§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. JACOB BRIGHT
Mr. Speaker—Sir, in rising to move the second reading of this Bill, I am the last person to forget that it has already been three times rejected by the House. It might, therefore, be said—in fact, it has already been asked—"Why bring it forward again? Why not wait until another election before troubling Parliament again with a discussion upon this measure?" I think that powerful reasons may be given why I should not be influenced by that advice. In the first place, it is a mistake to suppose that the same House of Com- 1195 mons which rejects a Bill will never consent to pass it. I could give many instances of greater or less importance to show that that is not the case. The Parliament which placed Sir Robert Peel in power in the year 1841 was a conspicuous example. In that Parliament my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. P. Villiers) asked again and again that the Corn Laws might be repealed, and over and over again the House of Commons rejected my right hon. Friend's proposition. But in the year 1846 the same House of Commons which had refused to listen to him passed a measure repealing the Corn Laws. Then again, in 1866, the House of Commons which refused to pass the £7 Franchise Bill, in the year 1867 gave us a Franchise Bill of a much wider character. It may be said, however, that on the occasions to which I have referred there was an irresistible outside pressure which does not exist in regard to this Bill. It is perfectly true that no such outside pressure does or ever can exist with regard to this Bill; but, Sir, there is a pressure before which the House might yield with quite as much dignity as it showed in yielding on the occasions to which I have referred—namely, the pressure of accumulating reasons which receive no answer, the pressure of opinion in favour of this Bill which is gradually growing in volume, and which I think many hon. Members will admit is making itself felt in their constituencies. I see My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Dalrymple) on my left, and if he should speak during the course of this debate, perhaps he will tell the House what is the state of feeling in his constituency upon this question, because I noticed that the two candidates who came forward to contest the vacant seat for that constituency—both the Liberal and the Conservative candidate—have, as I am informed, given in their adhesion to this question, not that they were much, if at all, in favour of it before they came forward as candidates, but because they found that the opinion in the city of Bath is so strongly in favour of the principle of this Bill that they felt themselves bound to accept it. If, however, in giving Notice of the second reading of this Bill, I had been perfectly sure that the House would again reject it, I should not have deviated from the 1196 course which I have taken. We are accustomed in this House to discuss a Bill, to vote upon it, again and again endeavouring to carry it if we can, but if we fail to carry it we know that we have accomplished something else. We have taken the best means in our power to instruct the people upon a great public question. The substance of this debate will be carefully reported in the newspapers, the report will go to every town and village in the United Kingdom, and to every English speaking country under British rule; and therefore we shall secure that, for at least one day in the year there will be a general discussion on a question so deeply affecting the interests and privileges of a large portion of Her Majesty's subjects. But there is another reason for bringing forward this Bill, and which I think justifies me in again asking the House to discuss it. No year passes by in this country without producing changes which affect the position of a public question—changes which tend either to hasten or to retard the period of its settlement. Well, Sir, such a change took place last year when the Ballot Bill was passed, and I think no one will be more willing to admit that than the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for the University of Cambridge. Men are no longer subject to criticism in giving their votes; they are not answerable to the public or to their neighbours. They have complete irresponsibility. Before the passing of the Ballot Act, it was said that a vote was held in trust for those who had it not. That doctrine has been swept away. Now 2,000,000 of men vote in secrecy and in silence. Women are driven further than ever into the political shade, and are more thoroughly severed from political influence than they ever were before. And, Sir, if I needed any corroboration of this, I need only point to the countless speeches which have been made in this House to show that this view is correct. The passing of the Ballot Bill, then, has strengthened the claim of women to the Parliamentary franchise. But it has also done another thing. It has removed some objections to the proposed change. We were told that there was great turbulence on the day of election, and that there were scenes of such a disreputable character that no right-minded man would desire a woman to 1197 partake in them. The Ballot has now been tried in the largest as well as the smallest of the constituencies. It has been tried in England, in Scotland, and in Ireland, and whatever else it may have accomplished, we have found that it has succeeded in securing peace and order at the poll. I believe no one will deny that a woman can now go to the polling booth and return from it with far greater ease than she experiences in making her way out of a theatre or a concert-room. Anyone having introduced a Bill into this House, very naturally looks with interest to the views of the leaders of the House upon that Bill; and although the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is unfortunately not in his place, I am entitled to make a few remarks upon his altered position in regard to this question. Two years ago the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that women ought to have a share in political representation; he made an objection to the personal attendance of women at the poll. That seemed to me to be the right hon. Gentleman's chief difficulty. The Prime Minister also referred to the Ballot, and said he was as yet uncertain what effect it would have, whether it would produce order at elections or not. If the right hon. Gentleman was here I think he would admit that the Ballot has had the effect of producing order at elections, and he would be no longer able to object to the personal attendance of women at an election upon that ground. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the representation of women in Italy, where it is understood they vote by proxy, and said if something of the sort could be contrived for this country he should not object to take such a proposal into consideration; but if women were to vote by proxy they would lose the protection of the Ballot, for, so far as I know, no one can vote by proxy and vote in secret. It appears to me, Sir, now that the Ballot has become law, that the speech which the Prime Minister made two years ago puts him in such a position with regard to this question as to render it very difficult for him to say a single word against it again. There is another Bill before the House of Commons which deals with the Parliamentary franchise, and which is in the hands of my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan). 1198 That Bill proposes to equalize the county with the borough franchise, and if it is carried will give an addition of 1,000,000 voters, whereas this Bill will give an addition of from 200,000 to 300,000 voters. I acknowledge the justice of this Bill of my hon. Friend, but if justice demands that 1,000,000 of men should be added to the register, which already contains the names of 2,000,000, justice even more urgently demands the admission of 300,000 women, seeing that up to this time women have not a particle of representation. Now, there are Members in this House—political friends of mine—sitting near me at the present moment, who are pledged to support the Bill of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs, but who persistently vote against this Bill, and yet, so far as I have been able to ascertain, there is not a single argument that has ever been used, or that ever will be used with regard to the County Franchise Bill, which does not tell even with greater weight with regard to this Bill. The position occupied by those Liberal Members who support the one measure and vote against the other seems to me to be one of great inconsistency. I am bound to say that they have not satisfactorily explained their conduct. We have been told that it is a great anomaly to give votes to persons on one side of the borough line and to refuse them to those whose houses are situated on the other side of the borough line; but, Sir, I wish to bring about a state of representative equality between persons who are separated by no line whatever, but who are citizens of the same community. My attention was called the other day to a row of 20 substantial houses in a street in Manchester, and I was told that 16 of those houses had votes, 16 of those families were represented in this House. They had control over the taxes which they were called upon to pay, and had an influence in the making of the laws which they were all bound to obey. But four out of those 20 houses had no votes, four of those families were unrepresented, and the only reason why those four families are unrepresented in this House is because the heads of those four families are women. Now, Sir, in. municipal matters, and with regard to the school board elections, women, so far as voting is concerned, are placed in exactly the same position as men; and 1199 I must remind the House that women have been put in that position by Parliament because they have an equal interest with men in municipal and school board questions. Those votes were given to women with the consent of the Liberal Members of this House, and they were given for the reason which I have stated. But a more powerful reason exists why women should be entitled to a Parliamentary vote. We do not deal here simply with local taxation. We deal with the interests of men and women in the widest possible way; their property, their lives and liberties are under our control, and hence the necessity of that protection which the franchise alone confers. When this County Franchise Bill comes in we shall be told that the vote will have a considerable influence upon the condition of the agricultural labourer, that it will have an effect upon legislation favourable to him. The land laws and the game laws will have to be dealt with; in fact if the County Franchise Bill becomes law the condition of the agricultural labourer will assume an importance hitherto unknown. All this is true, but will any hon. Gentleman say that it is not equally true with regard to the Bill which I hold in my hand. I cannot discuss this question without referring to the County Franchise Bill. I am bound to refer to it because I want to know why that Bill is to be supported and this rejected. I do not want to be put off with reasons that will not bear reflection, but I should like to have reasons given that will have some weight with those who are agitating this question out-of-doors. It is a common belief on this side of the House, that should the Government meet another Session of Parliament the County Franchise Bill will be one of their principal measures. Well, Sir, how will the Prime Minister be able to accept that Bill and reject this. It has been said that when he once takes up a position he never goes back. I have explained the position which he has taken with regard to this Bill. He said, two years ago—That the law does less than justice to women," and added, "If it should hereafter be found possible to arrive at a safe and well-adjusted alteration of the law as to political power, the man who shall attain that object….will, in my opinion, be a real benefactor to his country."—[3 Hansard, ccvi. 95.]That is the language of the Prime 1200 Minister. The Bill before the House is supported by a powerful organization. The Petitions and public meetings in its favour grow from year to year. The inequalities in the law between men and women, owing to the fact that women are unrepresented in Parliament, are admitted on every hand. Over 200 Members of the present Parliament have supported the Bill. These are considerations which should not be forgotten when the Government again undertakes to improve the representation of the people. There are many landowners in this House. If the County Franchise Bill ever passes through Parliament it must be with the consent of the landowners. If there be any of them present now I would like to ask them whether they think it right to give a vote to the agricultural labourer and to deny a vote to the farmer? The Census of 1861 shows that there were about 250,000 farmers and graziers in England and Wales, and one-eleventh part of that number were women. The proportion of women farmers would be still greater if women did not labour under political disabilities. In England and Wales there are no fewer than 22,708 women who are farmers and graziers. The landowners trust their land to these women, who have to provide the rent, to pay the wages, and to look to the whole economy of their farms. I ask the question whether the landowners intend to give a vote to the agricultural labourer and to deny it to those who direct his work. Perhaps some may doubt whether women are really farmers, and in order to satisfy that doubt I will read a short extract from a back number of The Field. The Field says—But it may be said, What business have women with farming? It is nonsense to suppose a woman can farm successfully. In answer to this query, the report of the competition for the 100 guineas prize for the best-managed farm in the central districts of England may be referred to. It is published in the last number of The Royal Agricultural Society's Journal. Twenty-one farms competed for the honour. It was awarded to the tenant of Ash Grove Farm, Ardley, near Bicester, as showing the best example of good general management, productiveness, suitability of live stock, and general cultivation with a view to profit. The farm is one of 890 acres, 820 being arable and 70 pasture. 