Mixing Memory

Below is the text of a post I wrote for the old blog back in March of ’06. I’m putting it here now because, given the discussion of the new atheist-suffragist analogy, I think it will provide some much needed perspective. In the article below, you will see just what the women’s rights movement was up against, and why rhetorical force was necessary for it to accomplish even the simplest of its goals. I apologize in advance for any typos and misspellings (some of the spellings are just outdated ones, though), because I typed the article out while reading it in a 136 year old journal in the university library. Those aren’t ideal typing conditions. If you’re wondering how I came across it, let me just say that wandering around the library and reading really old newspaper and magazine articles is a sick, geeky hobby of mine (just last week I read some really cool stuff on the Franco-Prussian war in a London magazine from 1870). Also, heed the warning in my introduction. The language in the article can be very hard on our 21st century sensibilities.

This post has nothing to do with cognitive science, but I found the article that I’m reprinting below so fascinating, and horrifying, that I just had to share it. Since I can’t find it on Google, and it was written by a somewhat obscure theologian some 135 years ago, I suspect that most people who are reading this post haven’t seen it before. I won’t bore you with the story of how I came across it, largely because it would reveal how seriously geeky I am. The article, written by R. L. Dabney, who, among other things, was Stonewall Jackson’s official biographer and taught philosophy at the University of Texas, is titled “Women’s Rights Women,” and was published in the March, 1871 issue of The Southern Magazine (pp.322-334 ). It’s a sarcastic, vitriolic, and downright disturbing attack on the women’s rights movement in the U.S. in the mid-19th century, and women’s suffrage in particular. What I find so fascinating about it is how incredibly similar it is to much of what you hear and read from cultural conservatives today, on issues ranging from homosexuality to, well, women’s rights, while at the same time it’s very different from anything you might read today. The similarities will be obvious to most. In the article you’ll find the common “women’s rights women are socially unsuccessful/ugly” attack (in the first paragraph!); hints that women’s rights will make women sluts; the claim that independent women will be less attractive to men, and that women will be less able to please men if they have equal rights; the assertion that giving women rights will harm (or even signal the end of) the family, Christianity, and society as we know it (this one isn’t uncommon in social conservative arguments about gay rights these days, either); the belief that he and those of a like mind aren’t trying to harm women, but to help them, by limiting their rights, because men know what’s best for women; along with the usual stereotypes of sex differences in reasoning, emotionality, etc. I’ve highlighted (in bold; all other emphasis is Dabney’s) some of the passages that I noticed are similar to what you might hear today from social conservatives, even if the wording is different. I’m sure I missed some, though. You can play “How are today’s social conservatives like racist, sexist social conservatives in the 19th century American South” and find your own, if you like.

The differences might be even more obvious. I haven’t heard anyone claim that the women’s rights movement is a result of evil abolitionism, lately, and you won’t find many of the arguments about women ruining society by voting irrationally these days (oh wait, yes you will, but then again, you’ll also find many of the racist and secessionist arguments in the article on that author’s blog, too). You’re unlikely to find this level of anger and spite directed at the North in contemporary social conservative commentaries, either (though you might find a similar level of vitriol leveled at the West coast or the Atlantic Northeast, or just at universities). Clearly, Dabney was bitter about the way the war went, and writing this only six years after its end, and while in the midst of the nasty Reconstruction, he made sure to blame the evil women’s rights movement on the Yankees.

Anyway, I the article offers a nice window into the thinking of southern conservatives at the time, and how much, and more importantly, how little, that thinking has changed. I should warn you up front that you will find in the article a level of explicit racism that can be hard to stomach at times. So read at your own risk. I know it’s long, but I think it’s worth it.

Women’s Rights Women

by R. L. Dabney

IN our day, innovations march with so rabid a stride that they quite take away one’s breath. The fantastical project of yesterday, which was mentioned only to be ridiculed, is to-day the audacious reform, and will be to-morrow the accomplished fact. Such has been the history of the agitation for “women’s rights,” as they are sophistically called in this country. A few years ago this movement was the especial hobby of a few old women of both sexes, who made themselves the laughing-stock of all sane people by the annual ventilation of their crotchet. Their only recruits were a few of the unfortunates whom nature or fortune had debarred from those triumphs and enjoyments which are the natural ambition of the sex, and who adopted this agitation as the most feasible mode of expressing their spitefulness against the successful competitors. To-day the movement has assumed such dimensions that it challenges the attention of every thoughtful mind.

