and accomplished just that. This proved to be a pivotal and noteworthy moment in history because after that point, there became more of a majority in favor of a woman’s right to vote, which just a few short years later resulted in the passing of the 19th Amendment. Women’s suffrage had been going on for a long time, and Carrie Chapman Catt had been involved and then leading the fight along the way. “In 1887, Carrie returned to Iowa and began her work for suffrage. She joined the Iowa branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, becoming head of its suffrage section. As that local group began breaking apart, she began organizing women and creating suffrage clubs. In 1889, she was elected secretary of the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association and, the next year, was a delegate and minor speaker at the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in Washington, D.C. (From 1869 until 1890, the women’s suffrage movement had been divided between two organizations – one headed by Lucy Stone and Henry B. Blackwell, and the other by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton – which had differing methods of achieving their goal; they reconciled differences into NAWSA.)” (Bassett, 1928) In Catt’s speech, she opens by saying, “Woman suffrage is inevitable. Suffragists knew it before November 6, 1917; opponents afterward.” (Catt, 1917) She believed that three causes make it inevitable. 1. The history of our country. She claimed that our nation was born from revolution from nations that were ruled by kings for kings, while the people paid the price. “The American Revolutionists boldly proclaimed the heresies: ”Taxation without representation is tyranny.”

”Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” ‘ (Catt, 1917) Our country won and has held on to those two fundamental principles as the anchor of our liberties. She went on to say, that Abraham Lincoln had linked those truisms together, eighty years later, when he said: ”Ours is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Fifty years later, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed “We are fighting for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government.” Our country has not always seen the applications of this logic, but has always stuck hard and fast to this being the foundation of our nation. “Certain denominations of Protestants, Catholics, Jews, non-land holders, workingmen, Negroes, Indians, were at one time disfranchised in all, or in part, of our country. Class by class they have been admitted to the electorate. Political motives may have played their part in some instances but the only reason given by historians for their enfranchisement is the unassailability of the logic of these maxims of the Declaration.” (Catt, 1917) She goes on to claim that suffrage became a certainty as soon as the Declaration of Independence was written. 2. The suffrage for women already established in the United States makes woman suffrage for the nation inevitable. Catt reasoned that no one could expect a nation to move forward if divided, only half of...
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