1,000 sheep and 70 cattle are wintered annually. Cake to the amount of £1,200 is purchased yearly. The labourers work by piece-work as much as possible, and no beer is given. The judges said the farm was an exceedingly good 1201 example of a well-managed one. But, though the Royal Agricultural Society have awarded the tenant the first prize, they refuse to second the honour by the advantages of membership, for the simple reason that—she is only a woman.I would like, in consequence of that remark of The Field, to refer for a moment to the general injustice with which women are treated, merely because they are women. I will make another quotation from The Field on this subject—The farmers of England include a very considerable proportion of women among their numbers. These not only labour under the disadvantages which are inseparable from their sex, but are most unjustly, not to say ungallantly, deprived of certain advantages which are enjoyed by their masculine competitors. The Royal Agricultural Society of England confers on its members certain valuable privileges. They can have their superphosphates and purchased fertilisers analysed at a nominal rate by the agricultural chemist to the society. They are protected from imposition in the purchase of oilcake. Their soils can be carefully examined. They can exhibit at the annual meeting under more favourable conditions than strangers. These advantages, strange to say, are denied to those women who are farmers.I entertain the belief that if we wish to get rid of this general practice, and it has been shown to be a general practice throughout the country, of treating women unjustly merely because they are women, we could use no more effective means than to remove the stamp of inferiority which must attach to them as long as their political disability is maintained. In order to show the House how Parliament—no doubt unconsciously—sometimes treats women with intense injustice I will refer to one fact. The trial of election petitions is now a local one, and the locality is rated in order to defray the expenses of the inquiry. Consider for a moment how that affects women. That law was passed in 1868. This question of the political disabilities of women had then only once been brought before the House of Commons. Had the attention been given to the subject which it has since received it is possible that the House would not have legislated in the manner in which it did with regard to the trial of election petitions. Well, Sir, there was an election inquiry at Bridgewater under the provisions of the Act of 1868. After that inquiry, when the bill had to be paid, the women of Bridgewater, that is the widows and unmarried women of Bridgewater, met together and got up a memo- 1202 rial to the Prime Minister, and this is the only part of the memorial which it is necessary to read to the House:—We, the undersigned widows and unmarried women of the town of Bridgewater, in the county of Somerset, beg to lay before you, as First Lord of the Treasury, an account of a most heavy and unjust taxation which has been levied on us in common with the other householders of this borough for the payment of the expenses of the Commission. We feel that it is unjust, inasmuch as we are not exercising the franchise and have not been concerned either directly or indirectly in the illegal practices, that we should be required to pay not less than 3s. in the pound according to our rental.Now I put it to the House whether a portion of Her Majesty's subjects who have no representation in this House should be subjected to such a tax? We all know very well that Members might be returned for Bridgewater or anywhere else who on some questions affecting women might vote entirely against their views. Women could not have participated in any of the practices which led to that inquiry. In replying to this memorial, the Secretary of State for the Home Department expressed his regret that the malpractices of a portion of the inhabitants of Bridgewater should have necessitated the expense of a Royal Commission. He regretted it very much, but added that it was not in the power of the Secretary of State to exempt women owning or occupying property from the Imperial or local taxation to which such property was liable. It is, however, in the power of Parliament to give to the property of women exactly the same privileges which are attached to the possession of every other kind of property, and that would remedy the injustice. In the case of Bridgewater it may perhaps be said that the innocent suffer all through with the guilty; that a great many men had to pay this tax who were innocent of bribery or corruption. That is true; but at least it should be borne in mind that the men had some control over the election, and also had the benefit of representation, whereas the women had not. Whilst speaking on this subject I wish to refer for one moment to the proposition of the hon. Member for Brighton. The hon. Member for Brighton asked the House to enact that the necessary expenses of Parliamentary elections should be defrayed out of the local rates. I have voted for that proposal, although I am constrained to admit that looking at the 1203 proposition from a disfranchised woman's point of view, it would be unjust for Parliament to pass such a law, because we have no right to impose such a burden upon persons whom we shut out from representation. In the last Session of Parliament we took great pains on the subject of illiterate voters. It was interesting to see the two Houses of Parliament spending I do not know how many hours in devising schemes by which men who were too stupid to vote without assistance should, nevertheless, be enabled to record a vote. We devised one scheme, and one scheme was devised in the other Chamber, and I am bound to say that these unfortunate men have taken advantage of the labour which we bestowed upon them. In the recent elections illiterate electors have shown no reluctance whatever to come forward and express a desire to influence the proceedings of this House. Take for example the last election at Pontefract. 1,236 men polled, and out of that number there were 199 persons who declared themselves unable to vote without assistance. That is nearly one-sixth of the whole number of voters polled. Now, Sir, am I putting forward an unreasonable claim, or demanding anything very extravagant when I ask the House of Commons which has bestowed so much care in devising means to enable illiterate men to vote not to continue to withhold the suffrage from women of education and property? During these discussions it has not unfrequently been mentioned that the highest political functions of the realm were performed by a woman, and in my opinion it is not of slight importance to the question under debate that this is the case, and I am especially reminded of it by the late Ministerial crisis. We outsiders on that occasion obtained a very interesting glimpse as to how the Royal duties were performed. Judging from the statements made to the House by the two right hon. Gentlemen, those duties were discharged with the greatest tact and judgment, and with the utmost anxiety to smooth the way to obtain a Government to carry on the Business of the country. The right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Opposition, speaking some time ago at Hughenden Manor, made a very remarkable statement with respect to the duties of the Crown. He described them as multifarious, weighty, 1204 and increasing, and remarked that no head of any Department of the State performed more laborious duties than those which fell to the Sovereign of this country. Well, Sir, if this is true, and and no one can doubt the correctness of such a statement, when it is made by a Gentleman who has himself filled the office of Prime Minister, it appears to me to be a very extraordinary thing that the educated women of this country should not be allowed to do so simple a thing as to record their votes for a Member of Parliament. There are some countries where the Salic law prevails, under which no woman is permitted to wear the crown. If anybody should make that proposition here—namely, that after her present Majesty no woman should again wear the crown of England, I venture to assert that there is not a man in the whole British Empire who would hold up his hand in favour of such a proposition; and when women come to exercise the franchise—and they will come to exercise it sooner or later—it will be just as impossible to go back to the old state of things as it would now be to introduce the Salle law into this country. There is one reason which operates on this side of the House against admitting women to the franchise, to which I wish to refer; the objection that women are too much under the influence of ministers of religion. There are many influences at work during an election. We have the influence of the large landowners, and of the large manufacturers, we have the influence of the trades unions, and we have the influence of that vast trade which supplies intoxicating liquors to the people, and I would say that the influence exercised by ministers of religion is at least not the worst of these various influences. I think, moreover, that Members show a singular inconsistency in advancing such an argument, when they are in favour of planting a minister of religion in every parish in England and Wales, and approve of the Bishops occupying seats in the House of Peers. Supposing that women were a more criminal class than men, it would perhaps be argued that it would be unwise to admit them to the franchise. But what are the facts of the case? Taking the judicial statistics of England and Wales for the year 1871, and looking at the number of summary trials, I find that 1205 the total number was 540,000, but only 105,000 out of that 540,000 were women. Therefore women are clearly not a very dangerous class; and if we look at those cases proceeded against on indictment, we should find the proportions about the same. The hon. Baronet the Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock), intends to bring in a Bill to apply the Factory Laws to shops. Legislation for factories, the limitations put upon the labour of women, have not interfered with their means of gaining a livelihood, because factories cannot be worked without them. Shops can be managed without them, and therefore a proposition to apply the Factory Acts to shops should be carefully considered. In matters so gravely affecting the interests of women there should be some constitutional means of ascertaining their views. In conclusion I may say that no answer has been made to the case—I do not mean the imperfect case which I have from time to time placed before the House. I mean that no answer has been made to the general case which has been placed before the country by scores of women of education and position who have undertaken to win this battle. I say no answer has been made to their claim, and therefore the demand grows and the agitation becomes more powerful. In the debate which occurred on the second reading of this Bill last year, two lawyers spoke. They stated that they had previously voted in favour of the measure, but intended on this occasion to vote against it. They assigned reasons which, had they been given by a woman, would have been referred to as conclusive proofs of the radical defects of the feminine intellect. My right hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, in a very fair speech against the Bill, argued that to give women a Parliamentary vote would be "contrary to the experience of mankind." Most of us who are endeavouring to improve the condition of the people are in search of a state of things contrary to the experience of mankind, because, up to this time, that experience has been very deplorable. We see many things which are contrary to the experience of mankind. The Colonial Empire, with whose affairs my right hon. Friend is connected, extending round the world and bound together by ties of affection and not by force, this is 1206 contrary to the experience of mankind, but it nevertheless rightly obtains the admiration of my right hon. Friend. It is contrary to the experience of mankind that a Government, the Government with which my right hon. Friend is connected, should invite the women of this country to present themselves to large constituences, to issue addresses and attend public meetings in order to be elected members of Education Boards; and it would be contrary to the reason of mankind if my right hon. Friend, after being a consenting party to that innovation, should continue to resist the claim of women to give a silent vote at the poll. I am very well aware that long before this debate has ended to-day the Bill I am now submitting to the House will be attacked on the ground that it gives a vote to married women and, also, because it does not give a vote to married women. Both of these charges cannot be true. There is another thing which has always been said by the opponents of the Bill, and which will inevitably be said in the course of this debate—that women do not care for a vote. It ought to be a sufficient answer to this statement to say that whenever women have been allowed to exercise a vote they have made use of the privilege. We know that they have exercised the municipal vote in many of our populous towns, and in these cases they have used it in equal proportions with men. As the most recent evidence that woman do care for the vote, the House will perhaps allow me to quote from a note I have received from a lady in Edinburgh—a lady who for some years has been of the greatest assistance to this cause. Speaking of the votes given by women at School Board elections she says, that—In Edinburgh one-seventh of the actual voters are women, and in most of the country parishes every woman"—the word "every" is underlined—"who was registered voted. We have four women representing Edinburgh-two for the city and two for the county and fourteen for other towns in the country districts—eighteen in all. Of these six were returned at the head of the poll.Then she says, "We expect some half-dozen more women to be returned in the next board elections." Surely, Sir, this should have some weight with those who say that women do not care for a vote. Scotland is not the least intelligent or the least informed of the various portions 1207 of Her Majesty's dominions, and if in that country you find that women are everywhere interested in public matters and anxious to take a reasonable share in them, the fact ought to have some weight with the House. But when hon. Members say that women do not care to possess a vote they ought at least to bear this in mind, that they, as a rule, are in the habit of associating with ladies who are favourably situated—who are surrounded by all the blessings of life. Those hon. Members associate with ladies belonging to a rank in which they are not likely to feel the pressure of circumstances. They should remember, too, that the women of the upper classes have been better cared for than women belonging to humble life. With regard to questions of property, the Court of Chancery has done as much for them as any statute could have done. During the present Session of Parliament a Bill has passed this House which will in all probability be of service to women of the higher class. I refer to the measure which relates to the custody of children. That Bill will have the effect of helping ladies who are able to meet the difficulties and expenses of Chancery, but with regard to the poorer class of women the measure will be of little use. When I am told that women do not care for a vote I am reminded that two or three weeks ago a friend of mine informed me that he had been talking to a lady of high position in this country. He questioned her as to what she thought of the subject of women's rights. Her reply was, "All I know is that I have no wrongs." This was told me that I might reflect upon it and see the error of my position. Sir, I did reflect upon it, and I came to this conclusion, that if that lady, instead of being surrounded by all that can make life happy and even brilliant, had been in different circumstances—if she had been seeking to obtain admittance into an educational institution which she was taxed to support but which shut its doors upon her—if she had been the widow of a farmer and had lost her home and her occupation because she could not vote—if her small property had been dissipated because it was too small to bear the expenses of a settlement and the trouble of a trust; or if she had happened to have lost her husband and a stranger had stepped in and deprived her of all authority over 1208 her children, requiring that they should be educated in a faith which was not her own—if that lady had been so placed as to have been the victim of any of these circumstances I think that she would not have been able to declare that she had no wrongs. And if the Members of this House were enabled to look at this question through the eyes of the humble classes—those women who have to meet the difficult struggles of life—I believe it would not be necessary year after year to ask that this moderate Bill should be passed into law; but that on the contrary a single Session would suffice to bring about the result we desire. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Jacob Bright.)