If we understand the claims of the Women’s Rights women, they are in substance two: that the legislation, at least, of society shal disregard all natural distinctions of the sexes, and award the same specific rights and franchises to both in every respect; and that woman while in the married state shall be released from every species of conjugal subordination. The assimilation of the garments of the two sexes, their competition in the same industries and professions, and their common access to the same amusements and recreations, are social changes which the “strong-mined expect to work, each one for herself, when once the obstructions of law are removed from the other points.

One result of the reflection which we have been able to give this movement, is the conviction that it will prevail in the so-called “United-States.” This is foreshadowed by the frantic lust for innovation which has seized the body of the people like an epidemic. It is enough with them to condemn any institution, that it was bequeathed by our forefathers’ because it is not the invention of this age, it is wrong, of course. In their eyes no experience proves anything, save the experience which they have had themselves. They do not suppose that our fathers were wise enough to interpret and record the lessons of former experiences. That certain things did not succeed in our forefathers’ hands is no proof that they will not succeed in our hands; for we are “cute,” we live in an enlightened age, and understand how to manage things successfully. The philosophy of the Yankee mind is precisely that of the Yankee girl who, when she asked for leave to marry at seventeen, was dissuaded by her mother with the statement that she “had married very early and had seen the folly of it.” “yes, but, Mamma,” replied the daughter, “I want to see the folly of it for myself.” Your Yankee philosopher is too self-sufficient to be cautioned from the past. He does not know history; he would not believe its conclusions if he did; he has no use for its lights, having enough “subjective” light of his own1. To such people the fact that a given experiment is too absurd to have been ever tried before, is an irresistible fascination: it is a chance not to be neglected.

The symptoms of approaching success which already exist are such as may well cheer the advocates of the new revolution. They who a few years ago counted their adherents by scores, now have tens of thousands. They are represented by their own press. They have received the support of at least one religious journal, which presumes to call itself Christian and is the organ of numerous domination– the New York Independent. They receive the obsequious homage of the demagogues of the day. They have already engrafted a part of their ideas upon some State constitutions2. Their apostles are invited to lecture before “Christian Associations” (of that peculiar kind which enumerate billiard and card-tables among the means of grace), and before the United States Congress. And last, a kindred cause, that of indiscriminate divorces, is making such progressin many of the States that it will soon be able to lend a strong helping-hand to its sister. Now it is by just such steps that Radicalism grew from its despised infancy in this country. It was just thus that Abolitionism grew. It is thus that all things grow on the American soil which ripen their harvests of evil3.

The advocates of these “women’s rights” may be expected to win the day, because the premisses from which they argue their revolution have been irrevocably admitted by the bulk of the people. Now this popular mind may not be consciously or intentionally consistent and logical. It may jump to many conclusions without much analysis of the steps by which they are reached. It may deliberately harbor the most express purpose to be guilty of any logical inconsistency, however outrageous, in pursuing its supposed interests; and may have its mind ever so clearly made up to eat its own words and principles whenever its convenience prompts that measure. But still the Creator has made man, in spite of himself, a logical animal; and consequences will work themselves out, whether he designs it or not, to those results which the premisses dictate. History will write out the corrolaries of the theorems whether the projectors wish to stop for them or not. Now, false principles are already firmly planted from which the whole “Women’s Rights” claim must follow. If we look at the coarser, more concrete, and popular form in which the consequence is drawn, we find the argument for the popular, Radical mind perfectly unanswerable. “It has been decided that all negro men have a right to vote: is not a Yankee white women with her ‘smartness’ and education as good as a stupid, ignorant, Southern black?” We should like to see the answer to that logic from that premiss which a Northern Radical mind could be made to appreciate. An unanswerable point thus perpetually made upon the mind of the public, will impinge at last.

