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Equal Rights for All: Addresses Delivered in New York, New York, on May 14, 1868



New York Tribune, 15 May 1868. Other texts in New York Herald, 15 May 1868; Elizabeth
Cady Stanton et al., History of Woman Suffrage, 6 vols. (New York and Rochester, 1881-
1922), 2: 310-12; Foner, Douglass on Women's Rights, 83-85.

The American Equal Rights Association convened its second anniversary
meeting at the Cooper Institute in New York City on the morning of 14 May
1868. Seated on the stage with Douglass were such activists in the woman
suffrage movement as Ernestine L. Rose, a Polish immigrant who had lec-
tured extensively on women’s rights since the 1830s, Charles C. Burleigh, the
Reverend Olympia Brown, and Thomas Higginson. After hearing several
speeches, including opening remarks by the presiding officer, Elizabeth Cady
Stanton, the largely female audience enthusiastically greeted Douglass’s
movement toward the podium. At the conclusion of his remarks his listeners
renewed their “manifestations of approval,” allowing the Tribune reporter to
conclude that “it was evident that the finished and stirring eloquence of Fred.
Douglass had again, as always heretofore, made a profound impression.”
Following the adoption of resolutions primarily related to woman, rather than
black, suffrage, the session adjourned. A larger audience, again composed
primarily of women, was present when the meeting reconvened at 7:30 P.M.
Douglass’s evening remarks came after a speech by Olympia Brown harshly
criticizing the Republican party for not supporting women’s rights. When
Douglass’s exchange with Brown was over, Lucy Stone took the floor to
contradict Douglass’s contention that women were not persecuted for trying to
obtain their rights. The meeting then adjourned. The New York Herald text
indicates that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony also entered into
the impromptu debate with Douglass.



[Speeches by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Henry Blackwell, Lucy Stone, and
Ernestine L. Rose]

The call upon me for a speech on this occasion has been unexpected, and
unsought, and I have no lengthy or elaborate remarks to offer. But I must
say that I know of no argument that can be adduced in favor of the right of
man to suffrage which is not equally forcible, and equally applicable to
woman. If it be essential to the dignity of man; if it be necessary to protect
the rights of man, it must be equally essential and necessary to protect the
rights of woman. If it have the effect to elevate a man, to inspire within him
higher ideas of duty, and of honor, it will necessarily have the same influ-
ence upon woman.

I am sorry to say that the race to which I belong have not generally
taken the right ground on this question. The idea of obtaining their own
rights has so occupied their minds as to exclude the thought of what justice
demanded for others. Or if they thought of it, they were not ready to
acknowledge the right in the case of women. But, after all, there is a great
deal of human nature exhibited in this feeling. It is eminently natural and
habitual in men and women too to be clamorous for their own rights while
they ignore or deny the existence of the same rights in others.

What our Government now needs is more honesty, more goodness,
more virtue in its councils, and for this reason I advocate the admission of
the votes of the women of the land. If I believed in the doctrine that human
nature is totally depraved, that it is an evil nature and unmixed with good, I
should hold with Carlyle*1Thomas Carlyle. that it is better to restrict the right of suffrage
among the masses of the people. If I believed that there was a prevailing
disposition to evil and a preponderance of evil over good in human nature, I
should say the less that the masses had to do with governing the better, for
the less of humanity there was in it, the more of divinity there would be.
But I believe that men are rather more disposed to truth, to goodness and to
excellence, than to vice and wickedness, and for that reason I wish to see
the elements of humanity infused throughout all human government. I
presume that woman is about like man in these respects—that is, the
instincts of the human heart in women are substantially the same as those in
man. And I see no better way than to take in the women, in order to make
our government pure.