§ MR. EASTWICK,
on rising to second the Motion, said, there never was a controversy in which such earnest appeals and serious arguments on the one side were met by such scoffs and unfair and unsound statements on the other, as this. It had been his fate to sit there and hear for three successive years the same sarcasms, the same again and again refuted fallacies repeated, and hope against hope that for once the question would be honestly debated. He did not know what particular fallacies would be brought forward on that particular occasion, and he could not wait to listen, for his place in the debates was fixed. He was obliged to go forward in the front of the battle, leaving those merciless archers—the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and the hon. Member for Pembrokeshire—in his rear, who would be sure to send a keen shaft against him wherever they could espy a weak joint in his armour. He knew their ruthless determination to oppose this Bill too well to expect any good result from appealing to them, but he should go forward, trusting in the goodness of his cause. His hon. Friend had referred to a speech of the Prime Minister in the debate of 1871 on the Women's Suffrage question, in order to show that what was considered one of the principal objections to the Bill had been done away by the introduction of the Ballot. He too, was about to refer to the same speech in order to carry that deduction a little further. The Prime Minister said— 1209The great objection on which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pembrokeshire based his opposition is the proposal which required the personal attendance of women to give their votes, and which would consequently introduce them in the general proceedings of contested elections. That appears to me to be an objection of great force. It may be that when we adopt the principle of secret voting, we may insure that tranquillity of elections which has been achieved in other countries."—[3 Hansard, ccvi. 91.]And then he went on to say—Speaking generally, however, I am inclined to say that the personal attendance and intervention of women in election proceedings, even apart from any suspicion of the wider objects of many of the promoters of the present movement would be a practical evil not only of the gravest but even of an intolerable character."—[Ibid.]This led him (Mr. Gladstone) to make the following suggestion:—I have never heard any conclusive reason why we should not borrow a leaf from the law books of Italy, where a woman is allowed to exercise the franchise if she is possessed of a qualification, subject to the condition that she shall only exercise it through a deputy, some friend, or relation, specially chosen for the purpose."—[Ibid. 92.]Now, he (Mr. Eastwick) was bound to say that he would almost as willingly see a leaf taken out of the Confessional as out of those law books of which the Prime Minister spoke. To adopt that suggestion would be to give women the power of voting and take from them the responsibility. In nine cases out of ten it would be simply giving the male friend, who acted as deputy, two votes instead of one. Besides, it would fail to carry out one of the things for which the supporters of the Bill were most anxious—the removal of that stigma which now rested on women, their implied incapability of exercising the suffrage in a free, unfettered way like men. But what did the suggestion amount to but this—that because the conduct of men at contested elections was intolerably bad, therefore the suffrage was to be denied to women whose conduct would be good. As to their personal safety, he supposed the law would take care of that, and as to the demoralizing effects of contested elections on their character there was no fear of that, for vice in such scenes appeared in an odious and repulsive form, rather than in a corrupting or reductive one. But those scenes were now for ever put an end to by the introduction of the Ballot, and 1210 the school board elections had shown that when a woman came to record her vote she was received by the working men with even more respect than was shown her on other occasions. The Prime Minister went on to say—With regard to the higher circles, to those who are familiarly called the 'upper ten thousand,' there is no case at all for entertaining a measure of this kind."—[Ibid.]What, was there no case when the most high-born, the richest, the most meritorious, indefatigable, and intellectual woman was denied a vote simply because she was a woman, while it was given to the most sordid and debased brawler simply because he was a man. In the same debate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock had based his opposition to the Bill mainly on the inferiority of women to men, and he had supported that argument by a reference to the 16th verse of the 3rd Chapter of Genesis—"The desire of the woman shall be unto her husband, and he shall rule over her." Now, he (Mr. Eastwick) disliked to see texts of Scripture unnecessarily referred to in debates. He desired to speak with the utmost respect, but he must remind the hon. Gentleman that the passage he had quoted was part of the curse upon woman in her fallen state and it certainly had reference only to those who were married. The difference of the sexes was not as the right hon. Gentleman supposed, an essential difference of mind. It was a mere accident of the body and of training. Did anyone in this enlightened 19th century really suppose that there were masculine souls and feminine souls? Such a notion was as unphilosophic as it was unchristian. The greatest philosopher of ancient times had repudiated the notion, and as for Scripture, had it not plainly said that in the existence to which all were hastening, there was neither marrying nor giving in marriage, but all were as the spirits of heaven. The idea of masculine and feminine spirits was more worthy of a gross Sadducee than of a Christian philosopher. But descending to plain matters of daily experience was it not the fact that women who had the advantages of a masculine education succeeded in what they were taught as well as men. It had been said that the stage was the only career in which no deduction was made for sex, and certainly on 1211 the stage woman succeeded as well as man, if not better. But take oratory, it was only during the last few years that woman had commenced to speak in public, and already there were many who spoke as well as men. He would take, however, the most extreme case possible, the profession in which more than any in other the physical superiority of men was most conspicuous, that of the Army; even there there was no such inferiority as that which the right hon. Gentleman was pleased to impute to women. He would not go back to remote times, nor even to the 15th century, when the only French general who ever continuously defeated English troops was a woman. Nor would he cite an example which had been quoted by a right hon. Gentleman who sat opposite in the debate of 1867—that of Dahomey. He would cite examples from more civilized countries. He remembered very well hearing General Langiewitz who commanded the Poles in their last revolution recounting the miseries and horrors of that war. He said that his troops were miserably armed and equipped, and that when they encountered the Russians their first movement was to throw themselves on the guns in order that they might wrest from the enemy some pieces of artillery, of which they had not one when they began the struggle. Well after picturing all the horrors of that mournful campaign, he said—"The best soldier I had was a young Polish lady. She bore the fatigues and confronted the dangers of the war as well as the best man I had, or even better." The other case was one which had lately been described to him by an eye-witness who could not be mistaken. It was that of the Rani of Jhansi, in the celebrated campaign of India. No one displayed greater courage than that lady; she went into action 20 paces ahead of her cavalry, and when Jhansi fell she exposed her life where the danger was greatest and the fire hottest. One day when she was on the wall under the fire of our batteries a serjeant, after carefully laying his gun, said to the general—"I have her now, Sir, quite certain." "No," was the reply, "don't fire; remember she is a woman." She died a soldiers death, however, and as she lay bleeding under a tree, with two sabre cuts and a gunshot wound, 1212 she used her failing strength in distributing her ornaments amongst her most faithful followers. Why did he mention these things? Not to suggest that women should step beyond their own sphere and take up professions which belong to men, but merely to show that women and men were not essentially different in their natures, and that to speak of their natural inferiority disqualifying them from having the suffrage was an absurdity. No doubt there must be a division of duties, and it was only natural that the care of the house and of the family should be entrusted to women; but how could it be pretended that the exercise of the privilege of voting once in four or five years would interfere with that duty. On the other hand it was equally absurd to argue that the granting the suffrage to women who had the property qualification would result in their wishing to get into Parliament. Every Member of Parliament who conscientiously discharged his duties felt that they were so onerous as to interfere with his own private concerns. How preposterous then it was to suppose that a woman could be in Parliament without neglecting her own proper work! But it was, in truth, calumniating women to say that women had not sufficient tact and discernment to know what it became them to attempt. They knew their own vocation better than men could tell them it. But he must now turn for a moment to a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock in the debate of 1871, that "the game of woman's suffrage in the United States was well nigh played out." [Mr. BOUVERIE: Was not that a quotation?] It was, but the right hon. Gentleman endorsed it in his speech, and no doubt he believed it to be true, but he could prove to him that he was mistaken. Woman's suffrage was referred to with respect in the Declaration of the Convention that nominated General Grant. The Vice President of the United States—the Hon. Henry Wilson—was a supporter of the women's suffrage movement. The men who stood at the summit of the literary ladder in the United States supported it. Of these he would mention Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had called it "an æra in civilization," and who had delivered a noble lecture in support of it; the author of Atlantic Essays, Mr. Higginson; the 1213 well-known journalist, Mr. G. Curtis; and the distinguished orator Mr. Wandell Phillips, as well as Mr. Hoare, Member of Congress and a most eminent barrister, and Judge Richardson of Massachussetts. But it was unnecessary to refer to the support of individuals when, in the important territory of Wyoming—soon, it was to be hoped, to become a State—women were actually enfranchised. The right of voting is there exercised by women, so, at least, he was informed, and with the best results. The women voters were treated with the greatest respect—a respect which was not entirely unalloyed with self interest, as it was known that their votes would always be given in favour of a party of order. But arguments in favour of women's suffrage in America were doubly strong in relation to this country, for in America there was no reason why every woman should not be married and obtain some share of the suffrage through her husband, since the number of women was less than that of men. But in this country there were 600,000 fewer men than women, and consequently there must always be that number of unmarried women, dependent to a great extent on their own exertions for maintaining their position, and deserving to be represented—many of them, at least—as contributing independently towards the taxation. Lastly, there was an argument in favour of female suffrage here which he desired to commend to the especial attention of the Conservative side of the House. Conservatives had probably no desire to see manhood suffrage, but an agitation in favour of it was already commencing. A monster meeting had already been held in the North, and would be followed by others. He believed that the only way effectually to meet the agitation in that direction would be to give the right of voting to women, because their votes would certainly be given against manhood suffrage, which would completely swamp their influence. On the other hand, if the elective franchise were once conferred on women who had the property qualification manhood suffrage would be rendered impossible, for it would imply womanhood suffrage, and as women exceeded men in numbers universal suffrage would give them the controlling power in political affairs, an absurdity which no one contemplated. At the 1214 municipal elections women had well and regularly exercised their right of voting, and at the School Board Elections in Scotland, where they had now got the right to vote for the first time, they had voted, in proportion to the numbers qualified, more exhaustively than men. Now, one of the greatest justifications for giving the vote to any class was that that class would avail themselves of the privilege, and this women certainly did. He should vote for the second reading of the Bill in the belief that not only were the women themselves anxious to exercise the suffrage, but that they would use it for the benefit of the community.
§ MR. BOUVERIE,
in rising to move, "That the Bill be read a second time that day six months," thought it was rather bold on the part of his hon. Friend who had just sat down, in exposing what he had termed the fallacies of those who held opposite views, to indulge in the fallacy of erroneous statement to probably a greater degree than anyone who had taken part in the debates upon this subject. His hon. Friend maintained that there was no distinction between man and woman which education would not remedy, and he had supported that proposition by a reference to cases in which women had successfully engaged in military affairs. With regard to the inference endeavoured to be gained from it, he (Mr. Bouverie) thought it was one of the absurdities propounded by those who advocated the rights of women to contend that the more violent action and laborious pursuits of men could be equally discharged by women. In accordance with that, it would shortly, he presumed, be urged as a grievance that women were not allowed to compete for commissions in the Army, and we might look forward to the time when some lady might be found occupying the post of his right hon. Friend the Secretary for War or of his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty. Was his hon. Friend prepared to say that we were to recruit our Army with women?—[Mr. EASTWICK said, on the contrary, he had distinctly repudiated the idea of women becoming soldiers.]—He could scarcely understand then why military ladies were referred to unless it was to show that but for the defects of education women were as well able to take part in military matters as 1215 were the men. But there was one grand objection to all such doctrines—that women were weaker than men, and no amount of education would render the female as strong, as powerful, and as capable of going through a course of continuous exertion as men were. He could not help feeling that his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright), in his speech, had laboured under the difficulty of feeling that his case was not so strong in the House or the country as it had been represented to be on previous occasions. No doubt there was a very active, persevering, and respectable minority in favour of this movement; but, as far as he could judge, it was but a very small minority. There was a knot of ladies very earnest in the cause of their sex, who, in their speeches and their writings, had displayed considerable ability, and who had gone about the country holding meetings and lecturing on the subject, and these meetings were spoken of as giving expression to the opinion of the people throughout the country; but in populous towns it was easy enough to get up a public meeting upon any subject; and meetings composed of those who attended to hear speeches from attractive ladies could not, by any means, be taken to represent the feeling of the country at large, to whose opinions, feelings, and even prejudices, this proposal was utterly repugnant. If this question were made the cardinal question at a General Election, he (Mr. Bouverie) did not believe that there would be a single Member returned who was in favour of the claim. His hon. Friend the Member for Manchester had referred to the case of the Bath election, in which both candidates had said that though personally not in favour of the proposition, they would give it their support. If that statement were correct, he did not think it was much to the credit of either candidate. But, in any case, they knew that the power of a small but determined minority was very great in the case of a closely-contested election. Besides, his hon. Friend should remember that Bath contained more widows and spinsters than probably any other town in the kingdom. His hon. Friend had instanced a case in which out of a row of houses in Manchester, 16 houses had votes and four had none, because those 1216 four were occupied by women. Now, he did not know whether it was the doctrine of the school to which his hon. Friend belonged—it certainly was not the doctrine of the political school of which he was a Member—that votes should be conferred upon houses instead of people. A man was once contending with Dr. Franklin that men, in order to have votes, should be possessed of some property, and that, at all events, they ought to have some small sum of dollars. Dr. Franklin was a strong democrat in his views, and thought that every man equally should have a vote—"Very well," said Dr. Franklin, "let us take the case of a man whose property consists of a donkey worth 20 dollars. He loses his donkey, and he loses his vote. Was it the man or the donkey that had the vote?" The possession of property was only a rough test of fitness which was employed to ascertain those whose education and independence qualified them to vote, but the disqualification of women rested upon entirely different grounds. He quite agreed with his hon. Friend in thinking that the Ballot had done away with one of the objections to his proposal, for respectable women would no longer have to face the old polling-booth; but that was not the narrow ground on which the House had in previous years decided this question. He could not help thinking that his hon. Friend had introduced that day two of the weakest possible arguments into a discussion which might be regarded as having by this time been worn threadbare. His hon. Friend argued that women-farmers ought to have votes because they were not allowed to be Members of the Royal Agricultural Society. That might be a very good reason for appealing to the Royal Agricultural Society to alter their rules; but it was a very bad one on which to found an appeal for the concession to women of Parliamentary representation. The other was that the female ratepayers had to share in the expenses of the Bribery Inquiry at Bridgewater. Corrupt, however, as Bridgewater no doubt was, the majority of the electors were not corrupt, so that the hardship fell upon the incorrupt electors generally with as great force as it did upon the women of that town. With regard to cases of special grievance, he had yet to learn that that House had ever declined to receive and consider, in 1217 the interests of women, any question relating to their grievances. In fact, he had never known his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester to come forward with a practical proposal to remedy any of these grievances. They were trotted out in these annual debates, and they made more or less of an argument in favour of women's suffrage, and then they were allowed to go to sleep again. If his hon. Friend would bring forward any measure on any of these grievances, which in the opinion of the House was just, the House would favourably consider it. His hon. Friend, as an argument in favour of the fitness of women for the franchise, had referred to the fact that there were only 105,000 summary convictions of females in one year as against 540,000 summary convictions in the whole. The effect, however, of his hon. Friend's proposal was to turn women into men; and if women were to become men, and be exposed to the same temptations, trials, hardships, difficulties, and contests, the result would be the same as it was in the case of men, and their criminality would be thus multiplied four-fold. His hon. Friend and those who agreed with him did not appear to see that what they proposed was to make a great mistake, and to introduce what was probably the greatest social revolution which had ever occurred in the country. For his own part, he thought that men should remain men and women should remain women, and if they attempted to change women into men they would be manufacturing a very inferior and bad article. His hon. Friend said it was a matter which, after all, dealt with only 250,000 votes. He (Mr. Bouverie) had already referred to the power which could be exercised by a small but determined minority in a closely-contested election; with the aid of such a minority of female voters, it was quite possible that a very clever woman, by the aid of great ability, answering questions at public meetings successfully, and a canvass in which there was a discreet use made of those feminine arts to which they were all susceptible, might succeed in being elected a Member of that House. His hon. Friend said nobody contemplated such a thing, and it was not in the Bill. That, however, was exactly the point. It was one of his objections to the Bill that it did not contain any provision of that 1218 kind, for they all knew what must follow. The Bill was the grain of mustard-seed that was to grow up into a tree; but, if it developed into anything, it would, he feared, bear more resemblance to the celebrated Upas tree than anything else. The lady whose case he had been imagining might be elected, and if they conferred the right of election on women, they could not successfully contest their right to sit in that House, and such ladies might aspire, and perhaps successfully, to take a prominent part in the government of mankind in that House. His hon. Friend had referred to the case of women voting at municipal elections and to the part they took in connection with school boards; but these were mere vestries dealing with local matters, whereas that Assembly had to deal with the affairs of the whole country, and had among it a Committee sitting upon the Treasury bench whose duty it was to govern a great part of the world. He ventured to say it would be a bad thing if those ladies who aspired to take a prominent part in the government of mankind had their way. It was part of a system which was contemplated by the dreamers of dreams, dreams supposed capable of becoming realities by those who advocated these ideas of the equality of men and women. In all walks of life women were to compete with men, to share their duties as barristers, jurors, Judges, and magistrates. But apart from the fact that women were differently constituted from men, that in their early life they were subject to natural infirmities from which men were exempt, his objection lay deeper still, for he objected to dragging our country-women into public life. In fact, he honestly believed that if women succeeded in these aspirations, and engaged in the occupations and pursuits of men, the glory and the purity of the sex would be destroyed, and so would be the foundations of the State in which we lived. While ostensibly a small Bill, giving a vote to widows and spinsters, it contained the germ of a great social revolution. If it passed, the exclusion of married women could not be maintained, for why should the greater part of the adult women, the mothers of the rising generation, who attended to their households, be debarred a right conceded to the unmarried? It was worth while considering the embarrassment that might follow the admission 1219 of single women to Parliament. Fancy a lovely spinster who had come there, and had taken part in their debates, having a proposal of marriage on the eve of a great division. Possibly, a good-looking Gentleman on the opposite side might wish to take away a vote from the Government, and made the lady an offer of marriage; why the fate of a Government might depend on the occurrence, and the Whip might jump up, and move a New Writ, because Miss So-and-So had entered into the bonds of matrimony. Our social system and habits were bound up with the distinction between the occupations and pursuits of the sexes, which was the foundation of much of our national happiness and glory, and he would have no part in beginning to destroy it. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Bouverie.)