Or if we examine the argument in its more exact and logical form, we shall find it, after the established (false) premisses are granted, equally conclusive for the educated. The very axioms of American politics are now that “all men are by nature equal,” that all are inalienably “entitled to liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and that “the only just foundation of government is in the consent of the governed.” There was a sense in which our fathers propouned these statements; but it is not the one in which they are now held by Americans. Our recent doctors of political science have retained these formularies of words as convenient masks under which to circulate a set of totally different, and indeed antagonistic notions; and they have succeeded perfectly. The new meanings of which the “Whigs” of 1776 never dreamed are now the current ones. Those wise statesmen meant to teach that all men are morally equal in the sense of the Golden Rule: that while individual traits, rights, and duties vary widely in the different orders of political society, these different rights all have some moral basis; that the inferior has the same moral title (that of a common humanity and common relation to a benignant Heavenly Father) to have his rights — the rights of an inferior — duly respected, which the superior has to claim that his very different rights shall be respected4. The modern version is that there are no superiors or inferiors in society; that there is a mechanical equality; that all have specifically all the same rights; and that any other constitution is against natural justice. Next: when our wise fathers said that liberty is an inalienable, natural right, they meant by each one’s liberty the privilege to do such things as he, with his particular relations, ought to have a moral title to do; the particular things have righteous, natural limitations in every case, and much narrower limits in some cases than in others. Radical America now means by natural liberty each one’s privilege to do what he chooses to do. By the consent of the governed our forefathers meant each Sovereign Commonwealth’s consenting to the constitution under which it should be governed: they meant that it was unjust for Britain to govern America without America’s consent. Which part of the human beings living in a given American State should constitute the State potentially, the populus whose franchise it was to express the will of the commonwealth for all — that was in their eyes wholly another question, to be wisely decided in different states according to the structure which Providence had given them. By “the consent of the governed” it would appear that Radicalism means it is entirely just for Yankeedom to govern Virginia against Virginia’s consent, and that it is not just to govern any individual human being without letting him vote for his governors5. The utter inconsistency of the two parts of this creed is not ours to reconcile. It is certain that both parts (consistent or not) are firmly held as the American creed. The version given to the maxim as to individual rights is universally this: that natural justic requires that suffrage shall be coextensive with allegiance, except where the right has been forfeited by some crime (such as that which the men of 1861 committed in presuming to act on the principles of the men of 1776). To these errors the American people are too deeply committed to evade any of their logical applications. For the sake of these dogmas they have destroyed one Federal and eleven other State constitutions, have committed a half million murders, and (dearest of all) have spent some seven thousand and millions of dollars. Repudiate these maxims now! Never! This would be to dishonor the ghosts of all the slaughtered Union-Savers, to shame the sacrifices of all the “Trooly Lo’il” during the glorious for years, to dim the very crown of martyrdom upon the brow of the “late lamented,” and worst of all, to outrage the manes of all those departed dollars.

Now then, when Mistress Amazona Narragansett steps forward and having vindicated her claim to have belonged always to the true Israel of the “unconditional Unionists,” demands a simple and obvious application of these honored maxims to her own case, how can she be gainsaid? Hitherto the State has governed her without asking her consent at the ballot-box. This is self-evidently against the immortal truth that “all just government is founded on the consent of the governed.” The State has restrained her natural liberty of doing as she chose, compelling her to pay a great many dollars in taxes which she would rather have chosen to expend in crinoline, and forbidding her to do a great many other little acts, such as bigamy, etc., which might have been her preference (and therefore her natural right); and all this without even saving the State’s credit and manners by asking her consent at the polls to the laws made for her. And last: the State has committed the crowning outrage and inconsistency of not letting her be a man because God made her a woman! What an outrage this to be committed on so frivolous a pretext! Be consoled, Mistress Amazona; it is simply impossible that such abuses can stand much longer in the full light of this reforming age. “The school-mistress is abroad.” That mighty tide of progress which has already swept away the Constitution, and slavery, and States’ rights, and the force of contracts public and private, with all such rubbish, will soon dissolve your grievance also. Has not the Radical version of the political gospel said, “All men are by nature mechanically equal”? And “man,” Mistress Amazona (as you will know when you acquire the virile right of learning Latin) here means, not vir, but homo; the species irrespective of sex. It means that a woman has a natural right to do all the particular things that a man does (if she can), to sit on juries and shave her beard, to serve in the army and ride astraddle, to preach sermons and sing bass5.

