The Republican Party is often called “The Party of Lincoln” after its most eminent historical member. Citizens today argue over whether or not the party has fundamentally changed since its founding by abolitionists in 1854. Some Republicans say that their party was always a conservative party, and in their narrative, they follow this tradition. Others disagree and maintain that the Republican Party has evolved into a conservative party today, but in the 19th century, did not as a party identify fundamentally with conservatism and maintain that often the Republicans were the ones fighting conservatism.
Reading the works of David Ross Locke (1833-1888) sheds some light on the matter. Locke was editor and later publisher of the Toledo Blade newspaper. He is most famous for inventing and writing from the perspective of the satirical character Petroleum V. Nasby, a lazy and semi-literate Democrat who championed the cause of the Confederacy; Locke’s utilizing a fictional absurdist alter-ego to lampoon those on the other side has led to him being called the “Stephen Colbert of the Civil War.” Lincoln was a big fan of Locke’s work, and would read it for comic relief when he struggled with his emotions during the war; indeed, at his last dinner before his fated trip to Ford’s Theatre, Lincoln reportedly read aloud four chapters of one of Nasby’s screeds for entertainment.
Locke remained a steadfast Republican throughout his life. Even when his colleague Thomas Nast, the cartoonist who had without a doubt been the most famous satirist of the Civil War, would join a group of reformist Republicans (called mugwumps) disenchanted with the 1884 Republican presidential candidate James Blaine’s reputation for corruption in supporting the Democrat Grover Cleveland in 1884, Locke’s paper strongly endorsed Cleveland’s opponent.
After the Civil War, Locke went on the lecture circuit delivering satirical speeches; the one which follows ridicules “conservatives” for their views on women. It was a popular speech and would be reviewed by Mark Twain himself in the Buffalo Express in 1870.
For those using this text in the classroom, I would ask the students to identify Locke’s critiques of conservatism and write an essay about whether or not his critiques could be applied today to modern conservatives in the Republican Party. If so, how, and if not, how conservatives today fundamentally differ in their arguments from the conservatives in Locke’s day.
The Struggles of a Conservative with the Woman Question (1868)
by David Ross Locke
I AM by nature a conservative, for I was born one. In my infancy I was rocked in an old-fashioned cradle, for my parents would have nothing whatever to do with new-fashioned gumcracks on springs. Whatever they used must be that which had the sanction of years. When my infantile stomach was agonized, I was soothed with Godfrey’s Cordial. At the beginning, paregoric was the favorite anodyne; but my mother one day happening to discover in a household book that her grandmother used Godfrey’s Cordial, that was immediately substituted as being undoubtedly the best. Godfrey’s Cordial was counted the most efficacious, because the bottles which contained it were quaint and old-fashioned, and the labels were printed in the characters and upon the paper used a century ago. It was good enough for the stomachs of my ancestors, and why not for mine? It has ever since been a rule in our family that it is better for babies to die with Godfrey’s Cordial than to live with any other remedy. One brother of mine, whose head differed in shape from the others of the family, in being largest in front of the ears, suggested that the world had progressed since Godfrey’s day, and that possibly science had produced a better combination. He was ordered to leave the house instantly. As a rebuke to him, my infant sister was given a double dose of Godfrey, and my father prayed earnestly against innovators and presumptuous men, and erased his name from the family Bible. The little sister died before morning; my brother went away and invented an improvement in steam engines, thus fiendishly inflicting a stab at the horse interest. But I cannot dwell upon family matters. I have much to say, and life is short and uncertain. I know that’s so, for a life insurance man told me so yesterday.
I grew up with reverence for everything old. I am not the man who caught hold of the coat-tail of Progress, and yelled, “Whoa!” I do not believe there ever was such a man. Progress does not wear a coat; he rushes by in his shirt sleeves; and, besides, your true Conservative, of whom I am which, never gets awake in time to see Progress whistle by.
I never think, for there’s no necessity in thinking. All the trouble the world has ever seen has proceeded from the pestiferous thinkers. I am content that men who departed this life some centuries ago, and were decently buried, and had their obituaries published in the newspapers, and their tombstones erected, with as many virtues cut upon them as their administrators had money to pay for — I am content that these men, deceased as they are, should do my thinking for me. I study these men, and take their action as safe precedent to follow. With such men as I am, the thing that has been done is the right thing to do; and the thing that has never been done, must therefore never be done.
We have a poor opinion of ourselves. We, of the United States, believe that all the wisdom of the country died with the last member of the Continental Congress, and that our only hope is in following closely in the footsteps of the members of that body. Therefore we opposed the abolition of slavery, because they left us slavery. We opposed all attempts to suppress intemperance, because intemperance was; and such of us as professed Christianity, opposed Sunday schools, because Paul was not a superintendent of one, and we could nowhere find it recorded that Luke had a Bible, or Martha an infant class.
Irreverent men, it is true, puzzle our Christian Conservatives, by insisting that if all old things are good things, then we all must rush into murder, that cheerful vice being almost contemporary with creation.
But we do not allow that to shake us. Conservatives are not, as a rule, logicians. They have an anchor in precedent, which holds them fast, while logic is a ship that sails out into unexplored seas. By doing only that which has been done, we hold fast to our ancestors; and if they were not respectable people, who were?
I adore woman. I recognize the importance of the sex, and lay at its feet my humble tribute. But for woman, where would we have been? Who in our infancy washed our faces, fed us soothing syrup, and taught us “How doth the little busy bee?” Woman! To whom did we give red apples in our boyhood? for whom did we part our hair behind, and wear No. 7 boots when No. 10′s would have been much more comfortable? and WITH WHOM did we sit up nights, in the hair-oil period of our existence? And finally, whom did we marry? But for woman what would the novelists have done? What would have become of Sylvanus Cobb, Jr., if he had had no women to make heroines of? And without Sylvanus Cobb, Bonner could not have made the Ledger a success; Everett would be remembered not as the man who wrote for the Ledger, but merely as an orator and statesman; Beecher never would have written Norwood, and Dexter might to-day have been chafing under the collar in a dray! But for woman, George Washington would not have been the father of his country, the Sunday school teachers would have been short the affecting story of the little hatchet and the cherry tree, and half the babies in the country would have been named after some one else. Possibly they might have all been smiths. But for woman Andrew Johnson never would have been, and future generations would have lost the most awful example of depravity the world has ever seen. I adore woman, but I want her to keep her place. I don’t want woman to be the coming man!