denied the right of the hon. Member for Manchester to claim the Prime Minister's vote. In the speech referred to, the right hon. Gentleman, commenting on a remark which had been made by himself, that a system of voting papers, dispensing with personal attendance at the poll, would possibly lessen his objection to the Bill, intimated the possibility of a change of opinion; but the advocates of the Ballot would resist such a system as a violation of the principle of secrecy, and many supporters of the measure had defeated every attempt to dispense with attendance at the poll in exceptional cases. Female voters would therefore be subjected to this inconvenience, as also to the annoyance of canvassing. He denied that exclusion from the franchise was a political degradation, for on nature's principle of compensation women in return for material exemptions from duty were deprived of certain privileges; and on visiting the Queen's Bench the other day he wondered how women would like the prolonged martyrdom with which the jurors in the Tichborne case were being visited. All rational people would wish to be governed by "a large amount of ascertained consent," to quote an expression from the Queen's Speech 1220 in a former Session, but with all due respect for public meetings and Petitions, which often evinced much labour and organization, he could not take these alone as the criterion. A distinguished Member of the House used to ascertain the general opinion by collecting individual opinions, and, guided by this and by the Press, he was convinced that the vast majority of women deprecated the damnosa hœreditas which the Bills would confer on them. The late Attorney General for Ireland—whose speeches always displayed a genuine ring of that Irish humour which softens the acerbities of life, and saves the Saxons from the painful fate of boring one another to death—once voted for the Bill, but on informing a lady of it was told he might have been much better employed; and he afterwards, in opposing it, remarked that nobody knew what it meant, comparing it to a Highlander's gun, which would have been a very good one if it had only a new stock, a new lock, and a new barrel. The hon. Member for Penryn (Mr. Eastwick) had undertaken to say that in a future state there would be no distinction of sex; but, without pretending to such transcendental knowledge, he thought as much might be said for the opposite assertion, and it was safer to base legislation on present rather than on prospective conditions. Père Hyacinthe, who had shown his estimation of woman by marrying, and thus estranging himself from many of his associates, had said it was woman's province to leave to others the making of laws and the writing of books—here he differed from him, for there would be a hideous blank in literature if women had shunned authorship—and to influence ideas and manners, and through these to govern. If women generally desired the suffrage they would assuredly obtain it; but he declined to take those possessed of the moral courage, or rather the physical power, of holding meetings as the exponents of their sentiments, and he did not believe they desired to mix in the turmoil of politics. The hon. Gentleman seconded the Amendment.
§ MR. SERJEANT SHERLOCK
Mr. Speaker—Sir, it appears to me to be a very important element in the consideration of this case, and one which the House ought not to overlook, that we should follow, so far as we possibly can do so, consistency in legislation. And 1221 if we find that women in possession of property have been already permitted to exercise political rights, and have been authorized by the Legislature to vote for school boards in matters involving intellectual questions, and in municipal elections on questions relating to the management of property and subjects incidental to taxation; and if it has been found that although the assertion of these rights, political as well as social, leads to contests as bitter sometimes as Parliamentary contests, yet that women have exercised those privileges which have been conceded to them with moderation and discrimination, it does appear to me that it ought to follow, as a fair and necessary consequence, that when they ask us to give them the right incidental to property, which men enjoy, of having a voice as well as having an influence in the selection of these Parliamentary representatives, that right ought not to be denied them. Now that women do exercise very considerable influence at these elections is a matter which I think will not be denied by a majority of the Members of this House; and I think there are very few Members of this House, in the event of an election, who do not in the investigation of the possessors of property in the district which they seek to represent apply themselves to the female influence as well as to that of the direct voters. We find as a rule, I say, that ladies in the possession of property exercise the rights of property with as much discrimination, with as anxious a regard for the interests of their tenantry, and of the duties which, as well as rights, property carries with it, as men do. And when we come to consult our prospects of success on the eve of a Parliamentary election, female influence is not disregarded, I venture to assert, by the majority of Members on either side of the House. Well, unless you establish the fact of some inferiority of intellect upon the part of the females of this Empire you have no justification for refusing them the privilege of selecting their Parliamentary representatives, who alone have very considerable influence in the taxation of their property, in the modification of the rights of property, and also in the various social questions in which they are interested. Now, I cannot understand why a woman should not be as well fitted to select her representatives 1222 in Parliament as she is fitted to select her representative upon some municipal board. With regard to want of intelligence, I cannot conceive that a stupid man is superior to a stupid woman; I cannot believe that a clever, intelligent, well-informed woman is not capable of arriving at as clear a conclusion, and as proper a conclusion as a man. It by no means follows, Sir, that by the Bill now before the House every position which man is fitted to occupy, and every duty which he is fitted to discharge, is being granted to women. In the discussion upon political concessions, in the granting of political privileges, there are almost in every case, whether they arise from religious distinctions or other causes, certain exceptions. It is not intended, for instance, to concede to women a position which will invest them with the right of going in for examination for the Army, as has been suggested, or for the Church, or for the Navy, or for this House. Apprehensions have been suggested by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock that this is but the beginning of a series of legislative efforts which will open to females further claims, and which will bring them into this House. Now, that is an argument which has always been used upon the introduction of any Bill giving rights to any class. It has always been argued by Members of this House, and by the public opposing any measure, that we were to look, not to the professed measure under discussion at the moment, but to the latent difficulties that were sure to follow. When the question of the emancipation of the Roman Catholics was before the Legislature in 1829 it was strongly urged, in both branches of the Legislature, that if their rights were once conceded as asked for in that Bill, the inevitable consequence in a very few years must be that the Roman Catholic Bishops of Ireland would be sitting in the House of Lords. That was distinctly held out as the necessary consequence of the concession. Well, I do not think that any hon. Member of this House apprehends that such a result is very likely to follow now. There may be possibilities of removing other ecclesiastical authorties from the House of Lords, but as to the danger of extending the privilege of sitting there to Roman Catholic Bishops, the result, I imagine, of modern views is to lull all fears on that 1223 score. This Bill does not authorize or extend the proposed privileges to married women. Upon a principle which is perfectly clear in the first place, the right to the Parliamentary franchise is at present annexed to property, and if the right and privilege of the Parliamentary franchise were so low as to include that 20 dollar animal to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock referred, it would be in right of that property that a vote would be given. But at present, as a rule, the right of property rests in the husband. It would be unjust to give to the wife a vote and thus to give two votes for the same property. The married woman enters into a contract as a rule to submit her rights to her husband, and to confer upon him the privileges incidental to the property. Although we lawyers recognize the principle in Courts of Equity of the separate estate of married women, that is with a view to their protection against extravagant or improvident husbands; but those rights do not affect the great principle that when once a woman marries she hands over to her husband for better or for worse both her individual liberty and her property. If that is not abused she has a reasonable influence in the management of that property, and the present Bill will not affect in any manner or interfere with her position in that respect. The hon. Member for Pembrokeshire has stated that having visited the scene of the present trial in the Court of Queen's Bench he found 12 jurymen discharging a duty which is likely to become a term of imprisonment extending over a considerable period. But I did not see the relevancy of that illustration. This Bill does not seek to grant the privilege to women or to impose upon them the burdens of acting as jurors in certain cases. The same observation applies with regard to magistrates. This Bill does not ask and does not seek to give to women the right of being appointed magistrates, and it is as it appears to me hardly a candid mode of meeting the Bill to state that there is behind it, looming in the distance and invisible, a process by which this will be carried out in such a manner as will give claims to future alterations which may be dangerous and will possibly lead to very serious consequences. We must look to legislation as it is proposed upon the face of it. 1224 This Bill is short and has this further advantage—it does not appear to me to have been prepared by a lawyer—it is intelligible—it is very concise; and although the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the late Attorney General for Ireland, to whom reference has been made, in his speech last Session, spoke of the Bill as not being intelligible, and explained, as his reason for not voting for it, that he did not understand it, I think if he exercised some of those powers of intellect with which he is gifted, he could easily understand this Bill, which is as simple and intelligible as any Bill ever brought before this House. Now the important, and, as it appears to me, the only real argument against this Bill, is the statement that women in general do not desire it. Of course, if it once be established that the large majority of the class for whom we propose to legislate do not desire it, I think that is an answer. But, again, there is scarcely any measure ever proposed which purports to be for the amelioration of a class but you will find some members of the class rejecting the proposed boon. It was so at the period of Catholic Emancipation. There were some members of that religious body who declared—and I think Petitions were presented to the Houses of Parliament declaring—that they did not want political rights, and were perfectly satisfied with their position. Well, I do not think that in the result it can be said that the body at large objected to those principles. We are told that a lady said that an hon. Member would have been better employed than in voting, as I am about to vote, for this measure. But one does meet even among females with some eccentrics who do not see the value of the benefit about to be conferred upon them, but sneer or put questions in such a way as to show there may be some difference of opinion. Let those ladies and gentlemen who do not wish to exercise political privileges remain as they are. The law will not compel them to vote; and if they find anything inconvenient in voting, they will remain at home. And so far they will have a right to decline to exercise it. The case put forward by the hon. Member in charge of the Bill shows that women having the municipal franchise do exercise it; and I have no doubt that when we do concede this privilege of voting 1225 in Parliamentary elections the great majority of women will exercise it with the moderation and discretion with which they have exercised the privileges they have already been endowed with. No such evil results as are predicted by hon. Gentlemen will follow, and this measure will really conduce to respect for the rights of property, and at the same time to the withdrawal of that line of demarcation and discrimination which, I say, is an insult to women.