But seriously: a woman is a human being, and a grown woman is an adult. She is treated, and must be treated, by all governments as a citizen owing allegiance and subject to law. On those principles, which are the first principles of Radicalism, it is impossible to deny her right to vote and to participate in all franchises of men. Her exclusion is a glaring instance of “class legislation”–that odious thing which Radicalism so strongly condemns as contrary to equality. To subject women to these disabilities is even a more glaring injustice than was the exclusion of the negro from American citizenship because he was “guilty of a skin”; for here the exclusion from natural rights is grounded on the sole fact taht a woman is “guilty of a sex.” And especially are all those laws unnatural and inexcusable iniquities which subject the person or property of the wife to any marital authority. What is such marriage but a species of (white) domestic slavery? Nor is it any excuse to say that in American no woman enters the married state save at her own option; for to that state the most commanding instincts of woman’s being impel her; and it is but a mocking tyranny to impose this slavery on the married state of woman, and tell her then that she need not submit to the yoke if she chooses to avoid it by sacrificing the chief instincts of her being. Why, it may be even said to the galley-slave that he need not be a slave, provided he is willing to disregard that other primal instinct, the love of life: suicide will set him free!

Such is the logic of the Women’s Rights party, from Radical premisses. Its prospect of triumph is greatly increased by this, that its Northern opponents (the only ones who have any power to oppose) have disabled themselves from meeting it by their furious Abolitionism. The premisses of that doctrine, to which they are so irrevocably committed, now shut their mouths. It is vain for the rabid negrophilist, Dr. Horace Bushnell, to write a book at this date against Women’s Rights as the “Reform against Nature.” He cannot consistently oppose it; he has himself naturalised the false principles from which that “reform” will flow. The true principles from which its folly might have been evinced, the principles held by us “Rebels,” he has trampled down with the armed heel, and drowned in blood and buried under mountains of obloquy and odium and slander. he cannot resort to those sound premisses. To meet the argument of these aspiring Amazons fairly, one must teach, with Moses, the Apostle Paul, John Hampden, Washington, George Mason, John C. Calhoun, and all that contemptible rabble of “old fogies,” that political society is composed of “superiors, inferiors, and equals”; that while these bear an equitable moral relation to each other, they have very different natural rights and duties; that just government is not founded on the consent of the individuals governed, but on the ordinance of God, and hence a share in the ruling franchise is not a natural right at all, but a privilege to be bestowed according to a wise discretion on a limited class having qualification to use it for the good of the whole; that the integers out of which the State is constituted are not individuals, but families represented in their parental heads; that every human being is born under authority (parental and civic) instead of being born “free” in the licentious sense that liberty is each one’s privelege of doing what he chooses; that subordination, and not that license, is the natural state of all men; and that without such equitable distribution of different duties and rights among the classes naturally differing in condition, and subordination of some to others, and of all the law, society is as impossible as is the existence of a house without distinction between the foundation-stone and the cap-stones. No words are needed to show hence that should either the voice of God or of sound experience require woman to be placed for the good of the whole society in a subordinate sphere, there can be no natural injustice in doing so. But these old truths, with their sound and beneficent applications, have been scornfully repudiated by Abolitionism and Radicalism. The North cannot, will not, avow and appeal to them, bwecause that would be to confess that the injured South was all the time right in its opposition to Abolition; and the conquerors will rather let all perish than thus humble their pride to the poor conquered victims.

It may be inferred again, that the present movement for women’s rights will certainly prevail from the history of its only opponent, Northern conservativism. This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is to-day one of the accepted principles of conservativism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will to-morrow be forced upon its timidity, and will be succeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservativism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. it is worthless because it is the conservativism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. it intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth, and has no idea of being guilty of the folly of martyrdom. It always–when about to enter a protest–very blandly informs the wild beast whose path it essays to stop, that its “bark is worse than its bite,” and that it only means to save its manners by enacting its decent r├┤le of resistance. The only practical purpose which it now subserves in American politics is to give enough exercise to Radicalism to keep it “in wind,” and to prevent its becoming pursy and lazy from having nothing to whip. No doubt, after a few years, when women’s suffrage shall have become an accomplished fact, conservativism will tacitly admit it into its creed, and thenceforeward plume itself upon its wise firmness in opposing with similar weapons the extreme of baby; and when that too shall have been won, it will be heard declaring that the integrity of the American Constitution requires at least the refusal of suffrage to assess suffrage7. There it will assume, with great dignity, its final position.