When the people of Chicago wanted to get pure water they sunk a shaft,
and run a tunnel out far under the waters of Lake Michigan, and tapping the
lake at a distance of two miles from shore, away from the scum and
deposits which lined the edge of the lake, they found a full supply of pure,
sweet water.2Because untreated sewage was dumped into the Chicago River, which drained into Lake Michigan, the city of Chicago by the 1860s had developed a serious problem in obtaining safe, clean water. Two steps were taken to alleviate the problem. The flow of the Chicago River was reversed by dredging existing canals that connected it to the Illinois River. As a result, city sewage was carried downstate rather than into Lake Michigan. Also during the 1860s, a 10,567-foot tunnel was laid beneath the bed of Lake Michigan to connect city pumping stations with an off-shore intake crib. Designed by Ellis S. Chesbrough, the tunnel took over two and a half years and $450,000 to construct. Put into operation on 25 March 1867 with great publicity, the tunnel supplied Chicago with 50 million gallons of pure drinking water a day. Chicago Bureau of Engineering, A Century of Progress in Water Works: Chicago, 1833-1933 (n.p., n.d.), 11, 19-20; Lois Wille, Forever Open, Clear and Free: The Historic Struggle for Chicago's Lakefront (Chicago, 1972), 32. And we may do the same. When our present Constitution
was framed its founders were in sight of two great influences: on the one
hand, the monarchy of the Old World from which they were just emerging,
and, on the other hand, the institution of slavery which had already attained
gigantic proportions in their midst. It is not surprising if their views were
somewhat tinctured by these influences, if they borrowed something of the
old distrust of the masses which was the bulwark of the monarchies, to
overlap the new Constitution, even while uttering those glorious truths that
all men were free and equal. Hence is it that we now have hanging over us
the terror of the one-man power, that we do not know whether we are to
have an absolute despotism or the Government of our fathers. The founders
of our Constitution, I say, borrowed some things. The practice of putting
new wine into old bottles, and of piecing old garments with new cloth has
not been confined to the Jewish race.3A paraphrase of Matt. 9: 16-17.

Since the termination of the war the popular sentiment is crying,
“Down with the Rebellion!” and advocating the freedom of the slave, but
they do not want them quite so free as themselves; they are willing to leave
upon their limbs a few links of their chains to remind them of the rock out of
which they have been hewn. There is no such thing as instantaneous
emancipation; true, the links of the chain may be broken in an instant, but
it will take not less than a century to obliterate all traces of the institu-

Our Government must be the best and strongest in the world if it be
only made consistent with genuine Republicanism, the principle of deriving


its power from the consent of a people governed, taxation and represen-
tation going side by side. No man should be excluded from the Government
on account of his color, no woman on account of her sex; there should be no
shoulder that does not bear its burden of the Government, and no individual
conscience debarred of [a] chance to exercise its influence for good on the
National councils. Then will our Government be the strongest ever seen,
and be lasting until the end of the world.

I do not expect that the extension of the franchise to my race and to
woman is going to suddenly accomplish all this good, but it will accom-
plish in the end some great results. To the race to which I belong the ballot
means something more than a mere abstract idea. It means the right to live
and to protect itself by honest industry. You women have representatives.
Your brothers, and your husbands, and your fathers vote for you, but the
black wife has no husband who can vote for her. I have a vote in this State;
no, not I, but the $250 worth of land I own—$250 worth of dirt.4The New York State Constitutional Convention of 1821 had expanded suffrage rights to include nearly all adult white males but had imposed a $250 freehold property qualification upon black voters. Efforts to abolish the discriminatory requirement by constitutional amendment were defeated in referendums in 1846, 1860, and 1869. Phyllis F. Field, The Politics of Race in New York: The Struggle for Black Suffrage in the Civil War Era (Ithaca, N.Y., 1982), 35-38, 61-62, 127-28, 199. It is that
which votes, and I, by owning it, and only by that reason, have the right.
The women, the criminals, the idiots, and the negroes are ranked together
in this matter.

