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mriding that women shall be eligible to hold these offices, uçon the same terms, and subject to the same restrictions, as apply to men.
Second, For an act conferring upon women like powers to vote in all municipal elections and meetings, and to hold municipal offices.
Third, For an act conferring upon women the same powers to vote for presidental electors, and to hold that office.
They present the broad question, whether suffrage, and eligibility to public office, shall be granted to women upon the same terms as to men.
We are urged to grant it for the following principal reasons: that it is, —
1. A natural right;
First, Natural rights are such, that, if their exercise is denied by government, this lays the foundation for a justifiable revolution. It will hardly be contended, even by the Dost ardent advocates of woman suffrage, that an attempt to overturn the existing government in Massachusetts by force would be justifiable in case the right of suffrage is not accorded to women. This is the test of the correctness of the proposition.
By natural, or, as Blackstone terms them, absolute rights, is properly meant those which, upon moral grounds, ought to exist in every state of society, and which no state has a right to deny. In a certain sense, all rights are relative. They spring out of the relation of men to each other in society. But some are so essential, and the individual has 80 strong a claim to them, that it is the duty of every state to provide for them. Therefore, if a state abrogates them, rebellion against the state is justifiable. No state has a right to exist which denies them: therefore their denial justifies rebellion. They are the “ implied reservations, witheat which the social compact could not exist." They “grow out of the essential nature of all free government." To deny them is beyond the function and province of rightful government.
Such are the right to life, liberty, and the acquisition of property; but such is not the right to the ballot.
Judge Story, who will not be accused of partisanship, says, in his Commentaries upon the Constitution, “The truth seems to be, that the right of voting, like many other rights, is one which, whether it has a fixed foundation in natural law or not, has always been treated in the practice of nations as a strictly civil right, derived from and regulated by each society according to its own circumstances and interests. It is difficult, even in the abstract, to conceive how it could have otherwise been treated.”
In a recent and very thoroughly considered case in one of the most respected state courts (Anderson v. Baker, 23 Maryland Reports, 531), the subject of the alleged natural right of voting was passed upon, and decided against the existence of such right. As the person claiming the right was a man, the decision is without bias upon the question of sex. The new constitution of Maryland, adopted in 1864, provided that no person who had been in armed hostility to the United States, or who had been in the service of the so-called Confederate States, or who had in any manner, by word, act, or deed, given thein aid, comfort, or countenance, or declared bis adhesion to them, or expressed a desire for their triumph, should bave the right to vote ; and that no person, who, since the fourth day of July, 1851, had been or should be convicted in a court of law of bribery, or of resorting to force, fraud, or surprise, to corrupt or defeat the exercise of the right of suffrage, should thereafter be entitled to vote, or hold any office of profit or trust. And a statute passed in pursuance of this provision of the constitution, and to carry out its objects, provided that the officers of registration should administer to every person applying for registration as a voter the oath of allegiance, and should examine the applicant under oath, and diligently inquire and ascertain whether such person had done any of the acts declared in the constitution to be causes of disqualification; and, if the evidence brought to their knowledge should satisfy them that he had done so, they should not enter his name in the register of qualified voters, but should carefully exclude it therefrom, notwithstanding he might have taken the prescribed oath of allegiance.
By the enforcement of these provisions, a considerable part of the inhabitants of Maryland who had previously voted
were disfranchised. And, in the above case (which may be considered a test case), the main ground taken in opposition to the law was that it was an ex post facto law, and therefore void under the provision of the constitution of the United States which prohibits any state from passing such a law; in this, that it forfeited rights for acts committed previously to the passage of the law, and for the commission of certain acts affixed a new penalty not existing at the time of their commission, to wit, the deprivation of the right of suffrage. It was argued that the right to vote could not be taken away for such an act as the expression of a desire for the triumph of the Confederate States by a law passed subsequently to the expression of such desire, because that would be the infliction of a new and subsequent penalty for the commission of au act which (whether criminal or not) was not attended with that penalty at the time it was committed. It was a law, it was said, attempting to take a way rights for acts previously committed, which did not, at the time they were committed, prevent the exercise of those rights. Thus the question of the nature of the elective franchise was directly involved; because, if it is a right, it cannot be taken away for an act done previously to the passage of a law which forfeits the right; but if it is a power to be exercised in such manner, and by such persons, as the state shall, from regard to its welfare, determine, then the state may at any time modify, take away, limit, suspend, or control the privilege at its will, and without cause, not as a forfeiture for an act committed, nor out of regard to the interests or privileges of the citizen at all, but solely from considerations relating to the public expediency and welfare.