Indeed, as De Tocqueville predicted, innovation in the direction of extensions of suffrage will always be successful in America, because of the selfish timidity of her public men. It is the nature of ultra democracy to make all its politicians time-servers; its natural spawn is the brood of narrow, truckling, cowardly worshippers of the vox populi and of present expediency. Their polar star is always found in the answer to the question, “Which will be the more popular?” As soon as any agitation of this kind goes far enough to indicate a possibility of success, their resistance ends. Each of them begins to argue thus in his private mind:–“The proposed revolution is of course preposterous, but it will be best for me to leave opposition to it to others. For if it succeeds, the newly enfranchised will not fail to remember the opponents of their claims at future elections, and to reward those who were their friends in the hour of need.” Again: it has now become a regular trick of American demagogues in power to manufacture new classes of voters to sustain them in office. It is presumed that the gratitude of the newly enfranchised will be sufficient to make them vote the ticket of their benefactors. But as gratitude is a very flimsy sort of fabric among Radicals, and soon worn thread-bare, such reliance only lasts a short time, and requires to be speedily replaced. The marvellous invention of negro suffrage (excogitated for this sole purpose) sufficed to give Radicalism a new for years’ lease on life’ but the grateful allegiance of the freedmen to their pretended liberators is waxing very thin; and hence the same expedient must be repeated, in the form of creating a few millions of female votes. The designing have an active, selfish motive for pushing the measure; but its opponents will without fail be paralysed in their resistance by their wonted cowardice; so that success is sure.

This expectation is greatly confirmed by a review of the history of past innovations. They have all been carried against the better judgement of the class in the country to whom the Constitution commmitted the power of deciding for or against them. In 1829-1830, the State of Virginia took her first departure from the old principle of freeholders’ suffrage. in 1851 she completed that revolution (as well as introduced sundry other Radical features) by extending the right to vote indiscriminately to all white males. In both instances it was hard to find a freeholder, not a demagogue, who could avow a hearty preference for the change. They were carried against the convictions of the voters by the influences which have been above described. it is most probable that the same thing was true in every State which adopted universal suffrage. The coercive measures of the Federal Government were undoubtedly predicipated against the convictions of the majority of the Northern people. So the war was transumted into an Abolition measure under the same circumstances. And last: negro suffrage was undoubtedly introduced against the better judgement of nearly all by the selfish arts of the demagogues; and as there was neither party nor statesman that had the nerve to head the almost universal opposition, the decision went by default. Nor will there be, under any future circumstances, either leader or party that will risk the odium of a movement to take away suffrage from the incompetent hands of the blacks, however clearly it may appear that they are using it for the ruin of themselves and the country. Thus it is the destiny of the Yankee people to commit a species of political Hari-kari with its own unwilling hands. The crowning element of despair is in the enforced consolidation of the Government. There are no reserved rights of States. The mad innovation which is adopted by a majority of them is enforced upon all; so that no place of refuge is left in the whole land where the right principles and usages might find sanctuary, and abide as the wholesome example and recuperative power for reform.

What then, in the next place, will be the effect of this fundamental change when it shall be established? The obvious answer is, that it will destroy Christianity and civilisation in America. Some who see the mischievousness of the movement express the hope that it will, even if nominally successful, be kept within narrow limits by the very force of its own absurdity. They “reckon without their host.” There is a Satanic ingenuity in these Radical measures which secures the infection of the reluctant dissentients as surely as of the hot advocates. The women now sensible and modest who heartily deprecate the whole folly, will be dragged into the vortex, with the assent of their now indignant husbands. The instruments of this deplorable result will be the (so-called) conservative candidates for office. They will effect it by this plea, that ignorant, impudent, Radical women will vote, and vote wrong; whence it becomes a necessity for the modest and virtuous women, for their country’s sake, to sacrifice their repugnance and counterpoise these mischievous votes in the spirit of disinterested self-sacrifice. Now a woman can never resist an appeal to the principle of generous devotion; her glory is to crucify herself in the cause of duty and of zeal. This plea will be successful. But when the virtuous have once taste the dangerous intoxication of political excitement and the power, even they will be absorbed; they will learn to do con amore what was first done as a painful duty, and all the baleful influences of political life ill be diffused throughout the sex.