In considering this woman question, I occupy the Conservative standpoint. I find that from the most gray-headed times one half of the human race have lived and moved by the grace and favor of the other half. From the beginning woman has occupied a dependent position, and has been only what man has made her. The Turks, logical fellows, denied her a soul, and made of her an object of barter and sale; the American Indians made of her a beast of burden. In America, since we extended the area of civilization by butchering the Indians, we have copied both. In the higher walks of life she is a toy to be played with, and is bought and sold; in the lower strata, she bears the burdens and does the drudgery of servants, without the ameliorating conditions that make other servitude tolerable and possible to be borne. But I am sure that her present condition is her proper condition, for it always has been so.
Adam subjugated Eve at the beginning, and following precedent Cain subjugated his wife. Mrs. Cain, not being an original thinker, imitated her mother-in-law, who probably lived with them, and made it warm for her. I reject with scorn the idea advanced by a schoolmistress, that Eve was an inferior woman, and therefore submitted; and that Eve’s being an inferior woman was no reason for classing all her daughters with her. “Had I been Eve,” she remarked, “I would have made a different precedent!” and I rather think she would.
The first record we have of man and woman is in the first chapter of Genesis. “So God created man in his own image. And he made man of the dust of the earth.” In the second chapter, we have a record of the making of woman by taking a rib from man. Man, it will be observed, was created first, showing conclusively that he was intended to take precedence of woman. This woman, to whom I referred to a moment since, denied the correctness of the conclusion. Man was made first, woman afterwards, — isn’t it reasonable to suppose that the last creation was the best? “If there is anything in being first,” she continued, “man must acknowledge the supremacy of the goose, for the fowl is first mentioned.” And she argued further: “Man was made of the dust of the earth, the lowest form of matter; woman was made of man, the highest and most perfect form. It is clear that women must be the better, for she was made of better material!” But, of course, I look upon this as mere sophistry.
I attempted to trace the relative condition of the sexes from the creation down to the fall of man, but the Bible is silent upon the subject, and the files of the newspapers of the period were doubtless all destroyed in the flood. I have not been able to find that any have been preserved in the public libraries of the country. But it is to be presumed that they lived upon precisely the terms that they do now. I shall assume that Eve was merely the domestic servant of Adam — that she rose in the morning, careful not to disturb his slumbers — that she cooked his breakfast, called him affectionately when it was quite ready, waiting upon him at table, arranged his shaving implements ready to his hand, saw him properly dressed — after which she washed the dishes, and amused herself darning his torn fig leaves till the time arrived to prepare dinner, and so on till nightfall, after which time she improved her mind, and, before master Cain was born, slept. She did not even keep a kitchen girl; at least I find no record of anything of the kind. Probably at that time the emigration from Ireland was setting in other directions, and help was hard to get. That she was a good wife and a contented one I do not doubt. I find no record in the Scriptures of her throwing tea-pots, or chairs, or brooms, or anything of the sort at Adam’s head, nor is it put down that at any time she intimated a desire for a divorce, which proves conclusively that the Garden of Eden was not located in the State of Indiana. But I judge that Adam was a good, kind husband. He did not go to his club at night for, as near as I can learn, he had no club. His son Cain had one, however, as his other son, Abel, discovered.
I am certain that he did not insist on smoking cigars in the back parlor, making the curtains smell. I do not know that these things are so; but as mankind does to day what mankind did centuries ago, it is reasonable to assume, when we don’t know anything about it, that what is done to-day was done centuries ago. The bulk of mankind have learned nothing since Adam’s time. Eve’s duties were not as trying as those piled upon her daughters. As compared with the fashionable women of to-day, her lot was less perplexing. Society was not so exacting in her time. She had no calls to make, or parties to give and attend. Her toilet was much simpler, and did not require the entire resources of her intellect. If her situation is compared with that of the wives of poorer men, it will be found to be better. They had no meat to dress, four to knead, or bread to bake. The trees bore fruit, which were to be had for the picking; and as they were strict vegetarians, it sufficed. I have wished that her taste in fruit had been more easily satisfied, for her unfortunate craving after one particular variety brought me into trouble. But I have forgiven her. I shall never reproach her for this. She is dead, alas! and let her one fault lie dead in the grave with her. It is well that Eve died when she did. It would have broken her heart to see how the most of her family turned out.
I insist, however, that what labor of a domestic nature was done, she did. She picked the fruit, pared it and stewed it, like a dutiful wife. She was no strong-minded female, and never got out of her legitimate sphere. I insist, however, that what labor of a domestic nature was done, she did. She picked the fruit, pared it and stewed it, like a dutiful wife. She was no strong-minded female, and never got out of her legitimate sphere. I have searched the book of Genesis faithfully, and I defy any one to find it recorded therein that Eve ever made a public speech, or expressed any desire to preach, practice law or medicine, or sit in the legislature of her native State. What a crushing, withering, scathing, blasting rebuke to the Dickinsons, Stantons, Blackwells and Anthonys of this degenerate day.
