Feminists, Abolitionists, and Democracy
The framework of America’s government was forged in the spirit of democracy. The founding fathers envisioned a nation of free and equal persons and a country where everyone had a voice in the decision-making process. However, it soon became evident that not all people had a voice or even equal rights. Two groups excluded from government were women and African-Americans. These groups rose up to declare their rights to equality and freedom under the law. The women’s rights and abolitionist movements of the early 19th century highlight the strengths of ideology and weaknesses of practice of democracy in early America.
Although the rights to vote and hold property were restricted to women in the early 19th century, they grew to be more independent. For example, 10% of women were spinsters who refused to marry. (The American Pageant, 331) Additionally, more job opportunities were opened to women. After being prevented from speaking at an antislavery convention, Sarah Grimke wrote her Letter on the Condition of Women and the Equality of Sexes, which spearheaded the women’s rights movement. The Seneca Falls Convention best characterizes the movement, where hundreds of men and women gathered to rally for equal rights for women. At this convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton read her Declaration of Sentiments, which paralleled Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. In this speech, Stanton called for voting to be opened to women. (United States History, 210) The actions of women involved in the movement demonstrate the strength and pursuit of democracy.
However, women’s rights were pushed aside as the abolitionist movement took center stage. One of the chief abolitionists, William Lloyd Garrison, published an antislavery newspaper, called the Liberator and founded the American Antislavery Society. Garrison took a radical approach to abolitionism, extending his protests to burning a copy of the Constitution, believing it to be a...
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