The ideal of equality is one of the founding principles of the United States, It is not the only ideal that Jefferson alluded to in that sacred document, but it may the most significant in the history of our nation since 1776.
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
I have endeavored to give more of this passage than the most famous triad of life, liberty and happiness, because I feel that the ending of just as important as the middle of the assertion. The ideal that governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, is of equal significance as the imagined right to persuade happiness.
The ideal of equality has been debated ever since the end of the revolutionary period. Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John Adams when he attended the first Constitutional Convention to “remember the ladies” who had fought for independence just as bravely and nobly as the men.
Benjamin Franklin encouraged the Founders to abolish slavery in the new nation, only to lose the debate to those who claimed the necessity of slavery. In the interest of preserving the unity of the fragile country, slavery was kept, and the ideal of egalitarianism was diminished.
While these efforts are informative and notable, they pale in comparison to the actions and declarations of Susan B Anthony. She was a great American, no doubt. But few would now why this pillar of leadership and sacrifice deserves the title. Anthony was a firebrand and a radical. She was not to be stopped, and anyone who ever tried received a tongue lashing for the ages.
This is not to imply that Anthony was a Casandra or a complainer. She was motivated by an outrage grounded in the reality of male domination and abuse of women. In her day women had no power. Zero! The rights of women were an idea only, and one share only by a radical fringe led by Anthony, Lucretia Mott and the Grimke Sisters.
Women in her day we the responsibility of their husbands, and the law held the majority of women to be “perpetual juveniles”, dependent on their husbands for any rights or privileges.
The husband “assumed absolute ownership of his wife’s personal property,” and for all practical purposes, her real estate as well. He also gained control of any wages or other income accrued by his spouse.
Technically, this meant that a man could do anything he wished with his wife’s material possessions. He could sell them, give them away, or simply destroy them as was his wont. Married women were also forbidden to convey (sell, give, or will) any property.
Susan B. Anthony deserves to be credited with leading the change for women in American history. She suffered greatly for her suffrage, you might say. She organized, wrote, published and spoke at large about the rights and inequities of women.
She once even practiced civil disobedience and voted illegally in New York.
I would hold her up as an example of a heroic American because she broke the law when the law was unjust. Demonstrable injustice was the practice of the law against women, and so Anthony was practicing a moral good by violating the law banning women from voting.
At her trial she made a wonderful speech that captures not only her fiery disposition, but the ideal of patriotic protest.
The following comes from her statement to the court as she was being sentences for the “crime” of voting. I have formatted the speech so that the phrasing reads with more clarity and drama.
Judge: The sentence of the Court is that you pay a fine of one hundred dollars and the costs of the prosecution.
Miss Anthony: May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a $10,000 debt, incurred by publishing my paper—The Revolution—four years ago, the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done,
rebel against your man-made, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprison and hang women,
while they deny them the right of representation in the government;
and I shall work on with might and main to pay every dollar of that honest debt,
but not a penny shall go to this unjust claim.
And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim,
that “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”
Yes. They used to hang women in America for crimes against law they could never vote on as citizens. This flies directly in the face of the principle Jefferson described in his Declaration of Independence, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Obviously there was no consideration of the consent of women. It must not be forgiven, believing that the men who wrote these laws and hanged women were ignorant of the oppression they practiced. No, it was an obvious wrong against women from the beginning.
The denial of this oppression is a theme in American history, just as is opportunity, liberty and freedom are ideals. The denial ideal is strong, perhaps the strongest, of the American ideals. It allows for the other ideals to masquerade as truth, keeping the irony and hypocrisy of the denial of those in American society from being seen or acknowledged.
Thank god for Susan B. Anthony; a great American patriot. I consider her act of defiance to be an example to the ages to emulate. The greatest Americans break the law when the law is immoral.
By this standard, Anthony was one of the greatest of all.