MR. LEATHAM—Mr. Speaker
I do not know, Sir, that I should have ventured to have taken part in this debate, but for one circumstance. The constituency, which I have the honour to represent, has recently experienced an invasion of ladies, and I have really been challenged so manfully by them to state why I do not join in this crusade that, in common courtesy to the sex, I must avail myself of the first opportunity of doing so. My hon. Friend (Mr. Jacob Bright) has stated to-day that those of us who are Radicals cannot consistently oppose his Bill, and vote for the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan). On a previous occasion, I remember that he went still further and told us that no Radical could vote against his Bill without feelings of discomfort akin to shame. Now, I am one of those whose opinions are usually supposed to incline towards Radicalism. I am going to vote against my hon. Friend's Bill, and if I have the opportunity in favour of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs; but I am conscious of no inconsistency, and beyond the repugnance with which I oppose any measure introduced by my hon. Friend, I am not sensible of any feeling of shame or even of discomfort. I fear that I must join issue with my hon. Friend on the very threshold upon the question, not of expediency, but of principle. I must even deny his grand fundamental axiom that because women pay taxes and obey the laws they have therefore an abstract right to vote. So long as women accept the protection of the law for their persons and property, so long must that property contribute towards its own protection, and those persons obey the laws under the protection of which they live; but to argue that therefore women have a right to vote is simply to ignore the whole career which revelation, and the 1226 experience of all ages and nations, and the universal consent of mankind, no less than the peculiarities of their own constitution, organization and obligations have marked out for them—a career which runs parallel with that of man, which is equally dignified with it, but perfectly distinct from it. Now this argument has been so skilfully elaborated by an eminent French writer, the Comte de Gasparin, that I cordially recommend his treatise—Les reclamations des Femmes—to the careful perusal of my hon. Friend. With the permission of the House I will read one short extract. He says—The women who demand political equality declare loudly enough, and declare undoubtedly in all sincerity, that they are not going to abandon, either their obligations as wives, or their obligations as mothers. They maintain that they will only become better capable of fulfilling those duties in becoming better instructed and less frivolous in their pursuits. This is a point which we do not contest. Intellectual and moral development must be an advantage, and we entirely concur in it. But this is no question of development. It is a question of the rights and duties of one sex claimed by the other—of an absolute change of vocation, ideas, occupation, individuality—and it will be difficult to persuade us—that while men find it so hard to act as men—women can act as men, and yet remain women, playing the double part, fulfilling the twofold mission, assuming the twofold character of humanity. This is what will happen—we shall lose the woman without getting the man. What we shall get is that monstrous and repulsive creature which is already looming above the horizon—la femme-homme."Now my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) has shown how revolutionary is the tendency of my hon. Friend's Bill; but I think that we may pursue the argument a little farther. If we grant the right of voting, we cannot logically refuse the right of being voted for; and if we are to have women returned to this House, how can we resist their claim to sit upon the Treasury bench? Perhaps the House would rather like to see a blooming and engaging First Commissioness of Works, or a lovely and accomplished Post Mistress General; but what would the House think if important legal proceedings were arrested because the learned Attorney had eloped with the Solicitrix General? And what would they say to the announcement that Public Business was suspended in consequence of the accouchement of the Prime Minister? And if you are to have female Ministers of State, 1227 why not Ambassadresses and Governesses General? "Why not?" says my hon. Friend, "Have you not Queens and Empresses already? "Why not?" says the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Eastwick), "Do not women make the best soldiers?" Yes; and have we not all heard of men-nurses, and do we not all reverence men-cooks; but we do not argue from these facts that the nursery and the kitchen are the proper spheres for the display of masculine enterprize. Now there is another argument which may be brought against my hon. Friend's Bill, and it is this—Our object ought to be to enfranchise independent voters; but the female sex must in the nature of things remain in a position of dependence; and it is no reply to us to say that now that we have the Ballot there will be an end of political dependence, because you cannot have the Ballot between man and wife. Indeed, this argument against woman suffrage occurred to a great statesman who formerly adorned this House, and whose opinion will carry weight with my hon. Friend. In the course of his speech in support of Mr. Grey's Motion for a Reform in Parliament, Mr. Fox expressed himself as follows:—My opinion is, that the best plan of representation is that which shall bring into activity the greatest number of independent voters, and that that is defective which would bring forth those whose situation and condition take from them the power of deliberation.…I hope gentlemen will not smile if I endeavour to illustrate my position by referring to the example of the other sex. In all the theories and projects of the most absurd speculation, it has never been suggested that it would be advisable to extend the elective suffrage to the female sex; and yet, justly respecting, as we must do, the mental powers, the acquirements, the discrimination, and the talents of the women of England in the present improved state of society—knowing the opportunities which they have for acquiring knowledge—that they have interests as dear and as important as our own, it must be the genuine feeling of every gentleman who hears me, that all the superior classes of the female sex of England must be more capable of exercising the elective suffrage with deliberation and propriety, than the uninformed individuals of the lowest class of men to whom the advocates of universal suffrage would extend it. And yet, why has it never been imagined that the right of election should be extended to women! Why, but because by the law of nations, and perhaps also by the law of nature, that sex is dependent on ours; and because, therefore, their voices would be governed by the relations in which they stand in society. Therefore it is, Sir, that with the exception of companies, in which the right of voting merely affects property, it has never been in the con- 1228 templation of the most absurd theorists to extend the elective franchise to the other sex."—[Hansard's Parliamentary History,xxxiii., 726–7.]
was a far-sighted politician, but he evidently did not foresee my hon. Friend. But my hon. Friend may say that he is not proposing to enfranchise married women, and that, therefore, this argument does not apply. Indeed, the hon. Member for Penryn (Mr. Eastwick) told us on a previous occasion—although he has not repeated the observation today—that our Common Law made man and wife one; and that, therefore, we might set aside in this discussion the case of married women. But, Sir, this setting aside of married women forms no part of the programme of those ladies who condescend to dicuss this question with me privately. On the contrary, it is the sex which is to be enfranchised; it is the sex which is to be raised in its own estimation and in ours by enfranchisement. No one supposes that the enfranchisement of a few widows and spinsters will raise the sex in their own estimation or in ours; or will achieve for the sex that justice which it is assumed can only be achieved for them, as it is assumed that justice was achieved for the working classes by something like preponderance at the polls. The House must, therefore, look in the face the full scope of this Bill, or else we shall be told some day when we have passed it—as we are told with regard to the Municipal Franchise Bill of my hon. Friend—that in passing this Bill we have surrendered the whole position. Now, I am very far from seeing any true parallelism between the case of the woman who votes at the election of a town councillor and the case of a woman who aspires through her direct representative to control the policy of this great Empire. But if with any show of reason it can be contended that because we have passed the Municipal Bill we are bound to pass the Parliamentary Bill, with far greater show of reason "will it be contended that having passed the Parliamentary Bill we are logically bound to extend the franchise to married women. For is not marriage the normal state of women? Do not 99 out of every 100 aspire to it? Is not the connubial aspiration the very last to desert the female bosom? Is it just, then, to the sex to enfranchise only women who are not in the normal state, 1229 and to suspend and confiscate this right at the moment when a woman enters upon the full and high responsibilities of her sex? And do not let my hon. Friend seek to persuade the House that unless women are enfranchised they cannot have justice done them. Have they had no justice done them already? Is there no amelioration in their position? And by whom has it been accomplished? Has it not been by men? Is not my hon. Friend a man? There is no indisposition in this just and civilized country to take up questions affecting women and to solve them in a just and even generous sense. There are such questions before the House at this moment, and they command majorities; there are other questions affecting women, which some women—forgetting, as I think, the only method in which their influence can be beneficially exerted, and declaring themselves public politicians—have damaged—and damaged, I fear, irretrievably—in public estimation. My hon. Friend's theory appears to be that there is a natural antagonism between the sexes, and that he must arm women with the vote in self-defence and array them against the other half of the species. This seems to me a monstrous and preposterous hypothesis. Man is not the enemy of woman. The influence of woman upon the votes of men is enormous; and that influence she can exert without moving one step outside her proper sphere or sacrificing one particle of that delicacy and reserve which, far more than any mockery of masculine functions, must always entitle her to the respect and admiration of men.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
remarked that ridicule and sarcasm were the principal weapons which had been employed by those who had spoken against the Bill. The Seconder of the Amendment had admitted that it was the part of wisdom to deal with the evils of the day as they arose; and that sound axiom he would commend to the attention of its Mover. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Bouverie) had eloquently denounced all sorts of portentous evils which, in his candour, he owned were not contained in that Bill, but which, he thought, would in all probability be contained in some measures which would hereafter be brought forward in that House. When those extravagant proposals as to feminine Judges, jurors, 1230 and Members of Parliament, which his right hon. Friend had conjured up were really made, he should meet them with as decided an opposition as the right hon. Gentleman. He was surprised to find his right hon. Friend—an almost venerable reformer—indulging in that style of argumentation against the modest and moderate measure of the hon. Member for Manchester. Were not the various Reform Bills for which his right hon. Friend had voted, always opposed on grounds precisely similar to those used against the present Bill—namely, that they were certain to lead to ulterior and revolutionary measures? His right hon. Friend was so pinched for real arguments against the Bill that he condescended to overwhelm it with that torrent of unlikely and inconvenient consequences which he predicted it must produce. The hon. Member who spoke last also pictured the Treasury bench as filled with female Ministers as the result of that measure; but did he seriously believe that it would be impossible to resist the claim of ladies to sit in that House if they once conceded to female ratepayers the Parliamentary franchise? An important and influential class of the community had long possessed the franchise and yet were prohibited from sitting in that House. Perhaps his right hon. Friend would view the intrusion on the Treasury bench of a Venerable Archdeacon or a Very Rev. Dean with even more horror than that of a spinster or a widow. For centuries, although there had frequently been legislation directly affecting their interests proposed, there had never been any attempt, excepting in the case of Mr. Horne Tooke, made by the clergy of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic priesthood, or the ministers of Protestant dissent to enter the House of Commons. In former days priests and women were placed very much in the same category, and that analogy between them had existed almost from time immemorial. He did not believe there now existed the slightest inclination on the part of the women of this country to depart from that salutary and long-established demarcation between the right to vote and the right to sit in that House. Pressed by the argument that women now voted for members of school boards, town councils, and boards of guardians, the opponents of the Bill 1231 said that women might be well qualified to vote for those bodies, but not for so august a person as a Member of Parliament. His right hon. Friend said the interests affected by those elections were trivial, but were they? The interests dealt with by school boards were not trivial; and from all he heard he thought the policy of the country was likely to be affected by their proceedings. The 25th clause of the Elementary Education Act gave rise to serious controversy from one end of the country to the other, yet female ratepayers were not only permitted to vote at the election of school boards, but encouraged to aspire to seats in them. He had very great doubts about the immense school board they had created for London; still the thing had been done, and they must face the consequences. But to say that women might vote for such a board and sit on it, and yet were disqualified by their sex—for that was the argument—from voting for those who sat in that House for St. Ives or Bodmin, was one of the most illogical propositions he had ever heard. His right hon. Friend had spoken eloquently about taking women out of their proper sphere, and the hon. Gentleman who last addressed them talked of converting them into men; but if giving women power to vote unsexed them, the mischief had been done already, and those who supported the extension of the school board and municipal franchise to women had been consenting parties to that operation. It was idle, therefore, to talk about the excitement of Parliamentary elections, which occurred, perhaps, once in five or six years, while women duly qualified by property were called upon to vote every year for town councillors, and every two or three years for other local bodies. Everywhere but in London the school boards were elected by open voting; but after the adoption of the Ballot nearly the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's argument on that head fell to the ground. As to the evils of women-voters being canvassed, he reminded his right hon. Friend that one of the blessings promised them under the Ballot was that it would do away with canvassing. His right hon. Friend had spoken of women becoming agitators, and wished to see them restored to their proper functions and the duties of domestic life. But did he not see that 1232 by the course he persistently adopted he was driving women into the very attitude he deplored and condemned? So far from its being true that this measure was not making way in the country, and that its rejection this year would restore women to the position in which he wished them to be placed, the fact was precisely the reverse, and if the Bill was rejected a larger number of women than ever would take part in that agitation. In conclusion, he supported that measure simply and exclusively for what it proposed and intended to do. He did not concern himself and thought the House would do well not to concern itself, with all those remote and tremendous dangers which its opponents conjured up. By passing the Bill they would terminate that agitation, put an end to an unreasonable and illogical exception, and satisfy a reasonable demand. Believing that the measure was a sound, a safe, and a constitutional measure, and one that would bring the question of the ratepaying vote to a satisfactory and permanent conclusion, he would give it his hearty support.
