The Paterson Daily Press Reports on the New Jersey Senate, March 24, 1869
Source, Paterson Daily Press, 24 March, 1869, p. 3.
In March 1869, the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association presented a petition to the New Jersey Senate requesting woman suffrage and reform of married women’s property rights. Though the wording of this petition has not been preserved, the Paterson Daily Press called it a “respectful and able memorial.” The Senate Judiciary Committee made a mockery of the petition, however. It presented to the Senate its report on the petition, prepared by Senators John Hopper of Passaic County and John Wolverton of Mercer County, as a burlesque filled with double entendre, ethnic political jokes, and a parody “Act relative to the right of suffrage.” The report met with clamorous laughter in the Senate chamber. The Paterson Daily Press criticized the Senate sharply for its unseemly behavior, but nevertheless reprinted in full the offending report, included here. This report illustrates the chilling ridicule to which early suffragists were subject, even in the state legislature.
THE NEW JERSEY SENATE AND WOMAN’S SUFFRAGE
We publish below the report of a majority of the Judiciary Committee of the New Jersey Senate upon the respectful petition sent to that body a few days ago by the New Jersey Woman’s Suffrage Association. The report was read by Mr. Hopper “amidst the roars of the lobby and galleries.”
The Judiciary Committee of the New Jersey Woman’s Suffrage Association, praying for the right of suffrage, beg leave respectfully to report:
That they had examined the question involving public interests so grave and important, with that consideration and care which it obviously demands. Your Committee were at once confronted with the highly astonishing and deeply interesting statement of the memorial that there were one hundred and twenty-eight thousand women in the State, who were in all respects the same as men (except in the small difference of sex). Their qualifications as voters are alleged to be the same. Now the peculiar qualification, required in voters seems, in the judgment of the Committee, to open up an endless field of conjecture, involving many questions, physiological, political, sexual and muscular. In the eastern part of the State, for instance–(bordering on the classic waters of the Kill von Kull) these qualifications consist, as is universally acknowledged, of an impenetrable stupidity, an unlimited capacity for repeating votes, an unquenchable thirst for, and boundless ability to consume benzine, whiskey and fusil oil. In the pleasant Beulah-land of Passaic, the one essential qualification in voters, is the ability to speak Holland Dutch with placid tongue and subscribe liberally and freely to all extensions of the Montclair Railway. In Middlesex no man is qualified to vote who cannot conform strictly to the game laws as respects Robins and other small birds. In South Jersey, it is well known that no citizen is admitted to the polls unless competent to detect the difference between greenbacks of the different denominations, while in the county of Salem. In addition to this qualification, a complete and intimate acquaintance with the personal habit, general appearance, sex and size of that noble animal, the Shad, is an indispensable prerequisite to any exercise of the elective franchise. In other and more Northern portions of our State, honest poverty, limited acquaintance with public schools, and a practical knowledge of the charcoal-burning profession, is a sine qua non no less essential than the ability in yet another section, to define the boundaries of the county of Musconetcong–the youngest child of Democratic confidence and Republican credulity–or to ascertain the cheapest terms upon which a shore owner can be divested of his riparian rights by the insertion of the “usual tax clause.” And finally, in the shadow precincts of Egypt and Tom’s River, the right to vote depends absolutely upon the voter’s capacity as an eater of oysters and connoisseur in clams. With such a varying standard of qualification, your committee may well be perplexed by the statement that all the women of New Jersey “possess all qualifications of men” as voters.
Another grave cause of complaint stated in the memorial, is that as “wives, widows and mothers,” the women of the State are subjected to cruel disabilities. Your committee cannot but feel that there is in this statement great vagueness and want of precision, and are, consequently, at a loss to understand in what specific particular many of these 128,000 of women aforesaid, are disabled from becoming wives and mothers in Israel. In this embarrassment your committee beg to respectfully suggest, that this particular grievance be referred to a select committee to be composed of the honorable President of this body, and the Senators from Burlington, Cumberland and Ocean, feeling convinced that if they but fully consider the subject and discharge their duty in the premises, four at least of the 128,000 will have their disabilities as wives removed–and possibly as mothers.