What those influences will be may be learned by every one who reverences the Christian Scriptures, from this fact, that the theory of “women’s Rights” is sheer infidelity8. It directly impugns the authority and the justice of these Scriptures. They speak in no uncertain tones. “The husband is the head of the wife” (EPH v:23). “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (v. 22. “The man is not for the woman, but the woman for the man” (I COR. II:9). “Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection: but I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence: for Adam was first formed, then Eve: and Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was the transgression” (I TIM. II: 11-14). They are to be “discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands,” etc. (TITUS II:5). How utterly opposed is all this to the levelling doctrine of your Radical. Women are here consiged to a social subordination, and expressly escluded from ruling offices, on grounds of their sex, and a divine ordination based by God upon a transaction which happened nearly six thousand years ago! The woman’s sphere is expressly assigned her within her home, and she is taught that the assumption of publicity is an outrage against that nature with which she is endowed. Now the politics which denounce all this as a natural injustice and self-evident folly cannot be expected to reverence these Scriptures; they must and will flout their whole authority. We must then make up our minds in accepting Women’s Rights to surrender our Bibles, and have an atheistic Government. And especially must we expect to have, presiding over every home and rearing every group of future citizens, that most abhorrent of all phenomena, an infidel woman; for of course that sex, having received the precious boon of their enfranchisement only by means of the overthrow of the Bible, must be foremost in trampling upon this their old oppressor and enemy. Its restoration to authority is necessarily their “re-enslavement,” to speak to language of their party.

Second: these new excitements and temptations will utterly corrupt the character and delicacy of American women. It is indignantly asked, “Why should politics corrupt the morals of women more than the ‘lords of creation’?” Suppose now we reply: American politics have corrupted the morals of the men? suppose we argue that this retort is so true and just and the result has actually gone to so deplorable an extent, that were the female side of our social organization as corrupt as the male side has already become, American society would crumble into ruin by its own putrescence? it is better to save half the fabric than to lose all. And especially is it better to save the purity of the mothers who are, under God, to form the characters of our future citizens, and of the wives who are to restrain and elevate them, whatever else we endanger. Is it argued that since women are now confessedly purer than men, their entrance into politics must tend to purify politics? We reply again that the women of the present were reared and attained this comparative purity under the Bible system. Adopt the infidel plan, and we shall corrupt our women without purifying our politics. What shall save us then?9

But there is another reply to this retort. Political excitements will corrupt women tenfold more than men; and this, not because women are naturally inferior to men, but because they are naturally adapted to a wholly different sphere. When we point to the fact that they are naturally more emotional and less calculating, more impulsive and less self-contained, that they have a quicker tact but less logic, that their social nature makes them more liable to the contagion of epidemic passions, and that the duties of their sex make it physically impossible for them to acquire the knowledge in a foreign sphere necessary for political duties, we do not depricate woman; we only say that nature has adapted her to one thing and disqualified her for the other. The violent would wither in that full glare of midsummer in which the sunflower thrives: this does not argue taht the violet is the meaner flower. The vine, left to stand alone, would be hurled prone in the mire by the first blasts of that wind which strengthens the grasp of the sturdy oak upon its bed: still the oak may yield no fruit so precious as the clusters of the vine. But the vine cannot be an oak; it must be itself, dependent, clinging, but more precious than that on which it leans or it must perish. When anything inmate or inanimate, is used for a function to which it is not adapted, that foreign use must endamage it, and the more the farther that function is from its own sphere. So it will be found (and it is no disparagement to woman to say) that the very traits which fit her to be the angel of a virtuous home unfit her to meet the agitations of political publicity and passion will speedily deflower her delicacy and sweetness10. Those temptations, which her Maker did not form her to bear, will debauch her heart, developing a character as much more repulsive than that of the debauched man as the fall has been greater. The politicating woman, unsexed and denaturalised, shorn of the true glory of her femininity, will appear to men as a feeble hybrid mannikin with all the defcts and none of the strength of the man. Instead of being the dear object of his chivalrous affection, she becomes his importunate rival, despised without being feared.

This suggests a third consequence, which some of the advocates of the movement even already are bold enough to foreshadow. “Women’s Rights” mean the abolition of all permanent marriage ties. We are told that Mrs. Cady Stanton avowed this result, proclaiming it at the invitation of the Young Men’s Christian Association of New York. She holds that woman’s bondage is not truly dissolved until the marriage bond is annulled. She is thoroughly consistent. Some hoodwinked advocates of her revolution may be blind to the sequence; but it is inevitable. It must follow by this cause, if for no other, that the unsexed politicating woman can never inspire in man the true affection on which marriage should be founded. Men will doubtless be still sensual’ but it is simply impossible that they can desire them for the pure and sacred sphere of the wife. Let every woman ask herself: will she choose for the lord of her affections an unsexed effeminate man? No more can man be drawn to the masculine woman. The mutual attraction of the two complementary halves is gone forever. The abolition of marriage would follow again by another cause. The divergent interests and the rival independence of the two equal wills would be irreconcilable with domestic government, or union, or peace. Shall the children of this monstrous no-union be held responsible to two variant co÷rdinate and supreme wills at once? Heaven pity the children! Shall the two parties to this perpetual co-partnership have neither the power to secure the performance of the mutual duties nor to dissolve it? It is a self-contradiction, an impossible absurdity. Such a co-partnership of equals with independent interests must be separable at will, as all other such co-partnerships are. The only relation between the sexes which will remain will be cohabitation continuing so long as the convenience or caprice of both parties may suggest; and this, with most, will amount to a vagrant concubinage.