I find in the Bible many arguments against the equality of woman with man in point of intellectual power. The serpent tempted Eve, not Adam. Why did he select Eve? Ah, why, indeed! Whatever else may be said of Satan, no one will, I think, question his ability! I do not stand here as his champion or even apologist; in fact, I am willing to admit that in many instances his behavior has been ungentlemanly, but no one will deny that he is a most consummate judge of character, and that he has never failed to select for his work the most fitting instruments. In this, as in all other respects, save ability, Johnson was very like him. When America was to be betrayed the first time, Satan selected Arnold; when the second betrayal of America was determined upon, he knew where Jefferson Davis, Buchanan, and Floyd lived; and when he had other dirty work to do, with unfailing instinct, he clapped his claw on the shoulders of Chief Justice Chase, as he had before drafted Seward and Doolittle. When there is a fearful piece of jobbery to get through Congress or the New York legislature, he never fails to select precisely the right persons for the villainy. Possibly he is not entitled to credit for discrimination in these last-mentioned bodies, for he could not very well go wrong. He could find instruments in either, with both hands tied and blindfolded. But this is a digression. Why did Satan select Eve? Because he knew that Eve the woman, was weaker than Adam the man, and therefore best for his purpose. This reckless female insisted that Satan approached Eve first, because he knew that woman was not afraid of the devil; but I reject this explanation as irrelevant.
At this point, however, we must stop. Should we go on, we would find that Eve, the weak woman, tempted Adam, the strong man, with distinguished success, which would leave us in this predicament: Satan, stronger than Eve, tempted her to indulge in fruit. Eve’s weakness was demonstrated by her falling victim to temptation. Eve tempted Adam; Adam yielded to Eve; therefore, if Eve was weak in yielding to Satan, how much weaker was Adam in yielding to Eve? If Satan had been considerate of the feelings of the conservatives, his best friends, by the way, in all ages, he would have tempted Adam first, and caused Adam to tempt Eve. This would have afforded us the edifying spectacle of the strong man leading the weak woman, which would be in accordance with our idea of the eternal fitness of things. But now that I look at it again, this wouldn’t do; for it is necessary to our argument that the woman should be tempted first, to prove that she was the weaker of the two. I shall dismiss Adam and Eve with the remark, that notwithstanding the respect that one ought always to feel for his ancestors, those whose blood is the same as that running in his veins, I cannot but say that Adam’s conduct in this transaction was weak. If Adam’s spirit is listening to me to-night, I can’t help it. I presume he will feel badly to hear me say it, but truth is truth. Instead of saying boldly, “I ate!” he attempted to clear his skirts by skulking behind those of his wife’s. “The woman thou gavest me tempted me and I did eat,” he said, which was paltry. Had Adam been stronger minded he would have refused the tempting bite, and then only woman would have been amenable to the death penalty that followed. This would have killed the legal profession in Chicago, for what man who was to live forever would get a divorce from his wife who could live but eighty or ninety years at best?
As a conservative, I must say that woman is the inferior of man. This fact is recognized in all civilized countries and in most heathen nations. The Hindoos, it is true, in one of their practices, acknowledge a superiority of woman. In Hindostan, when a man dies, his widow is immediately burned, that she may follow him, — an acknowledgment that woman is as necessary to him in the next world as in this. As men are never burned when their wives die, it may be taken as admitting that women are abundantly able to get along alone; or, perchance, it may be because men in that country, as in this, can get new wives easier than women can get new husbands.
The inferiority of the sex is easy of demonstration. It has been said that the mother forms the character of the man so long, that the propo- sition has become axiomatic. If this be true, we can crush those who prate of the equality of women, by holding up to the gaze of the world the inferior men she has formed. Look at the Congress of the United States. Look at Garret Davis. By their works ye shall know them. It won’t do to cite me to the mothers of the good and great men whose names adorn American history. The number is too small. There’s George Washington, Wendell Phillips, Abraham Lincoln, and one other, whose name all the tortures of the Inquisition could not make me reveal. Modesty forbids me.
Those who clamor for the extension of the sphere of woman, point to the names of women illustrious in history, sacred and profane. I find, to my discomfiture, that some of the sex really excelled the sterner. There was Mrs. Jezebel Ahab, for instance. Ahab wanted the vineyard of Kaboth, which Naboth refused to sell, owing to a prejudice he had against disposing of real estate which he had inherited. Ahab, who was not an ornament to his sex, went home sick and took to his bed like a girl, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread. Mrs. Ahab was made of sterner stuff. ”Arise,” said Mrs. A.; “be merry. I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.” And she did it. She trapped him as neatly as David did Uriah. She suborned two sons of Belial (by the way Belial has had a large family, and the stock has not run out yet) to bear false witness against him, saying that he had blasphemed God and the king, and they took him out and stoned him. Ahab got the vineyard. It is true this lady came to a miserable end, but she accomplished what she desired.
Miss Pocahontas has been held up as a sample of female strength of mind. I don’t deny that she displayed some decision of character, but it was fearfully unwomanly. When her father raised his club over the head of the astonished Smith, instead of rushing in so recklessly, she should have said, “Please pa, don’t.” Her recklessness was immense. Suppose Pocahontas had been unable to stay the blow, where would our Miss have been then? She never would have married Rolfe; and what would the first families of Virginia have done for somebody to descend from? When we remember that all the people of that proud State claim this woman as their mother, we shudder, or ought to, when we contemplate the possible consequences of her rashness.
Delilah, whose other name is not recorded, overcame Samson, the first and most successful conundrum maker of his age, and Jael, it will be remembered, silenced Sisera forever. Joan of Arc conquered the English after the French leaders failed, and Elizabeth of England was the greatest of English rulers. I acknowledge all this, but then these women had opportunities beyond those of women in general. They had as many opportunities as the men of their respective periods had, and consequently, if they were mentally as great as men, – no, that isn’t what I mean to say, – if the men of the period were no greater, mentally, than they — no – if the circumstances which surrounded them gave them opportunities, which being mentally as great as men – I have this thing mixed up somehow, and it don’t result as it ought to – but this is true; Delilah, Elizabeth, Joan of Arc – all and singular, unsexed themselves, and did things unbecoming ladies of refinement and cultivation. Joan’s place was spinning flax in her father’s hut and not at the head of armies. Had she followed the natural mode of feminine life, she would not have been burned at the stake, and the English would not have been interrupted in their work of reducing France to the condition of an English province. Had I lived in France, I should have said, “Down with her! Let us perish under a man rather than be saved by a woman!” Joan should have been ashamed of herself – I blush for her. Had Elizabeth been content to entrust her kingdom to the hands of her cabinet, she would have left it in the happy condition of the United States at the close of Buchanan’s administration, but she would have been true to our idea of the womanly life.
