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I have
always been of the opinion that in a republican government the
right of voting ought to be limited only by the years of
discretion. I have always believed that when a person arrived at
the age when by the laws of the country he was remitted to the
rights of citizens, when the laws fixed the age of majority when
the person was supposed to be competent to manage his own
affairs, then he ought to be suffered to participate in the
Government under which he lives. Nor do I believe that any such
rule is unsafe. I imagine that safety is entirely on the other
side, for just in proportion as you limit the franchise, you
create in the same degree an aristocracy, an irresponsible
Government; and gentlemen must be a little tinctured with a fear
of republican sentiment when they fear the extension of the right
of suffrage.

If I believed, as some gentlemen do, that to participate in
Government required intellect of the highest character, the
greatest perspicacity of mind, the greatest discipline derived
from education and experience, I should be convinced that a
republican form of government could not live. It is because I
believe that all that is essential in government for the welfare
of the community is plain, simple, level with the weakest
intellects, that I am satisfied this Government ought to stand
and will stand forever. Who is it that ought to be protected by
these republican governments? Certainly it is the weak and
ignorant, who have no other manner of defending their rights
except through the ballot-box.

The argument for aristocracies and monarchies has ever been that
the masses of the people do not know enough to take care of the
high concerns of government. If they do not, the human race is in
a miserable condition. If, indeed, the great masses of mankind,
who are permitted to transact their own business, are incompetent
to participate in government, then farewell to the republican
system of government; it can not stand a day; it is a wrong
foundation. Our principles of government are radically wrong if
gentlemen's fears on this subject are well grounded. Thank God, I
know they are not. I know that all the defects and evils of our
Government have not come from the ignorant masses; but the frauds
and the devices of the higher intellects and the more cultivated
minds have brought upon our Government all those scars by which
it has been disfigured.

Why, sir, look at the administration of the Southern governments
in the seceded States, where their public men were advocates of
the doctrine that suffrage should be restricted, and generally
that republican governments were wrong. I had a great deal of
private conversation with the gentlemen who were formerly in
these halls representing those governments, and I hardly ever
conversed with a single man of them from that part of the country
who believed that a republican government could or ought to
stand. Some of them used to say, "How can the mechanic, how can
the laboring man understandingly participate in these high and
complicated affairs of Government?" Those men at heart were
aristocrats or monarchists; they did not believe in your
republican Government. I, on the other hand, believe that the
safety of our Government depends on unlimited franchise, or,
rather, I should say, on franchise limited only by that
discretion which fits a man to manage his own concerns. Let a man
arrive at the years of majority, when the Government and the
experience of the world say that he has attained to such an age
and such discretion that it is safe to intrust him with his own
affairs, and then if he can not be permitted to participate in
the Government, I say again, farewell to republican government;
it can not stand.

It was for these reasons that, when I introduced the original
bill, I put it upon the most liberal principles of franchise
except as to females. The question of female suffrage had not
then been much agitated, and I knew the community had not thought
sufficiently upon it to be ready to introduce it as an element in
our political system. While I am aware of that fact, I think it
will puzzle any gentleman to draw a line of demarkation between
the right of the male and the female on this subject. Both are
liable to all the laws you pass; their property, their persons,
and their lives are affected by the laws. Why, then, should not
the females have a right to participate in their construction as
well as the male part of the community? There is no argument that
I can conceive or that I have yet heard, that makes any
discrimination between the two on the question of right.

Why should there be any restriction? Is it because gentlemen
apprehend that the female portion of the community are not as
virtuous, that they are not as well-calculated to consider what
laws and principles of the Government will conduce to their
welfare as men are? The great mass of our educated females
understand all these great concerns of government infinitely
better than that great mass of ignorant population from other
countries which you admit to the polls without hesitation.

But, sir, the right of suffrage, in my judgment, has bearings
altogether beyond any rights of persons or property that are to
be vindicated by it. I lay it down that in any free community, if
any particular class of that community are excluded from this
right they can not maintain their dignity; it is a brand of Cain
upon their foreheads that will sink them into contempt, even in
their own estimation. My judgment is that if this right was
accorded to females, you would find that they would be elevated
in their minds and in their intellects. The best discipline you
can offer them would be to permit and to require them to
participate in these great concerns of Government, so that their
rights and the rights of their children should depend in a manner
upon the way in which they understand these great things.

What would be the effect upon their minds? Would it not be, I ask
you, sir, to lead them from that miserable amusement of reading
frivolous books and novels and romances that consume two-thirds
of their time now, from which they learn nothing, and draw their
attention to matters of more moment, more substance, better
calculated to well-discipline the mind? In my judgment it would.
I believe it would tend to educate them as well as the male part
of the population. Take the negroes, who, it is said, are
ignorant, the moment you confer the franchise on them it will
lead them to struggle to get an understanding of the affairs of
Government, so as to be able to participate intelligently in
them. They will then understand that they are made responsible
for the Government under which they live. In my judgment, this is
the reason why the fact exists, which is acknowledged everywhere,
that the great mass of our population rise immensely higher in
intellect and every quality that should adorn human nature, above
the peasantry and working-classes of the Old World. Why is this?
I think much of it results from the fact that the people of this
country are compelled to serve on juries, to participate in the
government of their own localities in various capacities, and
finally to take part in all the great concerns of Government.
That elevates a man, and makes him feel his own consequence in
the community in which he lives.

It is for these reasons as much as any other, that I wish to see
the franchise extended to every person of mature age and
discretion who has committed no crime. I know very well that
prejudices against female voting have descended legitimately to
us from the Old World; yea, more than anything else, from that
common law which we lawyers have all studied as the first element
in jurisprudence. That system of law really sank the female to
total contempt and insignificance, almost annihilated her from
the face of the earth. It made her responsible for nothing. So
far was she removed from participating in anything or being
responsible for anything, that if she even committed a crime in
the presence of her husband she was not by that old law
answerable for it. He was her guardian; he had the right to
correct her as the master did his slave in the South. Such was
the chivalry of that old common law from which we derive our
judicial education. A vast remnant of that old prejudice is still
lurking in the minds of our community. It is a mere figment of
proscription and nothing else, descended to us, and we have not
overcome it. It is not founded in reason; it is not founded in
common sense; and it is being done away with very fast too.

I know that those women who have taken these things into
consideration, with minds as enlightened and as intelligent as
our own, have done immense good to their sex by agitating these
great subjects against all the ridicule and all the contempt that
has been wielded against them from the time they commenced the
agitation. I know that in my own State we had, a few years ago, a
great many laws on our statute-book depriving females of a great
many rights without the least reason upon earth. Perhaps it was
because the question was not agitated, and because it did not
particularly concern the males, that they did not turn their
attention to it; but when agitated in the Women's Rights
Conventions that have been so abused and ridiculed throughout the
country, man could no longer shut his eyes to the glaring defects
that existed in our system, and our Legislature has corrected
many of those abuses, and placed the rights of the female upon
infinitely higher grounds than they occupied there thirty years
ago; I believe this remark is as applicable to many other States
as it is to Ohio.



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