But now, what will be the character of children reared under such a domestic organisation as this? If human experience has established anything at all, it is the truth of the principle announced by the Hebrew prophet when he declared that the great aim of God in ordaining a permanent marriage tie between one man and one woman was “that He might seek a godly seed.” God’s ordinance, the only effective human ordinance, for checking and curbing the first tendencies to evil, as domestic, parental government. When the family shall no longer have a head, and the great foundation for the subordination in children in the mother’s example is gone; when the mother shall have found another sphere than her home for her energies; when she shall have exchanged the sweet charities of domestic love and sympathy for the fierce passions of the hustings; when families shall be disrupted at the caprice of either party, and the children scattered as foundlings from their hearthstone,–it requires no wisdom to see that a race of sons will be reared nearer akin to devils than to men. In the hands of such a bastard progeny, without discipline, without homes, without God, the last remains of social order will speedily perish, and society will be overwhelmed in savage anarchy.

Last: it would not be hard to show, did space permit, that this movement on the part of these women is as suicidal as it is mischievous. Its certain result will be the re-enslavement of women, not under the Scriptural bonds of marriage, but under the yoke of literal corporeal force. The woman who will calmly review the condition of her sex in other ages and countries will feel that her wisdom is to “let well enough alone.” Physically, the female is the “weaker vessel.” This world is a hard and selfish scene where the weaker goes to the wall. Under all other civilisations and all other religions than ours woman has experienced this fate to the full; her condition has been that of a slave to the male–sometimes a petted slave, but yet a slave. In Christian and European society alone has she ever attained the place of man’s social equal, and received the homage and honor due from magnanimity to her sex and her feebleness. And her enviable lot among us has resulted from two causes: the Christian religion and the legislation founded upon it by feudal chivalry. How insane then is it for her to spurn these her two bulwarks of defence, to defy and repudiate the divine authority of that Bible which has been her redemption, and to revolutionise the whole spirit of the English common law touching woman’s sphere and rights? She is thus spurning the only protectors her sex has ever found, and provoking a contest in which she must inevitably be overwhelmed. Casting away that dependence and femininity which are her true strength, the “strong-minded woman” persists in thrusting herself into competition with man as his equal. But for contest, she is not his equal; the male is the stronger animal. As man’s helper, woman is his equal, his superior, his glory. As man’s rival, she is a pitiful inferior, a sorry she-mannikin. It is when she brings her wealth of afection, her self-devotion, her sympathy, her tact, her grace, her subtle intuition, her attractions, her appealing weakness, and place them in the scale with man’s rugged strenth and plodding endurance, with his steady logic, his hardihood and muscle, and his exemption from the disabling infirmities of her sex, that he delights to admit her full equality and to do glad homage to her as the crown of his kind. All this vantage-ground the “Women’s Rights women” madly throw away and provoke that collision for which nature itself has disqualified them. They insist upon taking precisely man’s chances; well, they will meet precisely the fate of a weak man, among strong ones. A recent incident on a railroad train justly illustrates the result. A solitary female entered a car where every seat was occupied, and the conductor closed the door upon her and departed. She looked in vain for a seat, and at last appealed to an elderly man near her to know if he would not {“surrender his seat to a lady.” He, it seems, was somewhat a humorist, and answered, “I will surrender it cheerfully, Madam, as I always do, but will beg leave first to ask a civil question. Are you an advocate of the modern theory of women’s rights?” Bridling up with intense energy, she replied, “yes, Sir, emphatically; I let you know that it is my glory to be devoted to that noble cause.” “Very well, Madam,” he said, “then the case is altered: you may stand up like the rest of us men, until you can get a seat for yourself.” This was exact poetic justice; and it foreshadows precisely the fate of their unnatural pretensions. Men will treat them as they treat each other; it will be “every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost.” There will be of course a Semiramis or a Queen Bess here and there who will hold her own; but the general rule will be that the “weaker vessels” will succumb; and the society which will emerge from this experiment will present woman in the position which she has always held among savages, that of domestic drudge to the stronger animal. Instead of being what the Bible makes her, one with her husband, queen of his home, reigning with the gentle sceptre of love over her modest, secluded domain, and in its pure and sacred retirement performing the noblest work done on this earth, that of moulding infant minds to honor and piety, she will re├Ąppear from this ill-starred competition defeated, and despised, tolerated only to satiate the passion, to amuse the idleness, to do the drudgery, and to receive the curses and blows of her barbarized masters.