There is, in the feminine character, a decisive promptness which we must admire. Eve ate the apple without a moment’s hesitation, and the characteristic is more beautifully illustrated in the touching and well reported account of the courtship and marriage of Rebekah with Isaac. Abraham’s servant was sent, it will be remembered, by such of you as have read the Bible, to negotiate for a wife for young Isaac among his kindred, as he had as intense a prejudice against the Canaanites as have the Democracy of the present day. This servant, whom we will call Smith, as his name, unfortunately, has not been preserved, and Laban, the brother of Rebekah, had almost arranged the matter. The servant desired to return with the young lady at once, but the mother and brother desired her to remain some days, contrary to modern practice, in that the parents now desire the young lady to get settled in her own house and off their hands as soon as possible. The servant insisted, whereupon the mother remarked, “We will call the damsel and inquire at her mouth.” They called Rebekah and asked, “Wilt thou go with this man?”
It is related of a damsel in Pike county, Missouri, who was being wedded to the man whose choice she was, when the minister officiating asked the usual question, “Wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband?” that, dropping her long eyelashes, she promptly answered, “You bet!” Even so with Rebekah. She neither fainted, simpered, or blushed. She did not say that she hadn’t a thing fit to put on – that her clothes weren’t home from the dressmaker’s. No! Using the Hebrew equivalent for “you bet!” – for Rebekah was a smart girl, and young as she was, had learned to speak Hebrew – when the question was put to her, “Wilt thou go with this man?” she answered, “I will,” — and she went. I don’t know that this proves anything, unless it be that women of that day took as great risks for husbands as they do now. Miss Rebekah had scarcely been introduced to her future husband. I will say, however, that she was a mistress of duplicity. To get the blessing of her husband for her pet son Jacob, she put false hair upon him to deceive the old gentleman, and did it. From that day to this, women in every place but this, have deceived men, young as well as old, with false hair.
The feminine habit of thought is not such as to entitle them to privileges beyond those they now enjoy. No woman was ever a drayman; no woman ever carried a hod; no woman ever drove horses on the canals of the country; and what is more to the point, no woman ever shoveled a single wheel-barrow of earth on the public works. I triumphantly ask, Did any woman assist in preparing the road bed of the Pacific Railway? did any woman drive a spike in that magnificent structure? No woman is employed in the forging department of any shop in which is made the locomotives that climb the Sierra Nevada, whose head-lights beam on the valleys of the Pacific coast – the suns of our commercial system.
Just as I had this arranged in my mind, this disturbing female, of whom I have spoken once or twice, asked me whether carrying hods, driving horses on canals, or shoveling dirt on railways, had been, in the past, considered the best training for intelligent participation in political privileges? She remarked, that, judging from the character of most of the legislation of which she had knowledge, these had been the schools in which Legislators had been trained, but she hardly believed that I would acknowledge it. “Make these the qualifications,” said she, “and where would you be, my friend, who have neither driven a spike, driven a horse, or shoveled dirt? It would cut out all of my class (she was a teacher) – indeed I know of but two women in America who would be admitted. The two women I refer to fought a prize fight in Connecticut recently, observing all the rules of the English ring, and they displayed as much gameness as was ever shown by that muscular lawmaker, the Hon. John Morrissey. These women ought to vote, and if, in the good time coming, women distribute honors as men have done, they may go to Congress.
I answered, that these classes had always voted, and therefore it was right that they should always vote.
“Certainly they have,” returned she, “and as I have heard them addressed a score of times as the embodied virtue, honesty, and intelligence of the country, I have come to the conclusion that there must be something in the labor they do which fits them peculiarly for the duties of law-making.”
My friend is learned. She has a tolerable knowledge of Greek, is an excellent Latin scholar, and as she has read the Constitution of the United States, she excels in political lore the great majority of our representatives in Congress. But nevertheless I protest against her voting for several reasons.
2. Her form is graceful rather than strong.
3. She delights in millinery goods.
4. She can’t grow whiskers.
In all of these points nature has made a distinction between the sexes which cannot be overlooked.
To all of these she plead guilty. She confessed that she had not the strength necessary to the splitting of rails; she confessed that she could neither grow a beard or sing bass. She wished she could grow a beard, as she knew so many men whose only title to intellect was their whiskers. But she said she took courage when she observed that the same disparity was noticeable in men. Within the range of her acquaintance she knew men who had struggled with mustaches with a perseverance worthy of a better cause, and whose existence had been blighted by the consciousness that they could not. Life was to them, in consequence, a failure. Others she knew who had no more strength than a girl, and others whose voices were pitched in childish treble. If beards, heavy voices, and physical strength were the qualifications for the ballot, she would at once betake herself to razors, hair invigorators, and gymnasiums. She went on thus: –
“In many respects,” she said, “the sexes are alike. Both are encumbered with stomachs and heads, and both have bodies to clothe. So far as physical existence is concerned they are very like. Both are affected by laws made and enacted, and both are popularly supposed to have minds capable of weighing the effect of the laws. How, thrust into the world as I am, with a stomach to fill and limbs to clothe, with both hands tied, am I to live, to say nothing of fulfilling any other end?”
“Woman,” I replied, “is man’s angel.”
“Stuff and nonsense,” was her impolite reply. “I am no angel. I am a woman. Angels, according to our idea of angels, have no use for clothing. Either their wings are enough to cover their bodies, or they are so constituted as not to be affected by heat or cold. Neither do they require food. I cannot imagine a feminine angel with hoop skirts, Grecian bend, gaiters and bonnet; or a masculine angel in tight pantaloons, with a cane and silk hat. Angels do not cook dinners, but women do. Why do you say angels to us? It creates angel tastes, without the possibility of their ever satisfying those tastes. The bird was made to soar in the upper air, and was therefore provided with hollow bones, wings, &c. Imagine an elephant or a rhinoceros possessed with a longing to soar into the infinite ethereal. Could an elephant, with his physical structure, be possessed with such a longing, the elephant would be miserable, because he could not. He would be as miserable as James Fisk, Jr.*, is with an ungobbled railroad; as Bonner would be if Dexter were the property of another man; and as Salmon P. Chase** is with the Presidency before him. It would be well enough to make angels of us, if you could keep us in a semi-angelic state; but the few thus kept only make the misery of those not so fortunate the more intense. No; treat us rather as human beings, with all the appetites, wants, and necessities of human beings, for we are forced to provide for those wants, necessities, and appetites.
