‘The Privileged Order’: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922
The December release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes three items by women: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Victoria V. Clayton and Sallie Holley. Each offers a different perspective on America’s peculiar institution.
Address in Favor of Universal Suffrage for the Election of Delegates to the Constitutional Convention (1867)
By Elizabeth Cady Stanton
On January 23, 1867, Elizabeth Cady Stanton addressed the Judiciary Committees of the Legislature of New York in behalf of the American Equal Rights Association. Stanton was an abolitionist, a suffragist, and a leading figure in the early women’s rights movement. She concerned herself with a wide scope of issues including women’s parental and custody rights, property rights, divorce, and birth control. Her address in the New York Assembly Chamber focused on universal suffrage as a means to equal representation.
Now, women, and negroes not worth two hundred and fifty dollars, however weak and insignificant, are surely “members of the State.” The law of the land is equality. The question of disfranchisement has never been submitted to the judgment of their peers. A peer is an equal. The “white male citizen” who so pompously parades himself in all our Codes and Constitutions, does not recognize women and negroes as his equals; therefore, his judgment in their case amounts to nothing.
And women and negroes constituting a majority of the people of the State, do not recognize a “white male” minority as their rightful rulers. On our republican theory that the majority governs, women and negroes should have a voice in the government of the State; and being taxed, should be represented.
Stanton continues, quoting Rhode Island’s Republican Senator Henry B. Anthony who argued:
The gentlemen on the other side of the Chamber, who say that the States lately in rebellion are entitled to immediate representation in this Chamber, would hardly be satisfied if we should tell them that my friend from Massachusetts represented South Carolina, and my friend from Michigan represented Alabama. They would hardly be satisfied with that kind of representation. Nor have we any more right to assume that the women are satisfied with the representation of the men.
Stanton then makes a comparison of her own.
“White males” are the nobility of this country; they are the privileged order, who have legislated as unjustly for women and negroes, as have the nobles of England for their disfranchised classes.
White and Black under the Old Regime (1899)
By Victoria Virginia Clayton
Frederic Cook Morehouse’s introduction to Victoria Virginia Clayton’s work includes biographical information on the author and her family. He compares himself and his vantage with that of Clayton, writing:
For myself, a son of the North, trained in the very opposite political principles for which the Claytons and the South have contended, it is a great happiness to introduce this simple memoir, which, in its way, is an Apologia for the Old South.
However, Morehouse’s laudatory description of the South and of Clayton’s work draws into question his perspective since Clayton more often appears to be a slavery apologist than a repentant rebel.
After recalling an anecdote about a former slave, Clayton writes:
These instances and facts concerning our old slaves I mention to show the love and trust that existed between the master and his slave in our Southern land. As I have said before, many of us thought Slavery a curse to our land. Yet what were we to do but make the best of existing laws and environments?
Clayton tells other stories of grateful former slaves returning to ask to work in her household and closes her memoir by writing:
Here ends my simple story, which I trust may help to show some of our Northern brethren the good there was in the institution of Slavery as it existed in the Southern States; and may engender a more just judgment of the white man who lived under the Old Regime in the South.
A Life for Liberty (1899)
By Sallie Holley
Sallie Holley was an educator and member of the American Anti-Slavery Society. She worked with abolitionist Caroline Putnam, who she met while attending Oberlin College, to establish the Holley School which still stands today.
In the first of this collection of letters, Holley writes of the abolitionist movement and its wide array of members, especially the women of the movement such as Maria Weston Chapman:
But the fanatical and insane were few in comparison with the once bright and cheerful and now ever memorable company of rare and gracious spirits who had no love of notoriety, no passion to be seen or heard, but who could not enjoy the advantages of wealth, or social pleasure, or the fair fruits of literary fame, so long as black men were denied the fruit of their labour, and their wives might not regard the fruit of their bodies as inalienably theirs. There was Maria Weston Chapman, second to none in her lieutenancy to Garrison, the captain of the great reform; it may be doubted whether any of his male coadjutors was so necessary to him as this noble woman, or so able to lift up his heart when it was sunk deepest in his breast. Of great administrative energy, she was “the soul of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society”: in prose and verse the chronicler and inspirer of the movement for immediate emancipation; of perfect courage, equal to assuming the responsibility for the publication of the Anti-Slavery Standard at a critical juncture in the struggle, when some, because they dared not counter Paul’s objection to the public speech of women, broke away from Garrison and set up a new organization; young, beautiful, full of radiant grace, lacking no charm of speech or manner or accomplishment fitting her to be a social queen with lavish homage at her feet, she freely chose to make herself “of no reputation,” to be one of a despised and persecuted band, if haply she might help to break the fetters of the slave.