And the latter was the view which the court took after very thorough consideration, and the ground upon which their decision was based. The court say that the elective franchise " is a privilege conferred on the citizen by the soyereign power of the state to subserve a general public purpose, and not for private or individual advantage ; that, as against the power conferring it, the citizen acquires no indefeasible right to its continuance or enjoyment; and that the people of the state, in the exercise of their sovereign power, may qualify, suspend, or entirely withdraw it from any citizeu, or class of them, providing always that representation of the people, the essential characteristic of a republican government, be not disregarded or abandoned ; " that this may be done without any fault or occasion so far as the character of the citizen is concerned, and solely in the discretion of the people of the state, as they, in their capacity as a people, deem for the public good; and that, therefore, witholding the privilege from any persons or class in the community takes away no right, and, even if done on account of previous acts, cannot be regarded as an ex post facto law. It is “a matter of which the people of the state have the absolute control."
The decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Minor v. Happersett, 21 Wal. 162, in which the opinion was delivered by Chief Justice Waite, confirms the same result. That case presented the question, whether women are entitled, under the constitution of the United States, to vote because they are citizens; and it was sought to found this right upon the fourteenth amendment to the constitution of the United States, which provides that "all persons born or naturalized into the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside,” and that “10 state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." The court held that it was unnecessary to claim that the fourteenth amendment had conferred citizenship upon women, and that it had not in fact conferred it, since, from the foundation of the government, citizenship had extended to women as well as to men, but that suffrage was not, and never had been, one of the necessary rights of citizenship, and that, therefore, a provision in the constitution and laws of a state denying its exercise to women was valid.
It is believed that no well-considered case or recognized authority can be found at variance with the above principles. The whole status of voting under state constitutions and statutes like the ones above cited, adopted at the close of the Rebellion, rests upon it. In the constitution of every state, at the time of the formation of the Union, the elective franchise was expressly confined to males, and denied to females, with perhaps one exception, and in that instance was so confined as early as 1807; and, in the constitution of every state since admitied to the Union, it has been so confined. Surely then, according to the theory of our government from the beginning, continually applied through the suppression of the Rebellion and the reconstruction of the Southern States, suffrage is not a natural right. And, if we consider whether that theory is correct, we can come to only one conclusion. There is no absolute, inherent right in any person to vote, because his vote affects the property, rights, and welfare of others. He might have such natural right if his vote affected only himself ; but, since it affects society, society has the right to impose conditions and limitations upon his power, derived solely from a regard to the public welfare.
Second, Upon the second ground, — that of supposed rights under the constitution, — in order that injustice may not be done to the petitioners by misstating their position, we quote the language of those who addressed us upon this point. The gentleman who opened the petitioners' case, speaking with reference to the three objects sought by the petitioners, both that asking for a constitutional amendment and the others, said, “The principles of our state constitution affirm woman's right to suffrage. •All power resides in the people, and is derived from them.' Women are people. • The people ... bave a right to institute government, and to reform, alter, or change the same. They can do so only by voting. No part of the property of any individual can with justice ever be taken from him, and applied to the public use, without his own consent or that of the representative body fo the people. Is not a woman an individual ?” And the gentleman who closed their case, speaking likewise with reference to all the measures sought, said, “By that instrument (the constitution) the body politic is described as originating in a social compact, all with each, and each with all. All shall be governed by laws made by their representatives. All power resides originally in the people. No man, or corporation, or class, is to be endowed with special political privileges; and yet more than one-half of the adult citizens of the Commonwealth are perpetually disfranchised, and contemptuously refused all share of representation, though taxed to the fullest extent. Can this be reconciled with justice, or with your solemn oaths ? No incidental provision of the constitution can set aside or override its fundamental principles.”