The American Nation
The Declaration of Sentiments: 1848


   The issues surrounding women, economic equality, labor opportunities, abusive domestic situations, in the United States took on a new life as the principles at the heart of American Independence were taken up as weapons by women and the cause of women was intimately tied with the major causes of the early nation: temperance issues, anti-slavery movements, and labor reform. In fact, the earliest impetus to feminist militancy was the attempt by civil authorities to severely limit the activities of female abolitionists, a cause which provoked in its inherents a high degree of religious fervor. So intertwined were the feminist movement and the anti-slavery movement, that the latter divided itself over the former. The more conservative members of the anti-slavery movement had, in fact, completely withdrawn from the movement by the 1840's over the issue of women, effectively ceding control of the anti-slavery movement to its most radical and militant factions. When the American abolitionists crossed to England in 1840 to attend the first ever World Anti-Slavery Convention, the organizers of the convention refused to seat the American women at the convention even though they were officials and representatives of the American movement. Although the American men passionately fought for the women, in the end, the women and the Americans were egregiously humiliated when they were refused entrance to this convention whose purpose was "universal emancipation." This started something new in American feminism, something unique to America: the Americans began to realize the similarities between the situation of women and the situation of the slaves.

   Two of the delegates to the World Anti-Slavaery Convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, burning over the humiliation, organized the first convention dealing with women's rights in Seneca Falls in 1848, which included the freed slave, Frederick Douglass, as an active participant. Using the Declaration of Independence as their model, they produced a "Declaration of Sentiments," signed by 68 women and 32 men. How are these two documents similar? Do Stanton and Mott rely on the same concepts, such as the social contract? What is the difference between the two documents (and there are some dramatic ones)? How do you account for these differences? What does this tell you about the nature of the early American women's movement?

   You may want to compare this to the sentiments expressed in Young Lady's Own Book, a handbook of feminine behavior that was wildly popular in the 1830's, 1840's, and 1850's in America. How are the ideas in Young Lady's Own Book derived from Enlightenment ideas? How are they related to other American ideas we've discussed?

Your text is taken from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, A History of Woman Suffrage , vol. 1 (Rochester, N.Y.: Fowler and Wells, 1889), pages 70-71.


The Declaration
of Sentiments

   The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyrranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

   He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

   He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

   He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men—both natives and foreigners.

   Having deprived her of this first right of a citizedn, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

   He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.

   He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.

   He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master—the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.

   He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardles of the happiness of women—the law, in all cases, going upon a flase supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.

   After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.

   He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most homorable to himself. As a teacher of theoloy, medicine, or law, she is not known.

   He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.

   He allows her in church, as well as state, but a suborinate position, claiming apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the church.

   He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.

   He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.

   He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her conficence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

   Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation—in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.

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1995, Richard Hooker
Updated 2-5-97