“Will you give us the weight of your influences on behalf of Impartial Suffrage - including women - in the state of New York, by a letter to our Convention.” .
In November of 1853, Anthony took up her first cause, and her first campaign, for women. It related to securing additional rights to own property in New York, and the effort extended to 1855. But the overwhelming issue of the day was slavery, and in 1856 Anthony became involved as an agent...
In November of 1853, Anthony took up her first cause, and her first campaign, for women. It related to securing additional rights to own property in New York, and the effort extended to 1855. But the overwhelming issue of the day was slavery, and in 1856 Anthony became involved as an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society, seeking the abolition of slavery. With the onrush of events leading to war, little was accomplished for women in those early years.
During the Civil War the leaders of the woman's movement suspended action on behalf of their own rights in order to concentrate on the abolition of slavery. On May 14, 1863, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the Women's National Loyal League to campaign for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would abolish slavery; the League was the first national women's political organization in the United States. In the largest petition drive in the nation's history up to that time, the League collected nearly 400,000 signatures on petitions to abolish slavery and presented them to Congress. Its petition drive significantly assisted the passage of the 13th Amendment, which passed the Senate on April 8, 1864, and the House on January 31, 1865, and ended slavery in the United States. The passage of this amendment had an significant impact on Anthony and Stanton, as they saw that Congress had been successfully pressed into action to secure the rights of black people. They thought that such a tactic might well work for the women’s suffrage movement as well.
In this early period immediately after the Civil War, Anthony and her colleagues optimistically imagined a reconstructed republic that would incorporate woman suffrage. The Woman's Rights Convention in April 1866 was the first held since the beginning of the Civil War. The call to the Convention reflects Stanton and Anthony’s continuing focus on Congress, which was then debating the proposed 14th amendment. The women were concerned that Congress would extend suffrage to black males, but as the call stated, “deny that necessity of citizenship to women”. That convention transformed itself into the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), whose purpose was "to secure Equal Rights to all American citizens, especially the right of suffrage, irrespective of race, color or sex." The 14th Amendment passed in June 1866, and as feared, it omitted any mention of women.
With the setback in Washington, they next determined to look to the states for the progress they sought. They called an equal rights convention for New York to be held at Albany on November 20-21, 1866 and published a pamphlet promoting it entitled "Equal Rights Convention for New York State”. That pamphlet conveyed their optimism nobly, imagining reforms in the state that would elevate national politics. It endorsed "the right of suffrage to all citizens, without distinction of race or sex" and maintained that "reconstruction of this Union is a broader, deeper work than the restoration of the rebel States. It is the lifting of the entire nation into the practical realization of our Republican Idea.” Below this appeal to make New York a "genuine republic," the pamphlet also advertises a group of convention speakers – including Henry Blackwell, Frederick Douglass, Frances Watkins Harper, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton – all of whom represented the permutations of race and gender that would constitute New York's new citizens.
"Will you give us the weight of your influences on behalf of Impartial Suffrage – including women"
They sought to lend gravitas to the Convention by rounding up important supporters who would consent to associate their names with the occasion. Perhaps the most prominent of these was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Schuyler Colfax, who was known to be in sympathy with women’s suffrage. Anthony did not shrink from approaching a men of his caliber and wrote him directly, hoping his sympathies would outweigh his concern about the political cost.
Autograph letter signed, on the bank page of the pamphlet for the “Equal Rights Convention for New York State”, New York, no date but apparently November 1866, to Colfax, tendering the request. “Will you give us the weight of your influences on behalf of Impartial Suffrage – including women – in the state of New York, by a letter to our Convention. We mean to make a thorough canvass of the state with conventions, lectures, tracts & petitions, and want your testimony, not merely for the Convention, but to publish, with many others, in a tract to scatter throughout the state. Hoping that you are with us in sentiment on this question, and will give us your word in its favor.”
The Convention was held and received the publicity its promoters had hoped. Colfax took a political chance and sent a letter of support, which was read at the Convention. We cannot find mention of this significant letter anywhere. It is apparently a new discovery, one that provides insight into Anthony’s strategy and fearlessness as she maneuvered to gain the franchise for women.
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