Thursday, April 15, 2010

Today -100: April 15, 1910: Of old barbarism and Taft on women’s suffrage

The NYT calls Tenn. Gov. Patterson’s pardon of Duncan Cooper for the murder of ex-Sen. Carmack “the old barbarism”: “The view that the Coopers took of their relations to society and to their victim was worthy of an Apache, or a head-hunter of Borneo. Gov. Patterson’s view of his relation to the law, which he has sworn to respect and execute, is flagrantly aboriginal and savage.”

The House of Commons votes to end the House of Lords’ ability to veto legislation. It turned down a Tory amendment leaving it the ability to veto just one thing, Irish Home Rule. Now the bill goes... to the House of Lords.

President Taft gave a speech to the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association convention. Some of it was received with hisses, to the embarrassment of NAWSA’s leaders. I’ll give extended excerpts, and you can see if you find yourself hissing too.

He began by saying that back when he was graduating high school at 16, he was a strong supporter of women’s suffrage. He had read John Stuart Mill’s Subjection of Women, and his father was a suffragist. But “in the actual political experience which I have had I have modified my views somewhat.”

In theory, he said, representative government is good because “every set of individuals who are similarly situated in the community, who are intelligent enough to know what their own interests are, are better qualified to determine how those interests shall be cared for and preserved than any other class, however altruistic that class may be”. But there are two qualifications: “One is that the class should be intelligent enough to know its own interests. The theory that Hottentots or any other uneducated, altogether unintelligent class is fitted for self-government at once or to take part in government is a theory that I wholly dissent from — but this qualification is not applicable here.

“The other qualification to which I call your attention is that the class should as a whole care enough to look after its interests, to take part as a whole in the exercise of political power if it is conferred. Now if it does not care enough for this, then it seems to me that the danger is, if the power is conferred, that it may be exercised by that part of the class least desirable as political constituents and be neglected by many of those who are intelligent and patriotic and would be most desirable as members of the electorate. [Hisses] Now my dear ladies, you must show yourselves equal to self-government by exercising in listening to opposing arguments that degree of restraint without which successful self-government is impossible...

“If I could be sure that women as a class in the community, including all the intelligent women most desirable as political constituents, would exercise the franchise, I should be in favor of it. At present there is considerable doubt upon that point. In certain of the States which have tried it woman suffrage has not been a failure. It has not made, I think, any substantial difference in politics. I think it is perhaps possible to say that its adoption has shown an improvement in the body politic, but it has been tested only in those States where population is sparse and where the problem of entrusting such power to women in the concentrated population of large cities is not presented. For this reason, if you will permit me to say so, my impression is that the task before you in securing what you think ought to be granted in respect to the political rights of women is not in convincing men but it is in convincing the majority of your own class of the wisdom of extending the suffrage to them and of their duty to exercise it.”

NAWSA President Anna Howard Shaw later responded that she would “draw the voting line horizontally, not diagonally, and exclude from the privilege of voting not only ignorant women, but also illiterate men.”

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