I acknowledge the correctness of her position. They must live; not that they are of very much account in and of themselves, but that the nobler sex may be perpetuated to bless and adorn the earth. Without woman it would take less than a century to wind up man, and then what would the world do? This difficulty is obviated by marriage. All that we have to do is marry each man to one woman, and demand of each man that he care for and cherish one woman, and the difficulty is got along with. And got along with too, leaving things as we desire them, namely, with the woman dependent upon the man. We proceed upon the proposition that there are just as many men as there are women in the world; that all men will do their duty in this particular, and at the right time; that every Jack will get precisely the right Jill, and that every Jill will be not only willing, but anxious, to take the Jack the Lord sends her, asking no questions.
If there be one woman more than there are men, it’s bad for that woman. I don’t know what she can do, unless she makes shirts for the odd man, at twelve and a half cents each, and lives gorgeously on the proceeds of her toil. If one man concludes that he won’t marry at all, it’s bad for another woman, unless some man’s wife dies and he marries again. That might equalize it, but for two reasons: It compels the woman to wait for a husband till she possibly concludes it isn’t worth while; and furthermore, husbands die as fast as wives, which brings a new element into the field — widows; and pray what chance has an inexperienced man against a widow determined upon a second husband?
I admit, that if there were as many men as women, and if they should all marry, and the matter all properly fixed up at the start, that our present system is still bad for some of them. She, whose husband gets to invent flying machines, or running for office, or any of those foolish or discreditable employments, would be in a bad situation. Or, when the husband neglects his duty, and refuses to care for his wife at all; or, to state a case which no one ever witnessed, suppose one not only refuses to care for his wife, but refuses to care for himself! Or, suppose he contracts the injudicious habit of returning to his home at night in a state of inebriation, and of breaking chairs, and crockery, and his wife’s head, and other trifles — in such a case I must admit that her position would be, to say the least, unpleasant, particularly as she couldn’t help herself. She can’t very well take care of herself; for to make woman purely a domestic creature, to ornament our homes, we have never permitted them to think for themselves, act for themselves, or do for themselves. We insist upon her being a tender ivy clinging to the rugged oak — if the oak she clings to happens to be bass-wood, and rotten at that, it’s not our fault. In these cases it’s her duty to keep on clinging, and to finally go down with it in pious resignation. The fault is in the system, and as those who made the system are dead, and as six thousand brief summers have passed over their tombs, it would be sacrilege in us to disturb it.
Let each woman marry, and marry as soon as possible. Then she is provided for. Then the ivy has her oak. Then if her husband is a good man, a kind man, an honest man, a sober man, a liberal man, an industrious man, a managing man, and if he has a good business and drives it, and meets with no misfortunes, and never yields to temptations, why, then, the maid promoted to be his wife, will be tolerably certain to, at least, have all that she can eat, and all that she can wear, as long as he continues so.
This disturbing woman, of whom I have spoken once or twice, remarked that she did not care for those who were married happily, but she wanted something done for those who were not married at all, and those who were married unfortunately. She liked the ivy and oak-tree idea, but she wanted the ivy — woman — to have a stiffening of intelligence and opportunity, that she might stand alone in case the oak was not competent to sustain it. She demanded, in short, employment at anything she was capable of doing, and pay precisely the same that men receive for the same labor, provided she does it as well.
This is a clear flying in the face of Providence. It is utterly impossible that any woman can do any work as well as men. Nature has decreed it otherwise. Nature did not give them the strength. Ask the clerks at Washington, whose muscular frames, whose hardened sinews, are employed at from twelve hundred to three thousand dollars per annum, in the arduous and exhausting labor of writing in books, and counting money, and cutting out extracts from newspapers, and indorsing papers and filling them, what they think of that? Ask the brawny young men whose manly forms are wasted away in the wearing occupation of measuring tape and exhibiting silks, what they think of it? Are women, frail as they are, to fill positions in the government offices? I asked her sternly, “Are you willing to go to war? Did you shoulder a musket in the late unpleasantness?”
This did not settle her. She merely asked me if I carried a musket in the late war. Certainly I did not. I had too much presence of mind to volunteer. Nor did the majority of those holding official position. Like Job’s charger, they snuffed the battle afar off — some hundreds of miles — and slew the haughty Southron on the stump, or by substitute. But there is this difference: we could have gone, while women could not. And it is better that it is so. In the event of another bloody war, — one so desperate as to require all the patriotism of the country to show itself, — I do not want my wife to go to the tented field, even though she have the requisite physical strength. No, indeed! I want her to stay at home — with me!