Sir, I am desirous of giving very shortly the opinions I entertain, but I am anxious to be understood that I am speaking my own opinions and not those of the Government. I am bound to admit that on this matter the Members of the Government have divided opinions; and, indeed, it will be in the recollection of the House that one of the most interesting parts of the discussion last year was the passage at arms between my learned Friends the present Attorney General for England and the late Attorney General for Ireland. The noble Lord who has just sat down told us that the importance of this measure had been exaggerated, but to my mind its importance cannot be exaggerated, for on what grounds was it supported by the hon. Member who moved the second reading and the hon. Gentleman who seconded it? My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester supported this Bill upon the ground of the political equality of the sexes. That was the ground upon which he supported the measure, and then he thinks to settle this question by offering a miserable contingent of some 250,000 votes to the female sex, which comprises half the population of the kingdom. He himself stated that there were 2,000,000 1233 voters in this country, while a measure was about to be introduced which would add another 1,000,000; and he proposes now for a final settlement of this question to add only 200,000 or 300,000 female voters to the constituencies of the country. What political equality is that, and how can he possibly suppose that the female sex, who are not slow to assert their rights when they believe them to exist, will be satisfied with such a state of t, things? The noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners) charges with inconsistency and exaggeration those who look beyond the mere provisions of this Bill; but my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock spoke most reasonably and rightly when he said the House ought not to look at the Bill as it stood before them, but ought to see the possible consequences to which it might lead. Is it to be supposed, for instance, that one of the first ladies of the land, possessing a large income, and making a noble use of her property, is to cease to have a vote because she marries? And then, if you once enlarge the number of female voters, it will follow as a matter of course that their influence in proportion to their number would be directed towards obtaining direct representation in this House. There are plenty of ladies who have shown ample ability to take a part in this House, and whose capacities, so far as knowledge and powers of speech are concerned, would do no discredit to it. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion put his support not so much on the ground of political equality as on that of natural equality. He expressed something like wonder, not unmixed with scorn, that there should be two opinions on the question of whether man and woman were not in all respects equal. He said the only difference between them lay in the education they had received. I am not going to enter into a discussion of the physical and mental differences between man and woman. It is patent that those differences do exist. Anyone who has watched little boys and girls growing up from their earliest infancy must see how nature has implanted in them very different characteristics. The hon. Member gave instances of women who have shown personal courage and even military abilities, but even with respect to the quality of courage, we 1234 may trace through the whole history of woman a broad distinction between man and woman. Nobody can deny the possession by woman of courage, but her courage is of a passive kind, fitting her for endurance, whilst the courage of man is of an active character. I cannot explain the causes of the differences between the two sexes in matters where equality might have been expected. I cannot say why it is that women, having paid so much more attention than men to the art of music, have never produced a great composer. Again, why is it that women, notwithstanding that they have turned their attention so much more to painting and drawing, have never produced a really great artist? I cannot understand either why women who have cultivated cookery so much more generally than men, should, according to universal testimony, have been wanting in the inventive and creative faculty when applied to that useful art. My hon. Friend has undertaken a very difficult duty when he calls upon the House to reverse the policy not only of our legislation but of all mankind. From all time there has been drawn a broad line of distinction between the sexes. We have had monarchies and republics, universal suffrage and limited suffrage, but in no country in the world have you had the suffrage conferred upon women up to this time. The noble Lord opposite accused those of want of logic who were opposed to this Bill, and who yet voted for the right of women to give their votes in Municipal Elections. I plead guilty to having supported that Bill without the slightest doubt or hesitation, and for this reason. Women already exercised the right of voting in all similar matters, and I could see no reason why a distinction should be drawn between one municipal question and another municipal question. I am not here to say that women who can perform many duties should not also have many rights; but what I say is that women who are not able to perform all the political duties which fall upon men should not have all the political rights which can be given safely to men only. Let us look for a moment at the important incidents in the history of our country. What has made our own country with its vast dependencies, what it is? Where they who first came across the seas to conquer and occupy it men 1235 or women? Were they men or women who fought at Hastings, who wrung Magna Charta from King John, who struggled for our civil liberties in the 17th century, or who founded our Colonial Empire? All our history has been made by men and not by women; and our great empire, as it has been made, so it must be preserved in external safety and internal quiet by the action of men. Women are altogether exempt from police and military duties. If our safety is threatened by foreign foes, it is to men alone that we must look for defence; if by internal disturbance, every man among us is liable to be called upon to peril life and limb in defence of public order. If women were as independent as their advocates assert, how is it that we have special legislation treating them as dependent creatures, restricting their employment in manufactories and mines? The only justification upon which it is based, is the conviction that women are dependent upon men, and that it is necessary to protect them. One of the most fatal arguments against this Bill is that by which the hon. Member for Penryn tried to recommend it—namely, that it was to afford security against manhood suffrage, because we cannot admit all women to the suffrage. But if so, what becomes of the political equality or of the natural equality of the sexes? There is one argument, and one only, which would induce me to support this Bill, and that is if I were satisfied that we were doing injustice to to women. I deny that altogether. I admit there has been injustice in the legislation of the past, but there has also been injustice to men; and I deny that it was so because this House consisted of men only. Its legislation was determined by the opinions, convictions, feelings, and possibly by the ignorance of the people generally, and improvement in that legislation was due to the increasing intelligence of the people, produced by the writings and reasoning of thinkers who pointed out the barbarous characteristics of our laws. As public opinion advanced, so did legislation. The hon. Member for Birmingham said he should vote for the enfranchisement of the agricultural labourer because he suffered under a grievance which a vote only can redress. There may be force in that, because a whole class is unrepresented in Parliament, 1236 but what I assert is that women are represented by husbands, brothers, and fathers who are not indifferent to their welfare; and it is a monstrous assumption that direct representation is needed to ensure in this House the fullest consideration of all their grievances.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
appealed from the repudiation of the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument offered by the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire to the blunt-end-of-the-wedge arguments of the sponsors of the Bill, who ought to know what they were talking about. The Mover spoke of enlarging the franchise altogether, of altering political relations as determined by the voting power, and of this Bill in particular as being the necessary complement of the one brought in by the Member for the Border Burghs for extending the county franchise. That concluded the question, by putting the whole matter on the basis of a broad agitation for extended suffrage, which, if it went on unchecked, would end not in manhood, but under a female regime, in a literally universal suffrage hitherto unknown in any well regulated community. This was the Mover's own answer to the somewhat narrow view of his noble Friend, who had supported the Motion, that it was clear that in this time of general unsettlement the female vote which they had to appraise would he the personal vote unrestricted by any qualification, not the privileges of a few easy spinsters and widows. The hon. Member for Penryn made a still bolder plunge, for, rushing on with the impetuosity of a Tartar Khan, he first described the condition of that hereafter, of which he clearly had such accurate knowledge, and he then dilated on women's capacity for acting. He (Mr. Beresford Hope) was unequal to follow this rapid flight from the kingdom of heaven to the side scenes of the Adelphi; nor could he admit the identity between angels and the corps de ballet; so the hon. Member must make his election, as he could not stand upon both. Scripture had asserted—"Male and female created He them." The hon. Member said "no" to this; the difference according to him was merely one of education. But he had other arguments besides those drawn from heaven and the theatre and the battle field. It seemed that President Grant, at the late presidential election, declared himself 1237 favourable to female suffrage, and also Vice President Wilson. He admired the courage of the man who would draw an argument from that election after what had come out in Congress. The hon. Member had not said whether Vice President Colfax had also favoured women's suffrage, although he went on to tell the House that women already voted in Wyoming Territory. No doubt the House would be much influenced by the example of this juvenile community which stood he believed somewhere near Utah. This movement was a specimen of those fictitious agitations which were too common, and which were got up by a certain number of people who were eminently sincere, but who confounded public opinion with an artificial feeling for which they were responsible. No doubt the ladies who made speeches and circulated pamphlets on the subject were as capable of charming the House with their eloquence as were many of its Members; but the object of the Bill was to emancipate, not a given list of ladies, but a class of the female population. Had the ladies who were conducting the agitation considered the condition, financially, intellectually, and socially, of the whole class—many of them poor people overwhelmed with household cares—whom they would enfranchise? Did they suppose that every woman who was painfully eking out a precarious living by letting lodgings was a reader of The Women's Suffrage Journal? Many of the class in view could not answer the most elementary question on the most prominent topic of the day, while the least educated of male voters received some political education in the conversation of the workshop and the public house. Where was the slightest evidence of a similar leavening of the female population? The Bill would not remedy the specific grievances of those women who were said to be suffering, as it emancipated only that class of women—the unwedded, namely—who were from their position and circumstances free from such grievances. The absence of spontaneity in the movement was shown by the clever management which secured a report of a meeting in the daily papers on the eve of this debate, and by such Petitions as one he had presented. It happened that day that he had presented a Petition in favour of this Bill, signed by several very eminent members of the 1238 University which he had the honour to represent—men of distinction and ability—men whose support he was sure he should not forfeit by giving an honest vote. This Petition did not come directly to him from any one of these distinguished constituents of his, but it came accompanied by a letter from a lady who explained herself to be the secretary of the London Society for promoting this cause, while the analysis of the signatures had previously been sent to the newspapers. He believed that he was speaking in the presence of one who signed that Petition, and he attached great value to his as to the other n sianatures, but he did not think that justice had been done to the petitioners by the manner in which the Petition had been treated. If for no other ground he opposed this Bill, because it was a contribution to doctrinaire agitation on the part of people who lived in the solitude of their own philosophic ideas, and thought to recast society upon their private theories, forgetful of that great element of human nature which ought to predominate in the affairs of the world. Theory might urge that there was no difference between men and women which the equity of politics should respect, but human nature warned us that if the female character—which was emotional rather than logical—acquired any undue influence in the affairs of State, sentiment and not reason might guide the deliberations of the world. His noble Friend the Member for North Leicestershire had shown himself somewhat inconsistent in the risky argument which he had drawn from the presence of women on the London School Board. First he had treated the present Bill as a very little measure, and ridiculed the apprehensions of those who argued that women's suffrage might lead to women's Membership. Then he not only appealed to the presence of women on the London School Board as a thing good in itself, but he proceeded to exalt the dignity and importance of the London School Board as a body hardly inferior even to Parliament. But if women already sat in an assembly which was by his noble Friend's own showing so important, where was the absurdity of anticipating that if this Bill passed Parliament itself might soon be within the female grasp? The election of women on School Boards should be a warning that, if the pro- 1239 posed concession were made, the agitation would go on until, in mere weariness and disgust and utter scepticism as to any good result from further resistance, we might have England governed by that which had never before been heard of except in the Rome of Elagabalus—a Senate of Women.
