What a difference four years make! In July 2004, a commentator on the presidential election noted that it was 156 years since the Seneca Falls convention for women's rights. Even though Barack Obama was giving the keynote speech that month at the Democratic Convention, the commentator said it would be "ridiculous" to associate the 1848 convention with the Democratic Party.
Now it's the 160th anniversary year of Seneca Falls and we have two good reasons for associating that historic event with the Democratic Party -- Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Seneca Falls was born out of the antislavery movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were accompanying their American abolitionist husbands at an 1840 anti-slavery convention in London when they found out that women were not allowed to speak. They decided to do something about it when they got home. Eight years later, they succeeded in holding their convention on women's rights. They prepared a declaration of the rights of women and resolutions for change.
The sticking point was the resolution demanding votes for women. Lucretia Mott split with Stanton on this one, arguing that asking for the right to vote would make women look "ridiculous!" The editor of Rochester's North Star, Frederick Douglass, the only black person at the convention, was the decisive voice in the discussion. He said: "Suffrage is the power to choose rulers and make laws, and the right by which all others are secured." It finally passed narrowly, and indeed the media of the day made it sound ridiculous.
Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party championed the anti-slavery position in the Civil War and when the Union won the war, adult male suffrage was made universal with the 15th amendment in 1870. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony the year before had formed an organization to advocate such an amendment for women, but the abolitionists were ahead of them. Frederick Douglass regretfully split with his woman suffrage friends, who felt betrayed that women were not enfranchised first. Not for another 50 years, not until women picketed the White House and went on a hunger strike in prison after their arrest, did women get the vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. By that time, few Lincoln Republicans were left (Inez's father John E.Milholland was one of the few) and black voters were largely without a champion, until FDR remade the Democratic Party into the party of all the people that is finding its voice again today. See also International Women’s Day.
Lucretia Mott: "Thee will make us look ridiculous!"
Frederick Douglass and Human Rights
The brief summary below of the role of Frederick Douglass in advocating the right of women to vote is based on the biography posted at Winning the Vote, supplemented by a few other sources. Douglass advocated the rights of nonwhites and also the rights of women. He advocated all human rights, as NY Senator Hillary Clinton has argued at the U.N. is the right way to approach women's rights.
Douglass participated in the first recorded Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, although men were not invited for the first day. He was the only person of color at the Convention. He signed the Declaration of Sentiments. Elizabeth Cady Stanton later reported that the resolution calling for women’s suffrage was passed by that Convention to a great extent through Douglass’s efforts on its behalf. (Co-convenor Lucretia Mott was opposed to including the women's suffrage article and it paqssed narrowly.) After the convention, Douglass published a positive editorial on "The Rights of Women," which appeared in the July 28, 1848 edition of the North Star. The History of Woman Suffrage notes that during the subsequent adjourned Women’s Rights Convention held in Rochester on August 2, 1848, "Frederick Douglass, William C. Nell, and William C. Bloss advocated the emancipation of women from all the artificial disabilities, imposed by false customs, creeds, and codes." In 1853, Douglass signed "The Just and Equal Rights of Women," a call and resolutions for the Woman’s Rights State Convention held in Rochester on November 30 and December 1, 1853. He also attended and spoke at that meeting.
During the years before the Civil War, Douglass was a close friend of Susan B. Anthony and her family, often visited the Anthony home and delivered a eulogy at the memorial service for Anthony’s father Daniel in November 1862. However, during 1865-1870, Douglass split from many women’s rights activists because he fought for African-Americans’ right to full legal equality, backed by the power of the ballot as enacted into law by passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Anthony and Stanton refused to support the Fifteenth Amendment because it excluded women. Douglass believed with many abolitionists that it was important to secure the rights of African-American males before working to achieve the rights of women. Their argument was both public and private, and there was resentment and hurt on both sides.
Immediately after the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, Douglass resumed his women’s rights activities while also speaking out against increased lynchings of African-Americans. He called for an amendment giving women the right to vote, and wrote an editorial supporting women’s suffrage entitled "Women and The Ballot," published in October 1870. More.