Introduction of the 16th Amendment
If you know how your members of Congress voted on any given issue, you can vote to retain or replace them. Assuming, of course, that you are allowed to vote.
What if you aren’t and you want to speak to Congress? You can ask.
On January 10, 1878, Senator Aaron Sargent of California introduced what should have been the 16th Amendment to the Constitution.
It began: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
But before that, he made a motion to allow women to speak on the floor of the Senate.
Hundreds of suffragists had arrived in Washington, D.C. for the introduction of the long-sought federal amendment. The leadership of the National Woman Suffrage Assoc. gathered in the Capitol in the elegant Ladies Reception Room⬇️.
(By 1886 the reception room, “a great convenience to the ladies visiting the capitol,” was reassigned to men and replaced by “a small, dark, inaccessible room on the basement floor” - History of Woman Suffrage)
As they reviewed plans for the National’s convention and a week of lobbying, they learned that ANTI-suffragists had been welcomed on the Senate floor. Not just any anti-suffragists: Mrs. General [Ellen] Sherman (pictured), and Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren, also wife of a Union war hero.
Suffragists demanded the same courtesy. It was a watershed moment: every state was represented in DC in support of the amendment that week. Senator Sargent, whose wife Ellen was an active suffragist and friend of Susan B Anthony, introduced a resolution to allow them to speak for one hour.
Both Senators from Rhode Island, Henry Anthony and Ambrose Burnside, and Senator Henry Dawes of Massachusetts, helped Sargent whip votes. Their photos are at the top of the thread.
In the end, only 13 Senators supported the resolution, with 31 opposed.
If you’re looking for heroes, look elsewhere. Sen. Sargent was a vigorous proponent of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Sen. Dawes’ most famous piece of legislation broke up Native lands and converted them to private property. Sen. Burnside led the NRA. Sen. Anthony was a Know Nothing.
In the House, Rep. Wm. Kelley of PA moved to let the women speak, pointing out that “Many of these ladies who petition are tax-payers, and they believe their rights have been infringed on.” Rep. Crittenden of Missouri objected, and the resolution wasn’t even voted on. So many loser politicians from Missouri.
One newspaper framed their objection as a floodgates problem: “If the privilege were granted in this case it would next be claimed by the friends and enemies of the silver bill, by the supporters and opponents of resumption, by hard money men and soft money men, by protectionists and free-traders, by labor-reformers, prohibitionists and the Lord knows whom besides.” That the biggest proponents of those issues could vote for their representatives simply didn’t register.
Suffragists did get to speak at committee hearings later that week. Sara Andrews Spencer had spent months lobbying for those hearings. In November she had appeared before a Senate committee to ask that they hear from one woman from each state and territory. Not quite that many women spoke, but many did, over two days.
Most importantly, the women’s suffrage amendment was introduced 143 years ago today. It would take 42 years to become law.