§ MR. FAWCETT
As I have not spoken upon the subject since the Bill was first introduced, I trust that the House will allow me to make a few remarks. With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope), it is only necessary for me to say with reference to the Petition to which he has very pointedly alluded, that I believe I have authority to state that there is not a single member of the University who signed that Petition who is not perfectly satisfied with the way in which it has been got up, and the matter which it contains. He says it is objectionable that the Petition should have been sent to him by a lady who called herself secretary of the London Society for promoting this cause. Now as one of those who signed the Petition I must say that I do not think it could be entrusted to better hands than the hands of this lady, especially when I know she is the daughter of one of the most distinguished members of the University which the hon. Member represents. I have only one other remark to make in reference to his speech. He says that if women had votes they would be withdrawn from their domestic duties, and that it would be impossible for them to devote the time necessary to enable them to study public questions. Now, in the name of common sense, does he wish us to believe that every man who has a vote is drawn away from the pursuits of his life and from his ordinary daily labour—that an artizan working in a mill—a barrister practising in a court—a doctor attending his patients, cannot properly study public questions without neglecting their ordinary employment. Allow me upon this subject to repeat an anecdote which was related to me a few minutes ago by an hon. Member sitting near me, who represents a northern borough. It will show that the male electors who have votes, are not often, unfortunately, even in their leisure moments, engaged in studying public affairs, but that they sometimes occupy themselves with much 1240 less honourable pursuits. I think that the anecdote will forcibly illustrate the injustice of the present system. My hon. Friend told me that at a recent election, when he was canvassing the borough he represents, he, and a distinguished Member of this House, who was then his Colleague, in endeavouring to find two of the electors they wished to canvass, discovered them setting in a public-house. In fact they were drunk, and were certainly not devoting their leisure moments to the study of politics. After my hon. Friend had had an interview with his two drunken constituents, and was leaving them, a woman came out of her house and said—"I have paid rates for 20 years. How can you say that I ought not to have a vote when you have just been soliciting the votes of these two drunken men?" "Well," my hon. Friend said—"I think what you say is very reasonable," and ever since then he has been a consistent supporter of this Bill. I wish now, in a few words, to refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the Home Secretary. I am not going to be drawn into a discussion as to the relative ability of men and women. It is not necessary to assert that men and women are intellectually equal in all respects. Nobody can express an opinion on the point until the experiment has been fairly tried, and it never yet has been fairly tried. Give women the same opportunities for intellectual development as men, and then, and not till then, shall we be able to say what they can do. I was certainly astonished to hear the Home Secretary say that no woman had ever been a great painter. Did he forget Rosa Bonheur? He said further, that no woman had ever been a great musical composer. He is not perhaps aware—I think it came out afterwards by accident—of a story that shows that women do not always receive their due deserts. Women do their work quietly, and many a man who has attained great success would never have filled so distinguished a position if it had not been that some woman had helped him. Upon this very question of musical composition it has come out that one of the most admired pieces attributed to Mendelssohn was entirely the composition of his sister. That great composer also admitted that she had helped him in his other works to an extent which he could not describe. I 1241 must confess that the Home Secretary astonished me very considerably by going into an historical argument, in which he seemed to think that he had discovered, as a reason why women should not have votes, that it was men who had always defended the country, and that it was the barons who obtained the Magna Charta from King John. If this argument is worth anything it certainly amounts to this, that no one should have votes except barons and soldiers. Repeating the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), the Home Secretary said, the great argument against the Bill of my hon. Friend was that if it were carried it would ultimately lead to the giving of votes to married women and to women taking seats in this House. Before I reply to that argument let me say that it is an old one. Never was there a great change proposed, or a great measure of reform brought forward, but that some "bogey" was immediately called up to alarm and terrify us. When Catholic emancipation was proposed, and it was advocated that Catholics should have seats in this House, one of the favourite arguments of the opponents of the proposal was, that if the Catholics were admitted to this House there was no reason why a Catholic should not sit upon the throne. One of the favourite arguments used by the opponents of household suffrage was that if household suffrage were granted there was only one other step, and that was manhood suffrage. We have not been intimidated or frightened by arguments such as this, but it seems to me that the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock are indulging in doctrines which are dangerous, when they assume to think that property is no longer to be the basis of the qualification for a vote in this country. The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock quoted with commendation a saying of the democratic Benjamin Franklin, that it is idle to suppose that property possesses the exclusive right to the franchise. Without presuming too confidently to predict what will happen, I have no hesitation in saying that these words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock, will next Easter Monday be quoted with rapturous applause, when 60,000 men gather together on the Town Moor at Newcastle 1242 to demand manhood suffrage. There is no logical reason why married women should not have votes if you demand manhood suffrage. But we who support this Bill do not wish to declare that we desire that the franchise should be based upon any other condition than it is based upon at the present moment—namely, property. Unless a woman can obtain a vote by property we do not wish to do anything either to admit her or to exclude her. It is therefore you who, if you throw this argument of property aside, will be lending an assistance to the agitation in favour of manhood suffrage which I believe you will heartily repent. I wish now, as briefly as possible, to go through the leading arguments which have been advanced in the debate upon this Bill. The reasons in its favour have been stated so often, and I am anxious to occupy as little as possible of the time of the House, that it appears to me to be the fairer course to deal with the arguments against rather than those in favour of the Bill. The first argument is that the majority of women do not ask for this Bill, and that a great number of them are opposed to it. If this Bill contemplated making a woman vote who did not wish to vote, it would not find a more resolute opponent in this House than myself. But when you say that a majority of women are opposed to it, I say that it is impossible to prove it; and I say further, that the same argument, in an analogous case, you did not accept as complete. I remember perfectly well, when I first came into this House, that I heard it stated again and again that the majority of the working classes of this country were not in favour of the extension of the suffrage. It was said that it was only the active politicians among them, just as it is now said that it is only the active women agitators who are in favour of this Bill. Now, what do we observe? No doubt it never could be proved that a majority of the working classes were in favour of the extension of the suffrage, and more than it can be proved now that a majority of the agricultural labourers are in favour of household suffrage in counties; and yet it was again and again stated that the majority of the working classes were in favour of household suffrage. The House soon after that recognized the justice of the claim for an extension of the 1243 suffrage to the artizan class, by having once recognized the abstract justice of the plea. But the argument which no doubt produced the most influence on the House is this, that at the present time the interests of women are far better looked after by men than they would be looked after by themselves; and it was said by the Home Secretary that if you could only prove to him that women's questions of a vitally interesting nature were treated with injustice in this House, it would be a conclusive argument in favour of voting for the Bill. Nothing could be further from my mind than to accuse this House of consciously doing anything which is unjust or wrong to women, but women and men may have very different views of what is best for women, and our position is this, that according to the principles of representative Government it is only fair that women should be able to give expression to their wishes on measures likely to affect their interests. Take for instance the case of educational endowments. The Endowed Schools Commissioners have again and again said that one feeling they found prevalent in the towns was, that educational endowments should be so used that the wants of every boy should be satisfied before any attention is paid to the wants of women. What right have we to suppose that this is the opinion of women on this subject, considering their enthusiasm for education? What right have we to suppose that if they could exercise power in this House they would not demand an equal share in the educational endowments of the country? I wish to direct the attention of the House to what seems to me a most important argument on this subject. Hitherto the question has been treated too much as if it simply concerned women of property. Now, you say that men can be safely entrusted to legislate for women—that men can be safely entrusted in the constituencies to represent the wants of women. I say that anyone who studies the industrial history of the country—anyone who looks to what trades unions have done—cannot for a moment believe in this conclusion. What are the arguments in favour of trades unions. I am not opposed to trades unions. One of the first speeches I ever made was in their favour, but at the same time I do not conceal their defects. It has been again 1244 and again asserted that without the power of combining in trades unions it would be impossible for workmen to obtain a proper reward for their labour, and that it would be impossible to secure their just rights. This is their deliberate conviction asserted a thousand times over. But have they ever admitted a woman to these trades unions? They have almost invariably excluded women, and although they say that without these combinations it is impossible for labour to obtain its just reward, they take very good care to exclude women from them. I have known, on several occasions, when a trades union has organized a strike, that when the women who had had no voice in deciding upon the strike showed themselves anxious to take advantage of the labour market, the trades unionists stood outside the shops, to keep women away from doing men's work. What took place in the Potteries? It is perfectly well known that for years and years men were so jealous of the competition of women labourers that they made it a rule in the trades union that the whole force of the union should be used to prevent women from using the hand-rest which the men invariably avail themselves of, and which greatly facilitates the rapidity and precision of the work. Let us look to our legislation for the future, and I ask the House calmly to consider whether looking at some of the measures likely to be brought forward, it is not of essential importance that we should take the opinion of women upon them. Probably there is no social measure existing in connection with the manufacturing districts which is of so much interest at the present time as the Nine Hours Bill, introduced by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella). I have no doubt that the hon. Member has introduced that Bill with the purest motives; it is a Bill that affects vitally the interests of the unrepresented classes. Now what is this Bill? It is a Bill that limits the labour of women to nine hours a day. What must be the inevitable result of that Bill? It must do one of two things—either impose a legislative limit of nine hours a day all over the country—and in that case call it a general Nine Hours Bill, or it must inevitably place the most serious restrictions and impediments upon the employment of women. For how can a 1245 manufacturer, unless he employs women on the principle of half-time, say that directly the nine hours are up, every woman must leave, and then let the mill go on working for another hour or two without a woman being employed? The inevitable result will be to place grievous impediments in the way of the employment of women, and before we sanction such a measure it certainly seems to me that women should be consulted. It is, in my opinion, of the utmost importance that their opinion should be consulted. I am bound in candour to say—I do not know whether the sentiment is popular or not—that, looking to the past industrial history of this country, and seeing what the trades unionists have sometimes done to women, I am not certain that there is not at the bottom of the movement a feeling which is prompted by the jealousy of men with regard to the labour of women. But there is an argument, perhaps not avowed in this House, that is, nevertheless, producing a great influence upon the Liberal Members, and it is one to which I wish particularly to direct the attention of hon. Members. I have heard it said again and again, by Liberal friends of mine, that they cannot vote for this Bill because they think one of its consequences would be to hinder the disestablishment of the Church. They are of opinion that the majority of women are opposed to disestablishment, and that if this Bill is passed it will put back that question 50 years. I am anxious to speak on this subject, because I have always been in favour of disestablishment, and I shall always be in favour of it. But although these are my sentiments, it certainly seems to me to be an injustice of the grossest possible kind if we for one moment sanction the exclusion of women simply because we feel that they are so much in favour of the continuance of the Church that if they could exercise their vote the Establishment of the Church would continue. Would it not be an injustice—almost amounting to a fraud—if the Church were disestablished on the plea that just a bare majority of the electors were in favour of disestablishment, when, at the same time, we believe that the feeling of women in favour of Establishment is so great that the majority of the men would represent only a minority of the whole nation—and that, taking men and 1246 women together, the majority is not in favour of disestablishment but of establishment? It may, of course, be said that in some questions the opinion of men is more important than that of women, and that the opinion of 100,000 men in favour of a particular proposal represents more weight than the opinion of 100,000 women against it. But can you say this with regard to such a question as the Church, or the question of the Nine Hours' Bill, or others I might enumerate? Surely you cannot say it with regard to the Church, for the spiritual welfare of women is of just as much importance as the spiritual welfare of men, and in a question whether the Church should be continued as an Established Church or not the opinion of women ought to exercise the greatest amount of influence upon us. We ought to endeavour to trace out what is the effect of the Church Establishment upon the great mass of the people, and to whom would you go to obtain this opinion? It seems to me that if I wished to ascertain what is the effect which the Church is producing at the present time I should go to those who are most practically acquainted with its working—those who see most clearly its influence among the poor—and I believe they are women and not men. Now, however much I may be in favour of disestablishment, it seems to me that to exclude women from the vote, simply because we think it would delay the reform we desire, is sanctioning a principle which is essentially unfair—essentially unjust—and is just as unreasonable as if the Church party were to try to disfranchise the Nonconformists because the Nonconformists have tried to disestablish them. It seems to me, further, that you cannot rest the exclusion of women upon the ground that they are unfit intellectually for the franchise. Last year you did that which showed conclusively that in your opinion, however unfit intellectually they might be to vote, yet if they possessed a certain property qualification they ought to have a vote. You cast to the winds the idea of anything like intellectual fitness when you were occupied night after night in elaborating various schemes for securing the representation of the illiterate voter. It is evident, I think, that "coming events cast their shadows before." I infer from the speech of the Home Secretary that the Government are about to join the Liberal 1247 Members at this end of the House in support of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) in favour of giving the agricultural labourer a vote. But if we enfranchise the agricultural labourer, and refuse to give a vote to women, we shall be landed in this dilemma—we shall declare that although the labourer, however ignorant, ought to have a vote, no woman, however intellectual, ought to enjoy it. I will only in conclusion allude to one thing which, no doubt, has greatly prejudiced this Bill. It has so happened that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester has been identified with another agitation, and it has also happened that many persons who are advocates of this Bill outside this House have also been identified with that agitation in favour of the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. It appears to me singularly unfair to let such a consideration as this in the least degree influence our decision. It would be just as unfair as it would be to let our decision be influenced on any question that can be brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), because he happens to be identified with the Permissive Bill. I can only say that many of those who support this Bill differ fundamentally from the views held by the hon. Member for Manchester in reference to the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts; and many of those who are the strongest advocates of the Women's Disabilities Bill outside the House are also opposed to the manner in which the agitation against the Contagious Diseases Acts has been conducted. Now I will only say in reply to the argument of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock, that he seems to think that those who support this Bill wish to make woman less womanly. If the right hon. Gentleman can convince me that giving them a vote would make them in any respect less womanly, or men less manly, I would immediately vote against the Bill. He concluded by quoting a sentence from Addison, in which he says that the glory of a state consists in the modesty of women and the courage of men. I have yet to learn that this Bill is calculated to make women less modest; and I have also yet to learn that giving women a vote, can in the slightest degree diminish the courage of men. It is probable, nay, 1248 almost certain, that this measure will not be accepted on the present occasion. I believe that the feeling in its favour is growing. I believe, if there are no more solid reasons than those which have been advanced against it to-day, it is certain to stand the trial of free discussion. It is possible that women exaggerate the advantages which the passing of this Bill will confer upon them, but I am most firmly convinced that the other consequences which are attributed to it by the opponents of the measure are infinitely more exaggerated.
