Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Sources for Chartism: Chartist Women 4

The rights of women

Chartist leaders needed to appeal to women workers and gain their support, especially in northern industrial areas. At the same time, they were asking for the vote in order to protect women from the exploitation of employment in factories and mines, and to recover the domestic harmony of an imagined earlier world. Although sometimes male and female Chartists co-operated in strike action, Chartists were for the most part calling for the exclusion of women from the work force. The Chartist demand for citizenship was not based on the right of property or of heads of households; Chartists would not, for instance, exclude the rights of sons. It could be based on the natural rights argument. Women’s political enfranchisement was however a matter of some interest among Chartist leaders, and the issue had been raised when the Charter was first drafted. The view that this demand would be ridiculed and would delay male suffrage had prevailed. But Chartists could also recast the older arguments to claim the vote on the basis of property in the skill of the worker, and those who did so tended to assume that skill was a masculine monopoly. Nevertheless there was considerable support for women’s rights and some leaders, like R. J. Richardson and Ernest Jones continued to defend women’s suffrage throughout the 1840s and 1850s. However, they did not always find it easy to reconcile women’s suffrage with the language of domesticity. Women Chartists were never nominated for any local or national committees, and played no part in the direction of the movement.

Source 8: R. J. Richardson, The Rights of Woman, 1840, reprinted in Dorothy Thompson The Early Chartists, Macmillan, 1971, pages 115-119

Having occupied some time in shewing you the natural degree of woman, also her scriptural qualifications and her physical inequality, I shall now proceed to the main feature of the question, or rather to the question itself-"Ought Women to interfere in the political affairs of the country?" As I have before prepared you, by an abstract dissertation upon the natural rights of woman, I do most distinctly and unequivocally say-YES! And for the following reasons:

First, Because she has a natural right.

Second, Because she has a civil right.

Third, Because she has a political right.

Fourth, Because it is a duty imperative upon her.

Fifth, Because it is derogatory to the divine will to neglect so imperative a duty.

The first reason I hope I have sufficiently argued before and established its truth.

The second is, in a certain degree, answered by the establishment of the first reason; but is addition I may say, that it is nowhere written in the body of the civil law, that woman, by reason of her sex, is disqualified from the exercise of political right except by her own voluntary act. Grotius, Puffendorf, Montesquieu, Vattel, and other famous civilians, have nowhere consented to such an unjust exclusion; the only instance on record where we find this right disputed, is in the famous controversy between Philip of Valois, and Edward III, concerning the Salic law, by which females and their descendants are excluded from the monarchy of France, and from the inheritance of the allodial lands of the nobility, the latter part of the law has long become obsolete, and the former is nowhere acted upon except in France, proving that the doctrine of the exclusion of females from political power is not consonant with the law of nature and nations.

Again, civilians teach us the doctrine of community of persons and community of rights, as the best mode of establishing a pure commonwealth, in strict accordance with the genuine principles of liberty. Surely then it cannot be argued, that any inequality should prevail, or that any distinction should exist in a community, where all things are held in common, or in trust for the good of that community. Of course I now speak of society in its purest state, but it is a legitimate argument in favour of my position; for as all political law is based upon the civil law, so are those political institutions best that proximate nearest to the original standard of civil liberty.

Civilians tell us also, that for all the uses of society woman stands upon an equal footing with man; for all the purposes of civil government, woman is equally admissible to office; for the due promotion of the welfare of the state, woman is essentially necessary in conjunction with man. These three positions I shall mention when I advance my arguments in favour of Reason Third.

I ask upon what ground can this civil right be abridged diverted or abrogated? I ask those who tyrannically withhold from woman her political rights, on what assumption do they do so? I challenge them to sustain their opinions. I invite them to discussion, and will appear to maintain my proud position as the vindicator of the rights of woman against any one who may be so lost to a sense of shame as to oppose helpless woman in pursuit of her just rights.

The third reason I advance in justification of my emphatic approval of the question at issue is, because I conceive Woman has a political right to interfere in all matters concerning the state of which she is a member, more especially as applied to Great Britain, for the following reasons:

1st-Because, by the ancient laws of the English constitution, she is admissible to every executive office in the kingdom, from the monarch upon the throne to the parish Overseer, the village sexton , or the responsible office of post mistress, which is still common in small towns.

2nd-Because, by the present law of tenures, of powers, of contracts, of bargains and sale, of inheritance, of wills, and every other matter or thing touching the rights of property and transfer, woman (except in femme covert,) is qualified to be, and therefore, is admissible as a contracting party, save during her minority or a ward in chancery, then her affairs are managed by trust.

