[Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances E.W. Harper:] Battling for the Ballot. Extraordinary Scenes at the Woman’s Rights Convention ... Female Suffrage First, Negro Suffrage Last [within:] The World.
“Mrs. [Frances E. W.] Harper then proceeded with her remarks, saying that when it was the question of race she let the lesser question of sex go…”
The straws that broke the camel’s backs; scattered onto the front page of The World and over four lengthly columns.
In this sensationalized account, the feud between Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony over the 15th Amendment became public at the May 12, 1869 meeting of The American Equal Rights Association. For Douglass, the African American had waited too long for the vote. Anthony’s position held that the the rights of women to vote took priority over that of Blacks. The stance of each reformer was immovable and a frosty relationship began between the two great reformers.
The debate highlighted the firm positions taken by each (and their respective allies) to advance their cause. Among the resolutions that Douglass introduced at the convention was one calling for state legislatures to pass the 15th Amendment “without delay” and another, weaker resolution “to redouble our energy to secure the further amendment guaranteeing the same sacred rights [to vote] without limitation by sex.” Hisses and objections were made, so the convention moved on. Under the heading “The Negro Again” the paper reports:
Mr, Douglas was received with great applause ... [The audience, Douglass said] had just heard an argument with which he could not agree—that the suffrage to the black man should be postponed to that of the women… Miss Anthony hereupon rose from her seat. and made towards Mr, Douglas, saying something which was drowned in the applause and laughter which continued. Mr. Douglas was heard to say, however, “No, no, Susan,” which again set the audience off in another audible smile, and Miss Anthony took her seat.
After Douglass spoke, Anthony’s ally Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the convention’s president, further rankled the audience, her remarks leading to AERA committeeperson Frances E.W. Harper to make an intersectional argument—what about black women? Stanton “argued that not another man should be enfranchised until enough women are admitted to the polls to outweigh those who have the franchise. (Applause) She did not believe in allowing ignorant negroes and ignorant and debased Chinamen to make laws for her to obey. (Applause).” Now Harper, Anthony and Douglass all chimed in:
Mrs. Harper (colored) asked Mr. Blackwell to read the fifth resolution of the series he submitted, and contended that that covered the whole ground of the resolution of Mr. Douglas. Miss Anthony—Then I move that the resolution be reconsidered. No Tricks. Mr. Douglas—Oh! no; you cannot do that while the floor is occupied. How about Black Women? Mrs. Harper then proceeded with her remarks, saying that when it was the question of race she let the lesser question of sex go. But the white women all go for sex, letting race occupy a minor position. She like the idea of working-women, but she would like to know if it was broad enough to take in colored women? Miss Anthony and several others—Yes, yes. … Miss Anthony stepped forward and the assembly came to order. She said she would take the opportunity to say…that the fifteenth amendment was not an equal rights affair, as it elevated one-half of a new class to a position where it could be law makers for them. She thought the government should give them as much as it did to the black man. (Applause) … Mr. Burleigh [who earlier opposed the consideration of Douglass’ resolutions] again attempted to speak but though his lips could be seen to move not a sound was audible through the confusion that immediately ensued. He (Mr. Burleigh) then leaned up against the desk of the chairwoman with a resigned air, as much as to say “I can stand it as long as you can.” Mr. Douglas then came out to the front of the platform and the noise gave way to applause and cries of “Douglas, Douglas.” … Mr. Douglas said the sooner you hear my friend the sooner you will hear something better than my friend.… Mr. Burleigh essayed to speak. What could be reported only were the words: “This fifteenth—does not—any person—bar against the enfranchisement of women.” A Crazy Convention. Here the laughter became tremendous and anything but funny to the speaker.
The chaotic meeting led to the AERA’s dissolution the following year, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony forming the National Woman Suffrage Association and Lucy Stone, Frances E.W. Harper and others organizing the American Woman Suffrage Association. The issues and contentions at the 1869 AERA convention effectively divided those women who had been united together for so long in their roles as activists and agitators of social change. It also strained relations between Anthony and Frederick Douglass. While the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870, it would take 20 years for the rival women’s associations to reunite.
Description: [Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances E.W. Harper:] Battling for the Ballot. Extraordinary Scenes at the Woman’s Rights Convention ... Female Suffrage First, Negro Suffrage Last [within:] The World.
New York: Friday, May 14, 1869. 6pp. 23½ x 16¼ inches. Toned; usual fold lines; very good.