Your Committee confess to some timidity in approaching that part of the memorial which relates to the peculiar class against whose wiles and seductive blandishments the elder Weller so fondly and repeatedly cautioned his son, Samivel, in the memorable words:
“Samivel, my son, bevare of the vidders.”
We can only trust ourselves to refer to the grievance complained of by these dangerous setters of snares for unwary feet, and then pass timorously on.
There is one statement of the memorial from which your Committee feel bound to declare their positive and emphatic dissent. We refer particularly to the allegation that women cannot make, or have a will of their own, without their husband’s consent. Nothing could be more at variance with the truth. All experience–all history from that hour in the Garden of Eden, when, against the earnest remonstrance of Adam, the strong will of our common mother impelled her to barter Paradise for the momentary tasting of an apple, down to the days when the afflicted agriculturist of ldumea lamented the soreness of his boils and the perversity of his spouse, to that latter time when, in classic Greece, Zantippe made the life of the illustrious Socrates a weariness and a vexation–all history, through all the lapse of ages, proves, as property records, of woman–“That when she will, she will, and there’s an end on’t; and when she won’t, she won’t, and there’s an end on’t.”
(See law on Common Barators–1st Hopper, 3d Nixon (page 1089), and Little on the Will, 3d vol., Freehold edition.)
With one statement of the memorial, that “all these disabilities are the result of women’s disenfranchisement, and of the class legislation of men alone,” your committee are in full accord. It is with these lonely men, these old buffaloes of the male persuasion, these wild Arabs of civilization that the evil thus complained of has its origin, its maintenance and its defense. Men alone–which obviously means single men and admits of no other interpretation (see Worcester’s Dictionary and Zimmerman on Solitude)–at your door lies the crime, and with you the remedy. No text perhaps of Holy Writ is more emphatic than that declaration which asserts that “It is not good for man to be alone.” And your committee feel that until this evil is remedied, all statutory attempts at women’s elevation will be in vain. If men continue to remain alone, shutting their hearts to all appeals of humanity, closing their ears to the persuasive voice of womanly entreaty, then, indeed, it may come to pass, that, ere long some New Zealander, standing on the ruined arches of Assanpink Bridge, shall behold only a heap of ashes–desolation and decay–where now life, in all its multitudinous forms, crowds every street, and home, and rood of earth with majestic testimonies of its loveliness and power.
Your committee cannot trust themselves to dwell at length upon so painful a thought. Shuddering, they turn away from a prospect so appalling, and entreat this honorable body to be careful how it carries itself in the presence of the grave and solemn issue raised by this memorial. They ask that the bill which they herewith present, as embodying their deliberate conclusions, may be put at once upon its passage, and that, in so far as lies in the power of this Senate, the women of New Jersey may henceforth stand before the world in the enjoyment of all their rights, marital, political, and maternal. All of which is respectfully submitted.
John Hopper, ——-, Wolverton
Majority of Committee
SENATE No No
An Act relative to the right of suffrage in the State of New Jersey.
1. Be it enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey, That any white female citizen of the United States of the age of twenty-one years who shall have been a resident of this state one year, and of the county in which she claims to vote five months next before the election, and who actually resides in the township or ward where she claims to vote, and no other person, shall be entitled to vote for any officer that now or hereafter may be, elective by the people at any town meeting or election in any ward, township or district in this State, or United States officer; anything in the first section of Article III of a certain ancient document remembered only among and by certain antiquarians, and called “A constitution agreed upon by the delegates of the State of New Jersey, in convention ——- in Trenton on the fourteenth Day of May, and continued to the twenty-ninth of June, in the year of Our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and forty-four and purporting to have been concocted by certain ancient gentlemen of the State of New Jersey, and to have been signed by one of them, to wit: “Alex. Wurts, President of the Convention, who through inscrutable decree of an all-wise but mysterious Providence, has been permitted to outlive his day and generation to the contrary, and, in anywise, notwithstanding.
2. And be it enacted, That no single or unmarried man, and no single or unmarried woman, shall hereafter be eligible to any office to be filled at any election to be held in the State of New Jersey.
3. And be it enacted, That this act shall take effect immediately.
The bill being read, Mr. Rice inquired if it was open to amendment. Being informed that it was, he moved to strike out the word “white” wherever it occurred. The motion was not seconded, and without further by-play, the Senate resumed the regular order of business.