3rd-Because, woman is responsible in her own person for any breach of contract, for any offence against the peace and laws of the land. In the church, by the penalties of imprisonment, excommunication, and premunire; in the state, by fine, imprisonment, banishment, and death.

4th-Because she is taxed in the same degree with others for the maintenance of the state and its appendages under all circumstances.

5th-and lastly, because, she contributes directly and indirectly to the wealth and resources of the nation by her labour and skill.

On these five reasons I found my opinion upon the great question, "Ought woman to interfere in the affairs of the state?" and to that question I again I answer Yes! emphatically YES!

To the first of these reasons I will add, if a woman is of nullifying the powers of Parliament or the deliberate resolutions of the two estates of the realm, by parity of reason, a woman in a minor degree ought to have a voice in the election of the legislative authorities. If it be admissible that the queen, a woman, by the constitution of the country can command, can rule over a nation, (and I admit the justice of it,) then I say, woman in every instance ought not to be excluded from her share in the Executive and legislative power of the country.

To the second reason I will add further, if a woman can exercise the powers of a conductor, or vendor, or become heiress, testatrix, executrix or administratix, and act in such important capacities over matters and things daily arising out of transactions with real and personal property, I say that it perfectly justifies my opinion that woman is not only qualified, but ought by virtue of such qualification , to have a voice in the making those laws under which the above transactions take place.

The third reason I will illustrate by saying, that, if women be subject to pains and penalties, on account of the infringement of any law or laws,- even unto death,- in the name of common justice, she ought to have a voice in making the laws she is bound to obey.

The fourth reason is next in importance to the last, so long as the legislature claim and levy a portion of the worldly income of a woman for the support of the state, surely it is not presumption in woman to claim the right of electing that legislature who assume the right to tax her, and on refusal, punish her with pains and penalties; it is unjust to withhold from her her fair share of the elective power of the state, it is tyranny in the extreme, and ought to be properly resisted.

The fifth Reason is equal in importance to the last, and in support of which, I shall extend my arguments. It is a most incontrovertible fact, that woman contribute to the wealth and resources of the kingdom. The population in Great Britain in 1831 consisted of 16,255,605, which may be classified under the head of agriculture, mining, and manufacturing; from these three sources the wealth of a country is raised. Now let us begin with agriculture, and see what share the women take of the labour necessary to produce the food of the people, the rent of the landlord, and the taxes of the state. In the first place, the dairy is managed almost exclusively by woman and girls; the small live stock, such as poultry, &c., wholly so. Look to the cheese counties of Gloucester and Chester, where the female population is almost wholly employed in the dairy. Look to the milk and butter counties around the large towns, and see the number of females who are employed in milking and making butter, and bringing them to market. In a farmyard the smallest child performs some labour or other, feeding poultry, driving cows, &c. In the fields, again, we find women performing every kind of labour except draining, hedging, ditching, fencing, ploughing, and mowing. We find them driving, sowing, setting, harrowing, drilling, manuring, weeding, hoeing, picking stones, gathering potatoes, turnips, pulling carrots, mangelwurzel, shearing, binding, gathering, hay-making, &c. &c. The boys and girls too, are employed in picking stones, driving, scare-crowing, tending sheep, gathering roots, &c. In the barn, with the exception of thrashing and handicraft work, women perform every other occupation. There is no country in Europe where the women are such slaves upon the soil as they are in Scotland. I have many times counted twenty or thirty woman in one field to about four or five men and boys. It is quite common to see women in the same unequal proportion to men labouring in the fields at every kind of predial labour; and many times I have been tempted too exclaim, Surely the curse of God is not upon the woman instead of the man! For in the language of holy writ, he declared to Adam, “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” And many times I have in my heart blamed men for allowing their women to be such slaves, to perform such labour that nature never intended them to do, nor befitted them for the task. Inured to such toils and hardships, she becomes masculine; and the force of all those tender passions implanted by God in the breast if woman to temper the ruggedness of man, become weakened, her real virtues forgotten, and her proper usefulness destroyed. To the men of Scotland, I say, Shame! To the women I say, endeavour to throw off the degradation of predial slavery, return to your domestic circles and cultivate your finger feelings for the benefit of your off-spring. How can you expect men, who seek only “to command and overbear” others, to look to other than their own selfish interests? Rouse you, and let future historians record your zeal in the cause of human redemption, and you will confer a perpetual obligation on posterity. Debased is the man who would say women have no right to interfere in politics, when it is evident, that they have as much right as “sordid man”. None but a tyrant, or some cringing, crawling, hireling scribe, succumbing to the footstool of power, would dare to say so.

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