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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Rupture in The Cause

     After ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, it quickly became evident that its wording was too weak to encourage many of the states (states still controlled suffrage eligibility) to encourage black enfranchisement. Congress then designed the Fifteenth Amendment to address this issue directly. It explicitly forbade the states to deny the right to vote to anyone on the basis of ‘race, color or previous condition of servitude.’ It also gave Congress the power to pass any necessary enforcement legislation. The federal government did not specifically define who was allowed to vote, but the amendment specified who could not be prevented from voting if conditions set by the state were met. African American men were protected in this amendment. Women were not.

    Frederick Douglass and other former abolition leaders backed away from their support of woman suffrage to concentrate on fight for black male suffrage. This caused a serious rift between the two movements. It also caused a split within the women’s rights activists. Susan B. Anthony and her supporters wanted women to be included with black men. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton began publishing a women’s rights newspaper called The Revolution. Lucy Stone and her followers supported the amendment as it was, believing that women would win the vote soon.

     In February 1869, Congress passed the amendment, enfranchising black men but not women.
     At a meeting of the American Equal Rights Association in May, Stanton voiced her sense of betrayal by longstanding male abolitionist allies, and her belief that "educated" women like herself were more worthy of the vote than men who had just emerged from slavery. She and Frederik Douglass had a public argument about the relative importance of black man versus woman suffrage. Stanton, Anthony and their supporters walked out of the meeting and formed the National Woman Suffrage Association.
     That same year, Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe formed the American Woman Suffrage Association, which maintained its ties with the abolitionists and the leadership of the Republican Party. They expected to get women’s suffrage enacted soon after black male suffrage had been fully inscribed in the Constitution.
     In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified.

     Afterward, the American Woman Suffrage Association focused on winning changes in state constitutions, counting on winning over a majority of male voters.
     Meanwhile, the National Woman Suffrage Association centered its efforts on the national Constitution. They doubted that an additional federal amendment would be passed but sought a way to base women’s suffrage in the Constitution’s existing provisions.
     For the next twenty years, these two competing organizations fought for influence and for woman suffrage. Neither group suspected it would be fifty years before women finally won the right to vote.

Coming next month:  Hope Emerges 

Previous installments:
Voting in Colonial America:


The Fight Begins: 

Ann Markim

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  1. A really interesting post. I hadn't realized that the two factions were at odds as the European story was different. The racial divide in the USA is a very deep scar. When I had serious accident I was taught to work on my scar tissue to help break it down and stop it anchoring in place. It seems a good metaphor for emotional scars too.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree that your metaphor is a good one. In my book, THE CAUSE, I deal with racism in the U.S. suffrage movement as a subplot. The research really opened my eyes.