The impeachment of the President will be a hopeful indication of the
triumph of our right to vote.5The impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson reached its climax on 16 May 1868 when the U.S. Senate failed by one vote to reach the necessary two-thirds majority to convict and remove him from office. It will mean the negro’s right to vote, and
mean that the fair South shall no longer be governed by the Regulators and
the Ku-Klux Klan, but by fair and impartial law.6During Reconstruction numerous paramilitary organizations sporadically employed vigilantism and intimidation to defend white supremacy and oppose the programs of the Republican-controlled state governments. The best known of such groups was the Ku Klux Klan, which was founded in Tennessee in 1866 and finally suppressed in 1870 by a combination of state and federal countermeasures. The term “Regulators” was first applied to a protest movement by western North Carolina farmers against unfair political and economic policies in the decade before the Revolution. The name continued to be used during the nineteenth century to designate any extralegal organization that used violence to resist oppression or to preserve the social order. Allen W. Trelease, White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction (New York, 1971 ); ESH, 695-97, 1045-46.

And now that l have borne my willing testimony to this cause, you will


all agree with me that we are ready to hear more singing. I am especially
delighted with the presence of such music in a public meeting, and I am
reminded of an incident where 1,500 mobocrats were silenced in their
attempt to break up an anti-Slavery gathering by the sweet voices of the
musicians in the gallery commencing the strains of the familiar rallying
song, “Liberate the bondman.” It is especially fitting that woman’s cause
should be pleaded by the voice of melody.


[Speeches by Olympia Brown, the Rev. Henry Blanchard, and Ernestine L.

I am here merely to give color to the idea. (Mr. Douglass then read a call
signed by Peter Cooper7Inventor and entrepreneur Peter Cooper (1791-1883), who received less than one year of formal education, made large fortunes in the textile, glue, and iron industries. He was responsible for the construction of the first American manufactured railroad locomotive (1830) and was president of the company that laid the first successful Atlantic telegraph cable in 1858. Cooper gave considerable money to philanthropic projects, particularly the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, which offered free courses and lectures on a wide range of educational, political, and popular topics. In 1876 he received over eighty thousand votes for president as the candidate of a coalition of Greenbackers, Grangers, and labor reformers. Edward C. Mack, Peter Cooper: Citizen of New York (New York, 1949); ACAB, 1: 730-32; NCAB, 3: 114-15. and others for a meeting in behalf of the red men in
Cooper Institute next Monday evening.)8This meeting was held at Cooper Institute on 18 May 1868. Led by Cooper, the gathering of clergymen and philanthropists founded the United States Indian Commission, a private organization that sponsored lectures, published pamphlets, and memorialized Congress in behalf of a fairer and less military-oriented government policy toward Native Americans. New York Tribune, 19 May 1868; Francis Paul Prucha, American Indian Policy in Crisis: Christian Reformers and the Indian, 1865-1900 (Norman, Okla., 1976), 26-28. He resumed: You have had the
woman, the negro, or a part of him, and you should also attend to the red
man. I believe in unity of all good causes, and am sorry when anything is
uttered leaving the inference that one good cause is opposed to another
good cause. Some such sentiment has shown itself in the remarks of the
Rev. Olympia Brown.9Born in Prairie Ronde, Michigan, Olympia Brown (1835-1926) graduated from Antioch College in 1860. After attending the Saint Lawrence University theological school at Canton, New York, Brown was ordained a Universalist minister in 1865-the first denominationally sanctioned ordination of a woman. She held pulpits in Weymouth, Massachusetts (1864-70), Bridgeport, Connecticut (1870-77), Racine, Wisconsin (1878-87), and elsewhere. In 1866 she became active in the woman suffrage movement and helped found the American Equal Rights Association. The following year, Brown campaigned in Kansas for four months with Lucy Stone and George Francis Train on behalf of the unsuccessful referendum on woman suffrage. After moving to Wisconsin in 1878 she remained a leading figure in the women's rights movement on the state and national levels. From 1903 to 1920 Brown was president of the Federal Suffrage Association, a group that lobbied Congress for passage of a woman suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Edward T. James et al., ed., Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, 3 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1971), 1: 256-58; NCAB, 20: 110-11. I champion the right of the negro to vote. It is with
us a matter of life or death, and cannot be postponed. I have always
championed woman’s rights, but it will be seen that the present claim of the