In the matter of wages, I do not see how it is to be helped. The woman who teaches a school, receives, if she has thoroughly mastered the requirements of the position, say six hundred dollars per year, while a man occupying the same position, filling it with equal ability, receives twice that amount and possibly three times. But what is this to me? As a man of business, my duty to myself is to get my children educated at the least possible expense. As there are but very few things women are permitted to do, and as for every vacant place there are a hundred women eager for it, as a matter of course, their pay is brought down to a very fine point. As I said some minutes ago, if the men born into the world would marry at twenty-one, each a maiden of eighteen, and take care of her properly, and never get drunk, or sick, or anything of that inconvenient sort, and both would be taken at precisely the same time with consumption, yellow fever, cholera, or any one of those cheerful ailments, and employ the same physician, that they might go out of the world at the same moment, and become angels with wings and long white robes, it would be well enough. The men would then take care of the women, except those who marry milliners, in which case the women take care of the men, which amounts to the same thing, as the one dependent upon somebody else is taken care of. But it don’t so happen. Men do not marry as they ought at twenty-one; they put it off to twenty-five, thirty, or forty, and many of them are wicked enough not to marry at all; and of those who do marry there will always be a certain per cent. who will be dissipated or worthless. What then? I can’t deny that there will be women left out in the cold. There are those who don’t marry, and those who cannot. Possibly the number thus situated would be lessened if we permitted women to rush in and seize men, and marry them, nolens volens, but the superior animal will not brook that familiarity. He must do the wooing — he must ask the woman in his lordly way. Compelled to wait to be asked, and forced to marry that they may have the wherewithal to eat and be clothed, very many of them take fearful chances. They dare not, as a rule, refuse to marry. Man must, as the superior being, have the choice of occupations, and it is a singular fact that, superior as he is by virtue of his strength, he rushes invariably to the occupations that least require strength, and which woman might fill to advantage. They monopolize all the occupations– the married man has his family to take care of — the single man has his back hair to support; what is to become of these unfortunate single women — maids and widows? Live they must. They have all the necessities of life to supply, and nothing to supply them with. What shall they do? Why, work of course. But say they, “We are willing to work, but we must have wages.” Granted. But how shall we get at the wages? What shall be the standard? I must get my work done as cheaply as possible. Now if three women — a widow, we will say, with five children to support; a girl who has to work or do worse; and a wife with an invalid husband to feed, clothe, and find medicine for — if these three come to my door, clamoring for the love of God for something to do, what shall I, as a prudent man, do in the matter? There are immutable laws governing all these things — the law of supply and demand. Christ, whose mission was with the poor, made other laws but Christ is not allowed to have anything to do with business. Selfishness is older than Christ and we Conservatives stick close to the oldest. What do I do? Why, as a man of business, I naturally ascertain which of the three is burdened with the most crushing responsibilities and necessities. I ascertain to a mouthful the amount of food necessary to keep each, and then the one who will do my work for the price nearest starvation rates gets it to do. If the poor girl prefers the pittance I offer her to a life of shame, she gets it. If the wife is willing to work her fingers nearer the bone than the others, rather than abandon her husband, she gets it; and speculating on the love the mother bears her children, I see how much of her life the widow will give to save theirs, and decide accordingly. I know very well that these poor creatures cannot saw wood, wield the hammer, or roll barrels on the docks. I know that custom bars them out of many employments, and that the more manly vocations of handling ribbon, manipulating telegraphic instruments, &c., are monopolized by men. Confined as they are to a few vocations, and there being so many hundreds of thousands of men who will not each provide for one, there are necessarily ten applicants for every vacancy; and there being more virtue in the sex than the world has ever given them credit for, of course they accept, not what their labor is worth to me and the world, but what I and the world choose to give for it. It is bad, I grant, but it is the fault of the system. It is a misfortune, we think, that there are so many women, and we weep over it. I am willing to shed any amount of tears over this mistake of nature.
But women are themselves to blame for a great part of the distress they experience. There is work for more of them, if they would only do it. The kitchens of the country are not half supplied with intelligent labor, and therein is a refuge for all women in distress.
I assert that nothing but foolish pride keeps the daughters of insolvent wealth out of kitchens, where they may have happy underground homes and three dollars per week, by merely doing six hours per day more labor than hod-carriers average.
This is what they would do were it not for pride, which is sinful. They should strip the jewels off their fingers, the laces off their shoulders; they should make a holocaust of their music and drawings, and, accepting the inevitable, sink with dignity to the washing of dishes, the scrubbing of floors, and the wash-tub. This their brothers do, and why haven’t they their strength of mind? Young men delicately nurtured and reared in the lap of luxury, never refuse the sacrifice when their papas fail in business. They always throw to the wind their cigars; they abjure canes and gloves, and mount drays, and shoulder saw-bucks – anything for an honest living. I never saw one of these degenerate into a sponge upon society rather than labor with his hands! Did you? I never saw one of this class get to be a faro dealer, a billiard marker, a borrower of small sums of money, a lunch-fiend, a confidence-man, or anything of the sort. Not they! Giving the go-by to everything in the shape of luxuries, they invariably descend to the lowest grades of manual labor rather than degenerate into vicious and immoral courses. Failing the kitchen, women may canvass for books, though that occupation, like a few others equally profitable, and which also brings them into continual contact with the lords of creation, has a drawback in the fact that some men leer into the face of every woman who strives to do business for herself as though she were a moral leper; and failing all these, she may at least take to the needle. At this last occupation she is certain of meeting no competition, save from her own sex. In all my experience, and it has been extensive, I never yet saw a man making pantaloons at twelve and a half cents per pair. But they will not all submit. Refusing to acknowledge the position in life nature fixed for them they rebel and unpleasantnesses take place. An incident which fell under my observation recently illustrates this beautifully. A young lady, named Jane Evans, I believe, had sustained the loss of both her parents. The elder Evanses had been convinced by typhoid fever that this was a cold world and, piloted by two doctors, has sailed out in search of a better one. Jane had a brother, a manly lad of twenty, who, rather than disgrace the ancient lineage of the Evanses by manual labor, took up the profession of bar-tender. Jane was less proud, and as her brother did nothing for her, she purchased some needles, and renting a room in the uppermost part of a building in a secluded part of New York City, commenced a playful effort to live by making shirts at eighteen cents each, for a gentleman named Isaacs. She was situated, I need not say, pleasantly for one of her class. Her room was not large, it is true, but as she had no cooking-stove or bedstead, what did she want of a large room? She had a window which didn’t open, but as there was no glass in it, she had no occasion to open it. This building commanded a beautiful view of other buildings similar in appearance, and the sash kept out a portion of the smell. Had that sash not been in that window-frame, I do not suppose that she could have staid on account of the smell; at least I heard her say that she got just as much of it as she could endure. And in this delightful retreat she sat and sat, and sewed and sewed. Sometimes in her zeal she would sew till late in the night, and she always was at her work very early in the morning. She paid rent promptly, for the genial old gentleman of whom she leased her room had a sportive habit of kicking girls into the street who did not pay properly, and she managed every now and then, did this economical girl, to purchase a loaf of bread, which she ate.