Thus will be consummated that destiny to which so many gloomy prognostics point as the allotment of the North American continent to the accursed field for the final illustration of the harvest of perdition, grown from the seeding of the dragon’s teeth of infidel Radicalism. God gave the people of this land great and magnificent blessings, and opportunities and responsibilities. They might and should have made it the glory of all lands. But they have betrayed their trust: they have abused every gift: above all they have insulted Him by flaunting in His face an impudent, atheistic, God-defying theory of pretend human rights and human perfectibility which attempts to deny man’s subordination, his dependence, his fall and native depravity, his need of divine grace. It invites mankind to adopt material civilisation and sensual advantage as their divinity. It assumes to be able to perfect man’s condition by its political, literary, and mechanical skill, despising the Gospel of Christ, which is man’s only adequate remedy. It crowns its impiety by laying its defiling hnds upon the very forms of that Christinaity, while with the mock affection of a Judas, it attempts to make it a captive to the sordid ends of Mammon and sense. Must not God be avenged on such a nation as this? His vengance will be to give them the fruit of their own hands, and let them be filled with their own devices. he will set apart this fair land by a sort of dread consecration to the purpose of giving a lesson concerning this godless philosophy, so impressive as to instruct and warn all future generations. As the dull and pestilential waves of the Dead Sea have been to every subsequent age the memento of the sin of Sodom, so dreary tides of anarchy and barbarism which will overwhelm the boastful devices of infidel democracy will be the caution of all future legislation. And thus “women’s rights” will assist America “to fulfil her great mission,” that of being the “scarecrow” of the nations11.

1Doesn’t this look like the 1871 version of a charge of “postmodernism?” Apparently dismissing one’s opponent’s views like this is a time-honored tradition.
2I think this statement is particularly telling, both of the view of many southern conservatives in the 19th century, and many religious conservatives in the 20th and 21st centuries. It shows what they mean by “leave it to the states to decide.” In essence, they mean, “Leave it to the states to decide, so long as they decide in the way that I think they should.” In fact, you can still see this attitude towards women’s rights today, particularly on the issue of abortion.
3This is but the first of Dabney’s comparisons of abolitionism and women’s rights, both of which he thinks are evil. Later, he blames the latter’s increasing popularity on the former.
4This is a particularly interesting version of Originalism isn’t it?
5Man, losing that war sucks!
6Notice the setting up of the straw man still commonly used today, that “Women’s Rights,” or feminism, essentially stands on the premise (or premiss) that there are absolutely no differences between men and women.
7Ah, the slippery slope! That favorite fallacy of the cultural conservative for many centuries past, and many centuries to come.
8It’s all about sex.
9This is just one instance of the deplorable, and still common argument that the limiting of women’s rights (e.g., in the form of reproductive rights, today) is done in their best interests, because we men know what’s best for them.
10I.e., if women can think for themselves, they’ll be no fun for us men anymore. A common sentiment today, though it’s rarely put so succinctly in contemporary discourse.
11This paragraph could easily have been written today, perhaps by someone like Pat Robertson, and the blaming social and political progression on atheists and secularists is a hobby of many social conservatives.

Comments

  1. #1 Brandon
    April 23, 2007

    Wow, that’s bad, even for Dabney, who had some pretty nasty views.

  2. #2 Trinifar
    April 23, 2007

    I can’t add anything to that! What a great pick up.

    wandering around the library and reading really old newspaper and magazine articles is a sick, geeky hobby of mine

    One reason I miss not having access to a great library any more.

    My latest and perhaps last entry in the debate: Hugs for Atheists. “Perhaps last” because it looks like PZ (see PZ’s latest) and Larry want a schism and I don’t want to be part of Sherman’s march to the sea.

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