negro is one of the most urgent necessity. The assertion of the right of
women to vote has never met anything worse than mere ridicule, but the
public are tolerant; no deep-seated malignity is in the breasts of the people
against them; but name the right of the negro to vote, and all hell is turned
loose in the breasts of the people, and Ku-Klux Klans and Regulators
commence to hunt and slay the unoffending black. It is easily to be seen
that this is an urgent question. The Government of this country loves
women. They are the sisters, mothers, wives, and daughters of our rulers;
but the negro is loathed. Truth is patient, and makes slow advances. Two
hundred years ago the Rev. Dr. Godwin wrote a book to prove it was not a
sin to baptize a negro (laughter); and it really was a mooted question. The
negro was a slave, and the master owned him—baptize the master, and the
slave would be saved.10Morgan Godwyn advanced this position in The Negro's and Indian’s Advocate, Suing for their Admission into the Church (London, 1680). So it was in the Rebellion. The negro first brushed
the officers’ coats, then did fatigue duty, then was put in garrison in mias-
matic districts; but it was soon found that he could do something else, and a
musket and a uniform were given him, and he fought valiantly for the
Union. I don’t think Wendell Phillips is much to be censured.11Despite long records as advocates of women's rights, Wendell Phillips. Theodore Tilton, and a number of other eastern reformers (including Douglass) had become targets of criticism by such suffragist leaders as Elizabeth Cady Stanton for their alleged indifference to the fate of a Kansas referendum to enfranchise women in fall 1867. In particular, suffragist leaders complained that Phillips, as editor of the New York National Anti-Slavery Standard, and Tilton, as editor of the New York Independent, had ignored the Kansas campaign in their newspapers and subsequently expressed no regrets at the proposition's defeat. Stanton et al., History of Woman Suffrage, 2: 264-65; Catt and Shuler, Woman Suffrage and Politics, 55-58. He is a man
of wealth, culture and refinement, and yet he braves fatigue, hardship, and
inconveniences of all kinds and travels all over this broad country, not for
pecuniary recompense, but to champion human rights, and he never opens
his mouth without speaking a good word for woman. Mr. Theodore Tilton
has also done good service, and has spoken as eloquently for woman’s
rights as any one on this platform. We are all talking for woman’s rights and


we should be just to all our friends and enemies. There is some difference
between the Republican and the Democratic parties.

Olympia [BrownJ—What is it?

Douglass—The Democratic party has, during the whole war, been in
sympathy with the rebellion, while the Republican party has always sup-
ported the Government.

Olympia—How is it now?

Douglass—The Democratic party opposes impeachment and desires a
“white man’s government.”12In the House vote on 24 February 1868 to approve the impeachment resolution and in the Senate votes on 16 and 28 May 1868 to convict, every Democratic congressman and senator voted to sustain President Johnson. Michael Les Benedict, The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson (New York, 1973), 112-13, 172-74.

Olympia—What is the difference between the position of the Demo-
cratic party in opposing the enfranchisement of 2,000,000 negro men, and
the Republican party in opposing the emancipation of 17,000,000 white

Douglass—The Democratic party opposes suffrage to both, but the
Republican party is in favor of enfranchising the negro, and is largely in
favor of enfranchising women.