One Saturday night she took her bundle of work to the delightful Mr. Isaacs. Jane had labored sixteen hours per day on them, and she had determined, as Sunday was close at hand, to have for her breakfast, in addition to her bread, a small piece of mutton. Mutton! Luxurious living destroyed ancient Rome! But Mr. Isaacs found fault with the making of these shirts. They were not properly sewed, he said, and he could not in consequence pay her the eighteen cents each for making, which was the regular price. Jane then injudiciously cried about it. Now, Mr. Isaacs, was, and is, possessed of a tender heart. He has a great regard for his feelings, and as he could not bear to see a woman cry, he forthwith kicked her out of his store into the snow.
What did this wicked girl do? Did she go back and ask pardon of the good, kind, tender-hearted Mr. Isaacs? Not she! On the contrary she clenched her hands, and passing by a baker’s shop, stole a loaf of bread, and, brazen thing that she was, in pure bravado, she ate it in front of the shop. She said she was hungry, when it was subsequently proven she had eaten within forty hours. Justice was swift upon the heels of the desperate wretch — it always is, by the way, close behind the friendless. She was arrested by a policeman, who was opportunely there, as there was a riot in progress in the next street at the time, which was providential, for had there been no riot in the next street, the policeman would have been in that street, and Jane Evans might have got away with her plunder. She was conveyed to the city prison; was herded in a cell in which there were other women who had progressed farther than she had; was afterwards arraigned for petty larceny; and sent to prison for sixty days. Now she how surely evildoers come to bad ends. The wretched Jane, — this fearfully depraved Jane, — unable after such a manifestation of depravity to hold up her head, fell into bad ways. Remorse for the stealing of that loaf of bread so preyed upon her that she wandered about the streets of the city five days, asking for work, and finally threw herself off a wharf. O, how her brother, the bar-tender, was shocked at this act! Had she continued working cheerily for Mr. Isaacs, accepting the situation like a Christian, taking life, as she found it, would she have thrown herself off a dock? Never! So you see women who do not want to steal bread, and be arrested, and go off wharves, must take Mr. Isaacs’ pay as he offers it, and must work cheerily sixteen hours a day, whether they get anything to eat or not. Had this wretched girl gone back contentedly to her room, and starved to death cheerfully, she would not have stolen bread, she would not have lacerated the feelings of her brother the bar-tender, and would have saved the city of New York the expense and trouble of fishing her out of the dock. Such women always make trouble.
The women who fancy they are oppressed, demand, first, the ballot, that they may have power to better themselves; and second, the change of custom and education, that they may have free access to whatever employment they have the strength and capacity to fill, and to which their inclination leads them.
Most emphatically I object to giving them the ballot. It would overturn the whole social fabric. The social fabric has been overturned a great many times, it is true — so many times indeed that it seems to rather like it; but I doubt whether it would be strong enough to endure this. I have too great, too high, too exalted an opinion of woman. I insist that she shall not dabble in the dirty pool of politics; that she shall keep herself sacred to her family, whether she has one or not; and under no consideration shall she go beyond the domestic circle of which she is the centre and the ornament. There are those who have an insane yearning to do something beyond the drudgery necessary to supply the commonest wants of life, and others who have all of these, who would like to round up their lives with something beyond dress and the unsatisfactory trifles of fashionable life. There may be women turning night into day over the needle, for bread that keeps them just this side of potter’s field, who are unreasonable enough to repine at the system that compels them to this; and they may, possibly, in secret wish that they had the power in their hands that would make men court their influence, as the hod-carrier’s is courted, for the vote he casts. The seamstress, toiling for a pittance that would starve a dog, no doubt prays for the power that would compel lawmakers to be as careful of her interests as they are of the interests of the well-paid male laborers in the dock-yards, who, finding ten hours a day too much for them, were permitted by act of Congress to draw ten hours’ pay for eight hours’ work. The starved colorer of lithographs, the pale, emaciated tailoress, balancing death and virtue; drawing stitches with the picture of the luxurious brothel held up by the devil before her, where there is light, and warmth, and food, and clothing, and where death is, at least, farther off; no doubt this girl wishes at times that she could have that potent bit of paper between her fingers that would compel blatant demagogues to talk of the rights of workingwomen as well as of workingmen.
But woman would lose her self-respect if she mixed with politicians. Most men do; and how could woman hope to escape. Think you that any pure woman could be a member of the New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania legislatures, and remain pure? For the sake of the generations to come, I desire that one sex, at least, shall remain uncontaminated. Imagine your wife or your sister accepting a bribe from a family member! Imagine your wife or your sister working a corrupt measure through the legislature, and becoming gloriously elevated upon champagne in exultation over the result! No! I insist that these things shall be confined to man, and man alone.
The mixing of women in politics, as all the writers on the subject have justly remarked, would lower the character of the woman without elevating that of the man. Imagine, O my hearers, a woman aspiring for office as men do! Imagine her button-holing voters, as men do! Imagine her lying glibly and without scruple, as men do! Imagine her drinking with the lower classes, as men do! of succeeding by the grossest fraud, as men do! of stealing public money when elected, as men do! and finally of sinking into the lowest habits, the vilest practices, as Dr. Bushnell, in several places in his blessed book on the subject, asserts that men do! You see that to make the argument good, that women would immediately fall to a very deep depth of degradation the moment they vote, we must show that the act of voting compels men to this evil; at least that is what Dr. Bushnell proves, if he proves anything. We must show that the holding of an office by a man is proof positive that he has committed crime enough to entitle him to a cell in penitentiary, and that he who votes is in a fair way thereto. Before reading the doctor’s book, I was weak enough to suppose that there were in the United States some hundreds of thousands of very excellent men, whose long service in church and state was sufficient guarantee of their excellence; whose characters were above suspicion, and who had lived, and would die, honest, reputable citizens. But as all male citizens over the age of twenty-one vote, and as voting necessarily produces these results, why, then we are all drunkards, tricksters, thieves, and plunderers.
