Political Tracts for the Times. No. 1.
Every British or naturalised British subject in New Zealand, being a man 21 years' old, can vote for the election of members of Parliament, provided he owns property worth £25, or has resided in the Colony for a year. The men who exercise this right may be paupers from the Old Men's Refuge, patients from the Hospital, bar-loungers, street-corner-loafers, old gaol-birds, habitual drunkards, or even worse; but women, however good, intelligent, and patriotic, cannot vote, merely because they are females. Women ratepayers vote here for the election of the Mayor and Borough Councillors, Licensing Committees, School Committees, and Road Boards; and in England they vote for Poor-Law Guardians, and School Boards.
In the Isle-of-Man
they vote for members of Parliament; in Wyoming, in the United States, they vote for members of Congress; in the Slavonic Provinces of Austria they vote by proxy in Municipal, Provincial, and national elections; and, in Finland, a Scandinavian Province of Russia, the Governor has recently declared that "man or woman who pays rates should vote."
It seems absurd that thousands of landladies of hotels and boarding-houses, who have sunk much capital in the country, are maintaining themselves and families, and bearing the burden of taxation, but cannot vote because they are women, while their waiters, barmen, and odd-men, can vote merely because they are page 2 men. Over twenty thousand women-farmers in England manage their estates and pay taxes, but cannot vote, while their ploughmen can vote merely because they are men. In New Zealand,
Widows and Spinsters,
who keep greengrocers' and other shops, and prove themselves to be good citizens, cannot vote, because they are women; but the Chinamen who sell them their vegetables can vote because they are men, although they do not understand our polities or intend to make our country their home. Widows of fortune cannot vote, but their coachmen and gardeners can; milliners in business cannot vote, but the men who carry their advertising boards about the streets can vote. It were hard to say whether the next generation will wonder more at the absurdity than the injustice of this arrangement.
Who passed the Laws?
The laws imposing these disabilities on women have been passed by men, the stronger of the sexes. In the days of old, Might was Right; physical force swayed races, nations, and classes. Women were looked upon as chattels; men sold their daughters for concubines; warriors seized women for wives in times of war; others stole them in times of peace, never dreaming of consulting their wishes. Even to-day women are reckoned as chattels by all except the better class of men, who esteem them as man's complement. The numbers of men who hold women to be something more than mere things, and deserving of the Franchise, are increasing every day. Three hundred and twenty-seven members of the House of Commons are in favour of women's suffrage: a recent Trades Union Congress voted in favour of it; a majority of our New Zealand Parliament voted in favour of the second reading of the Women's Suffrage Bill; about fifty-two thousand women in this Colony have petitioned Parliament for it; men like Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Herbert Spencer advocate it, and in a few years at most it will be an accomplished fact. Some people who do not know what is going on in the world, say women do not want it; but if they will open their eyes to the public meetings held by women, to the leagues formed by them, to their writings, and their general activity in this matter, they will be ashamed to repeat the stock objection used against granting liberty to the American slaves: "They do not want it." If they will turn to the writings of Mrs. Ashton Dilke, Miss Frances Power Cobbe, Mrs. Oliphant and others, they will soon learn whether women want it or not.
Justice of the Claim.
It is a question of justice; women are entitled to it exactly on the same grounds as men,—because they are human beings, page 3 members of the state, affected by good and bad laws equally as men. During the last few years women have made great intellectual and social advance, and they are as well able to choose law-makers as millions of men who now exercise the Franchise. They are engaged by hundreds of thousands as law clerks, lawyers, doctors, teachers, commercial clerks, lecturers, "pointsmen" on railways, warehouse-hands, book-binders, pen-makers, and assistants in the building trade; hence they know by experience the pinch of bad legislation, and should have a voice in choosing men to amend the law. Tens of thousands of them are doing an immense work in Temperance, benevolent, and religious effort, besides discharging their private duties at home; and their patriotic desires to benefit the world are a guarantee that they will wisely select good men to make our laws.
Why Women should Vote.
It is contended that women should exercise the Franchise (1) Because they pay taxes and ought to have a voice in choosing representatives to impose and spend the taxes. It is a principal of our Constitution that no taxes should be imposed without the consent of the people through their representatives in Parliament, and as widows and spinsters have no Parliamentary Franchise, they are not represented. Those who laud John Hampden for resisting un-constitutional taxation, fly into a passion when women even hint at such a thing on their own account. (2) Women's questions will never be fairly discussed and justly dealt with in Parliament until the members know that women can take part in choosing and rejecting them. Many members of Parliament make greater efforts to keep their seats and honoraria than to decide questions on their merits; they try to please their constituents and do not trouble about "out-aiders" who cannot vote for or against them. Hence the Women's Property Act was shelved six times in one Session in England, and the Women's Suffrage Bill was recently shelved at Wellington. Mr. Moss and other members who voted against the Bill because of their "great reverence for women" would reverence them a hundred per cent, more, even to the point of worshipping them, if women had a vote. (3) Women have proved themselves worthy of the Franchise. In Wyoming and the Isle of Man their influence has been good; Queen Elizabeth, Queen Ann, and Queen Victoria proved that women have political capacities which only need developing; women, as a rule, rear their children well and judiciously, manage their husband's money, thus proving faithful in greater things than the exercise of a vote. (5) Women should have the Franchise to enable them to get relief from the unequal and unjust laws which disgrace our Statute-book. Mrs. Aldis has chased one unjust municipal law into outer darkness, and if women get their fetters off they will make short work of our divorce law. It is simply monstrous that page 4 men should make one law for themselves and another for women. If violation of the moral law and the marriage vow entitles a man to a divorce, it should also entitle the woman to a divorce, but. it does not. Man can get free for one offence on his wife's part, but she cannot get free for the same thing unless the man commits also legal cruelty! Members of Parliament would soon rectify our unjust intestacy laws, too, and the laws affecting women's persons, if women could vote for their law-makers.
But it is argued that, if women drop a little vote into the scales of mercy and justice once in three years they will lose their womanly charm. Surely such fears are unfounded. "Women now have politics thrust upon them. Compulsory education, compulsory vaccination, compulsory sanitary laws, &c, &c., compel women to concern themselves about politics. First of all, it is important that women should perform their private duties, and be good daughters, good wives, and good mothers; but thousands upon thousands of women, after having discharged their private duties, desire to perform social duties, and help to regenerate the world. This spirit impels myriads of women to help their less fortunate fellow-creatures in various ways, and they go unscathed into scenes of suffering and infamy to rescue the sick, ignorant, and fallen. Florence Nightingale's, Mary Stanley's, and Sister Dora's are household names in England, and there are two or three household names here. Ladies here are engaged in works of mercy, which fail through defective legislation; and if women could exercise the Franchise, they would get the law remedied at once. Reformatories without legal restraints are a delusion and a snare, but this and other questions will be shelved until women can take part in choosing our law-makers.
There has been no public remonstrance against the claim at Dunedin that male lunatics should be taken from asylums to vote (see daily papers, July 14th); but when that privilege was claimed for sane, sensible, pure-minded, industrious, and patriotic female tax-payers, it was denounced as "the greatest devilment ever tried by the Devil in this world!" But the tide is rising; truth must and will prevail; Right, not Might, will win. Politicians can no more prevent women from getting this meed of justice than they can prevent British capitalists from wringing out of this colony the interest which is bleeding it to death, because they have not shown womanly prudence and honour in the affairs of State.
Printed at The Leader Office, Albert Street North,