Mr. Douglass resumed—Where is the Democrat who favors woman’s
rights? (A Voice—“Train.”)13Boston-born George Francis Train (1829-1904) entered the shipping firm of his distant cousin Enoch Train at age sixteen and spent most of the 1850s successfully conducting commercial and financial transactions in Europe and the Orient. Returning to the United States during the Civil War, he became a promoter for western railroad construction and land development. Train's eccentric championing of diverse causes, however, eventually curtailed his business activities. In 1872 he campaigned for the presidency as an independent candidate. Train devoted his later years primarily to traveling, lecturing, and writing. Willis Thornton, The Nine Lives of Citizen Train (New York, 1948); Clive Turnbull, Bonanza: The Story of George Francis Train (Melbourne, Australia, 1946); NCAB, 9: 264; DAB, 18: 626-27. Yes, he hates the negro, and that is what
stimulates him to substitute the cry of emancipation for women. He
boasted that he had throttled negro suffrage in Kansas by making use of
your good cause to deal it a fatal blow;14George Francis Train campaigned vigorously on behalf of the woman suffrage referendum in Kansas in 1867. He toured the state with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, appearing on speaking platforms in evening dress and lavender gloves. Although some suffragists considered him an embarrassment to their cause, Stanton regarded Train as a “good advertisement." A Democrat, Train angered Republicans by claiming that women were more qualified for the franchise than black men whose voting rights were the subject of a separate proposition in the same election. “Women first, and negro last" was Train‘s characterization of his views on suffrage. The Kansas election resulted in the defeat of both suffrage questions with the women‘s proposition losing by one thousand more votes than that for blacks. After the referendum, Train continued to assist the woman suffrage movement, especially by his generous financial contributions toward the founding of the feminist newspaper, the Revolution. Stanton et al., History of Woman Suffrage, 2: 243-44, 254-55, 261-64; Catt and Shuler, Woman Suffrage and Politics, 61; Robert E. Riegel, “The Split of the Feminist Movement in 1869," MVHR, 49: 485-96 (December 1962). the negro needs suffrage to protect
his life and property, and to receive an education. He needs it for the safety
of reconstruction and the salvation of the Union; for his elevation from the
position of a drudge to that of an influential member of society. If you want
to keep a man out of the mud, black his boots, and he’ll take good care of
them. (Laughter.) If you want women to forget and forsake frivolity, and


the negro to take pride in becoming a useful and respectable member of
society, give them both the ballot.

Olympia—Why did Republican Kansas vote the negro down?

Douglass—Because of your ally, George Francis Train.

Olympia—How was it about Minnesota without Train? The Re-
publican party is a party, and nothing but a party, and has repudiated negro
suffrage and women’s rights.

Douglass—Minnesota lacked only 1,200 votes to carry negro suf-
frage. All the Democrats voted against it, while only a small fraction of the
Republicans did, and this was substantially the same in Ohio and Connecti-
cut.15Between 1865 and 1868, numerous northern states and western territories held referenda on the black suffrage issue. In nearly every case, black enfranchisement was rejected by the electorate. Analysis of these voting returns confirms Douglass's contention that the Democratic party provided the bulk of the negative votes. In the areas to which he refers, voters rejected black suffrage in Connecticut in September 1865, in Minnesota in November 1865 and again in November 1867, and in Ohio in October 1867. The second defeat in Minnesota was by a margin of only 1,298 votes, and in November 1868 a third referendum finally produced a victory for pro-black suffrage forces. William Gillette, The Right to Vote: Politics and the Passage of the Fifteenth Amendment (Baltimore, 1965), 25-35; Felice A. Bonadio, North of Reconstruction: Ohio Politics, 1865-1870 (New York, 1970), 103-04; Field, Politics of Race in New York, 160-61, 199. The Republican party is about to bring ten States into this Union, and
Mr. Stevens16On 7 May 1868, Thaddeus Stevens, chairman of the House Reconstruction Committee, reported a bill to readmit Arkansas to the Union. Four days later, he introduced a second bill to do the same for Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina. These ex-Confederate states were required by this legislation to adopt constitutional provisions that would enfranchise the freedmen and prohibit any future amendments to rescind that grant of rights. By early June, each bill had been passed by both houses of Congress and become law. Congressional Globe, 40th Cong., 2d Sess., 2390, 2399, 2901, 3092-96; New York Tribune, 12 May 1868; Benedict, Compromise of Principle, 320-22. has reported a bill to admit seven States on the fundamental
basis of adopting Constitutions guaranteeing negro suffrage forever.

Olympia made a few desultory remarks in reply.


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


May 14, 1868


Yale University Press 1991



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