This disturbing woman, to whom I read Dr. Bushnell’s book, remarked that if voting tended to so demoralize men, and as they had always voted, it would be well enough for all the women to vote just once, that they might all go to perdition together. I am compelled to the opinion that the doctor is mistaken. I know a quite a number of men who go to the polls unmolested, who vote their principles quietly, and go home the better for having exercised the right. I believe that, before and after Johnson’s administration, there have been honest men in office. But no woman could do these things in this way. It would unsex her, just as it does when a woman labors for herself alone.
Again. I object to giving the ballot to woman, because we want peace. We don’t want divided opinion in our families. As it is, we must have a delightful unanimity. An individual cannot possibly quarrel with himself. As it is now arranged, man and wife are one, and the man is that one. In all matters outside the house the wife has no voice, and consequently there can be no differences. O, what a blessed thing it would be if the same rule could obtain among men! Had the Radicals had no votes or voices, there would have been no war, for the Democracy, having in all their own way, there would have been nothing to quarrel about. It was opposition that forced Jefferson Davis to appeal to arms. True, the following of this idea would dwarf the Republicans into pygmies and exalt the Democracy into giants. My misguided friend, Wendell Phillips, would shrink into a commonplace man, possibly he would lose all manhood, had he been compelled to agree with Franklin Pierce or hold his tongue. It would be bad for Wendell, but there would have been a calm as profound as stagnation itself. Our present system may be bad for women, but we, the men, have our own way — and peace. Our wives and daughters are, I know, driven, from sheer lack of something greater, to take refuge is disjointed gabble of bonnets, cloaks, and dresses, and things of that nature, their souls are dwarfed as well as their bodies, their minds are diluted — but we have peace.
Once more. It would unbalance society. Starting upon the assumption that women have no minds of their own, and would always be controlled by men, we can show wherein the privilege would work incalculable mischief. Imagine Brigham Young marching to the polls at the head of a procession of wives one hundred and seventy-three, all of them with such ballots in their hands as he selects for them! Put Brigham and his family in a close congressional district and he would swamp it. Then, again, if they should think for themselves, and vote as they pleased, they would overthrow Brigham. In either case the effect would be terrible.
What shall we do with the woman question? It is upon us, and must be met. I have tried for an hour to be conservative, but it won’t do. Like poor calico, it won’t wash. There are in the United States some millions of women who desire something better than the lives they and their mothers have been living. There are millions of women who have minds and souls, and who yearn for something to develop their minds and souls. There are millions of women who desire to have something to think about, to assume responsibilities, that they may strengthen their moral natures, as the gymnast lifts weights to strengthen his physical nature. There are hundreds of thousands of women who have suffered in silence worse evils by far than the slaves on the South, who, like the slaves of the South, have no power to redress their wrongs, no voice so potent the public must hear. In the parlor, inanity and frivolity; in the cottage, hopeless servitude, unceasing toil; a dark life, with a darker ending. This is the condition of woman in the world to-day. Thousands starving physically for want of something to do, with a world calling for labor; thousands starving mentally, with an unexplored world before them. One half of humanity is a burden on the other half.
I know, O, ye daughters of luxury, that you do not desire a change. There is no need of it for you. Your silks could not be more costly, your jewels could not flash more brightly, nor your surroundings be more luxurious. Your life is pleasant enough. But I would compel you to think, and thinking, act. I would put upon your shoulders responsibilities that would make rational beings of you. I would make you useful to humanity and to yourselves. I would give the daughters of the poor, as I have helped to give the sons of the poor, the power in their hands to right their own wrongs.
There is nothing unreasonable in this demand. The change is not so great as those the world has endured time and again without damage. To give the ballot to the women of America to-day, would not be so fearful a thing as it was ten years ago to give it to the negro, or as it was a hundred years ago to give it to the people.
I would give it, and take the chances. The theory of Republicanism is, that the governing power must rest in the hands of the governed. There is no danger in truth. If the woman is governed, she has a right to a voice in the making of laws. To withhold it is to dwarf her, and to dwarf woman is to dwarf the race.
I would the ballot to woman for her own sake, for I would enlarge the borders of her mind. I would give it to her for the sake of humanity. I would make her of more use to humanity by making her more fit to mould humanity. I would strengthen her, and through her the race. The ballot of itself would be of direct use to but few, but indirectly its effects would reach through all eternity. It would compel a different life. It would compel woman to an interest in life, would fit her to struggle successfully against its mischances, and prepare her for a keener, higher, brighter appreciation of its blessings. Humanity is now one-sided. There is strength on the one side and weakness on the other. I would have the two sides equal in strength, equally symmetrical; differing only as nature made them, not as man and custom have distorted them. In this do we outrage custom? Why, we have been overturning customs six thousand years, and there are yet enough hideous enormities encumbering the earth to take six thousand more years to kill. In the beginning, when force was the law, there were kings. The world tired of kings. There were false religions. Jesus of Nazareth overturned them. Luther wrecked a venerable system when he struck the church of Rome with his iron hand; your fathers and mine stabbed a hoary iniquity when they overturned kingcraft on this continent, and Lovejoy, Garrison, and Phillips struck an institution which ages had sanctioned when they assaulted slavery. The old is not always the best.
I would have your daughters fitted to grapple with life alone, for no matter how you may leave them, you know not what fate may have in store for them. I would make them none the less women, but stronger women, better women. Let us do this much towards making humanity what the Creator intended it to be, –like Himself.
*Elsewhere, Jay Gould.
Locke, D.R. “Nasby’s Lecture on the Woman Question.” Wise, Witty, Eloquent Kings of the Platform and Pulpit. ed. Melville De Lancey Landon. Chicago: F. C. Smedley & Co, 1891. 100-120.
Locke, David Ross. “The Struggles of a Conservative with the Woman Question.” The Struggles (Social, Financial, and Political) of Petroleum V. Nasby…. Boston: L. N. Richardson & Company, 1868. 660-686.