§ MR. HERON
Sir, the usual arguments have been adduced at this stage against the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield has introduced what I may call the facetious argument, and has referred to the possibilities of what might occur if we had a lady Prime Minister, which invariably provokes a laugh. It is easy, as in a Christmas play, to introduce a baby in a perambulator, and to ill-treat that unfortunate argument. But the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge has referred to one or two matters of importance which I invite candid attention to. Among other things he has said that there is no possibility of injustice being done to a woman by being deprived of the franchise; but I would just remind him that in Ireland it has repeatedly happened in the pastoral districts that a woman, the wife of the elector, and who has practically been the head of the household for years, contributing mainly to its sources of income, as the head and manager of the dairy farm, has, on the death of her husband, received notice to quit, and been driven from the house which she had for years supported. Then some reference has been made to what I may term the historical argument. I thought that was an argument which had been long since exploded, but we have had references to the invasion of England by the Anglo-Saxons, and to the assembling of the barons at Runnymede. Women had no votes then. But it must be remembered that in those times Parliamentary representation did not exist. Representative government, as it is now understood, is only a matter of the last few centuries in the history of the world. It is idle to draw historical allusions from a remote antiquity or even from the middle ages, seeing 1249 that in those ages Parliamentary representation did not exist. We are also met by what is called the logical argument; but when it is urged that women are deficient in logical acuteness I would ask how many hon. Members there are in this House who could stand a competitive examination in the works of John Stuart Mill if that were a qualification for entering Parliament. The common argument is that women should be placed on too lofty a pedestal to be dragged through the mire of political contests, but I would refer hon. Gentlemen who use that argument to a consideration of the many degrading employments of women, and I would ask how long it is since women were compelled to work in the mines of England and Scotland. Is it not the fact that even now they are condemned to the most menial domestic offices, and to those employments out-of-doors which at all events do not place them on that political pedestal of beauty on which hon. Members seek to place them. Now the present Bill is not a matter of the great importance which some hon. Members seem to attribute to it. It does not enfranchise any enormous number of women, and I would ask anyone whether, in the present state of modern society, intelligence, good sense, good conduct, and a property qualification should not have a right to the franchise irrespective of sex. If women got the franchise under the Bill which gives it to those illiterate voters for whom we sat hours and weeks last year in order to secure it to them, I do not think they need be at all afraid of any comparison that might be made; and I would ask why women who trade in every trade, who work in every work, and who are artists in every art, are not to be considered fit to hold the electoral franchise. I shall not detain the House from a Division any longer; but I trust that by the vote to be recorded to-day progress will be made in this matter, and that at all events a great number of hon. Gentlemen will declare that the electoral franchise is no longer to be denied to that half the community who are not the least suited to advance the prosperity and happiness of the empire.
§ EARL PERCY
I thank the hon. Member for Brighton for one or two admissions which he made in the course of his speech. He told us that a com- 1250 munity of trades unionists declined to allow their wives to become members of trades unions, and beat them with sticks from the doors of the shops where they applied for work during a strike, and yet we are constantly told that this class should occupy a most prominent position in reference to all legislative functions. Then he told us that the Church ought not to be disestablished until we had taken measures to ascertain the feelings of all those who had any interest—I had almost said in their eternal welfare. I think the question before us is one on which the House has probably already made up its mind, and therefore, as it would be idle to spend much more time upon it, I shall not go into one or two other points in the hon. Gentleman's speech to which I might otherwise have referred. The hon. Gentleman, however, told us one curious story about two men in a house being drunk and a woman sober, from which he drew the conclusion that the woman ought to have a vote. That was very peculiar logic, for it was equivalent to saying that where A is a man who is sober and B a man who is drunk, A ought to have a vote and B not. That is an argument scarcely worthy of the hon. Member. But what I rose for chiefly was to express my astonishment at the support which this measure has received from this side of the House, because I look upon it in the same light as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock, as being the most utterly revolutionary one which has been brought before us for a very long period. I know I shall be told that it is a very Conservative measure, that ladies are very great admirers of Conservatism, and so forth. If hon. Members mean by this that it would be a very popular party move, I do not feel myself in a position to be able to give an opinion upon that subject, but if it is meant that Conservative principles would be supported by such a measure, I must say that if that were the case it would be the most remarkable instance of gathering grapes from thorn bushes that was ever witnessed in the history of the world. I look upon this measure as a symptom of that spirit which is now so widely spread abroad—the spirit which seeks to do away with all distinctions in society, whether made by God or man. It is not difficult to see the motive which actuates the agitators 1251 of this question—that Will-o'-the-wisp that seems to have been reserved for us in the 19th century—the delusion of equality. It is equality in everything that makes them advocate the female franchise. This is a levelling Bill, and I am convinced that no good can possibly arise from it. We are told on rather high authority that the proper duty of a woman is to be discreet and to keep at home, and from recent experience it certainly would seem that when they cease to be keepers at home they cease to be discreet. We are retrograding in civilization, and no considerations of experience or revelation seem to have any weight with us. But we can still perceive what the laws of Nature impress upon us, and I certainly never heard until this evening the theory really advanced that we should have regiments of Amazons. We do not seem to know that it is not fit for women to teach in large assemblies—yet that discovery was made 1,800 years ago. Nor do we perceive what part women have played in history. I know that if this measure had been passed in former times the result would have been that all the viragoes and furies in history would have been the most active voters in contested elections, whereas all the most respectable part of the female population would have stayed at home. It is necessary to remind the House that women's passions are infinitely more violent, when once called forth, than men's. Who was it that was the chief instigator of the massacre of St. Bartholomew? Has the House forgotten the part that women played in the most horrible scenes of the French Revolution? The state of Europe is not so tranquil now, the future politics so calm, that this is a fit time to invite the young ladies of England to engage in political strife. Of all ages the present is, perhaps, the one in which political power is most unfitted for them; but the principle is the same in all ages. The real fact is that man in the beginning was ordained to rule over the woman, and this is an Eternal decree which we have no right and no power to alter. I know this truth has been abused, and that the strong have ever tyrannized over the weak in this as in every other relation of life. But if the remedy for this is to put the weak on an equality with the strong, then we must 1252 overthrow every authority and throne in Europe, for all have alike abused their power. This is the radical solution of the difficulty, but it is not one which should have found support from Conservative benches.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
opposed the Bill, which was a mere skeleton Bill, and, as it stood, did not exclude married women from the franchise. The notion of woman's equality was put forward during the French Revolution, and was even then scouted as ill-judged and impracticable.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
readily endorsed the remark of the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners), that this was not a subject to be treated merely with sentiment and levity. A demand for enfranchisement advanced by a large number of individuals, and advanced in an earnest and respectful manner, with much eloquence, persistence, and ability, was entitled to a considerate reception at the hands of the House; and he felt that the jokes which were made upon the subject were hardly such as did credit to the dignity of the House, or were consistent with the good taste which generally characterized the debates of a legislative Assembly of English gentlemen. He was bound, however, to say that the proposer and seconder of the measure that day had somewhat tempted attack, and especially the latter, who had calmly advanced the proposition that all the arguments against the measure had been so frequently and successfully answered that it was unnecessary to do so again. That hon. Gentleman (Mr. Eastwick) had moreover fallen into a strange inconsistency. He had said that it was absurd to suppose that there was anything in the constitution of woman which rendered her less fit for laborious occupations than man, and he had instanced cases in which women had proved themselves as good soldiers as men, and had served as such without their sex being discovered. But in the very next breath he said that no one in his senses really believed that, if this Bill were passed, women would sit in that House, because it was palpable to everyone who heard him that the toils and labours of the life of a Member of Parliament were greater than the nature of any woman would enable her to endure. The real truth was—and upon this rested the whole 1253 force of the case of the opponents of the Bill—that nature, or, to speak more properly, God, had created organic differences in the constitutions of men and women, assigning to each sex duties which the other was incompetent to discharge. That was the whole point of the matter. There were certain duties which could be performed by men and not by women, and certain duties which could be performed by women and not by men. He would not attempt to follow the course of the debate, and he regretted that after several defeats, the question had again been mooted in the last Sessions of an expiring Parliament. He still retained the opinions which he expressed last year against the Bill, but his vote would certainly not be influenced by any such motives as those alluded to by the hon. Member for Brighton. He thought that the question whether women would vote for one political party or the other, was one which would not weigh for an instant with hon. Members, who would consider the question conscientiously. He should not follow the hon. Member for Brighton in his remarks, as to the bearing of this question on the disestablishment of the Church; but what he did contend was that if they gave women the franchise by this Bill they could not give them additional rights without giving them also additional responsibilities. If women were to have an equal share with them in their rights, they must be prepared to have equally their responsibilities, and he for one would not expose his countrywomen to that. No doubt there might have been many passionate and eloquent speeches made by different women on this subject, but he did not think they had yet seen any conclusive proof of the general wish of the women of the country for this measure. He wanted to say a few words upon the Bill, because his constituents had been visited by those ladies who went about the country. He had nothing to complain of in the tone those ladies adopted, but only that when they came into his locality they did not give him the opportunity of offering them such hospitality as he might be able to offer. As for the Bill itself, Parliament had already pronounced against it. The reasons which induced him to oppose it last year were equally in force now, for while he had listened with respect to the argu- 1254 meats given in favour of the measure, he was bound to say that he remained of the same opinion as last year.
Sir, I have always voted against this Bill, but I have lately watched carefully the operation of the exercise of the franchise both in municipal and in school board elections by women, and as I think it has been benecial in these cases I do not see any reason why it should not be beneficial in Parliamentary elections. What my hon. Friend has said has confirmed me in the view I have adopted. He says the French revolutionists considered that they would not have the women. Well, I do not want us to be revolutionists, and that is an additional reason why we at all events should give the franchise to women. As to any insecurity in the wording of the Bill, that may be set right in Committee. The principle is that women should have the right of voting. I confess that I have always hitherto voted against the Bill, but for the reasons I have stated I shall now give it my hearty support.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
Mr. Speaker, I am sorry that many hon. Members were not present to hear the able speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie); I still more regret the conduct of some Members on this side of the House, who heard the right hon. Gentleman. While I listened to the speech of the right hon. the Member for Oxfordshire, who has just sat down (Mr Henley), and to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Leicestershire (Lord John Manners), these right hon. Gentlemen recalled to my mind the old adage—A woman convinced against her will, Is of the same opinion still.And it appeared to me that this feminine peculiarity had infected some of the advocates of the Bill on this—which is said to be the Conservative—side of the House. I hope, that these Gentlemen are in a small minority among us, for I cannot look upon this as a Conservative measure, although it was so represented by the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), yet he said he was in favour of the disestablishment of the Church, and then went on to tell us, that, in order to maintain the Church as an establishment, we should disestablish the manhood qualification of the electors. Sir, it was 1255 an observation of Mr. Burke, that literary men as politicians are too much given to change; and of the truth of this, I cannot conceive a more striking illustration than the hon. Member for Brighton has afforded. Desiring, as he does, the disestablishment of the Church, how can he expect us to accept his advice to adopt so revolutionary a measure as female suffrage, when we know, it is considered so ultra-democratic, that it has been rejected by every State in the American Union; and yet that we should do this with a view to preserving the Established Church, which is peculiarly characteristic of the Conservative constitution of this country? The weakness of the arguments in favour of this Bill has been most extraordinary; the hon. Member for Penryn (Mr. Eastwick) said, that we have refused to enter into argument with him. But why? Because we dispute his premise. His premise is, that there is no mental difference between men and women. The whole course of Revelation and of history confutes that proposition, and it lies at the foundation of the arguments, attempted in favour of this Bill. The teaching of history is emphatic in this point; and I lament, that hon Members on this side of the House, who call themselves Conservatives, should totally abandon the very foundation of their claim to that title by giving their support to this measure. Experience has taught me to fear the zeal of converts. A Conservative Government, composed of Gentlemen now sitting on this side of the House, brought in and carried a measure of Parliamentary reform, which I have heard repeatedly condemned as too democratic by Gentlemen on the other side of the House; and since the right hon. Gentleman on this side of the House took that course, it appears to me, that some of the leading spokesmen of the Conservative party are more rash in their views of innovation, than many Members on the opposite benches. I was glad to hear the constitutional and manly speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The right hon. Gentleman told us, that he did not represent the views of the Government upon this question, and that the Government are divided upon it. So much the worse for the Government. I will for a moment consider an illustration, that was used by the hon. Member for Brighton. The hon. Mem- 1256 ber says, that trades unionists refuse to admit women to their unions. I do not justify in the least the excesses, he mentioned, as are sometimes committed by these bodies; but I do say that, in coming to this conclusion, the artizans seem to me, in the deliberate exercise of their judgment, to have furnished an argument against this Bill, and surely they are qualified to judge of the interests of their own order. This shows the feeling of the artizan class and the lower grades of Society. By citing their example the hon. Member for Brighton has furnished us with an argument against this Bill. I hold that we ought not to manifest less respect for manhood than these men. Now let the House consider its own position: the present Parliament began its career by professions of regret and repentance for the supposed sins of its predecessors against Ireland. The House put on sackcloth and ashes in the presence of Irish turbulence. During two Sessions this House, arrayed in sackcloth and ashes, devoted itself to the satisfying of Irish demands. You first disestablished the Protestant Church in Ireland. You next gave a large portion of the land, of the property, that once belonged to the landlords to the tenants. In the third Session, you passed an Election Bill involving the adoption of secret voting, a measure, which the Prime Minister at the outset acknowledged, inflicted upon him a painful sense of degradation; and in this he was echoed by the hon. Member for Taunton. Now, I pray the House not to proceed further in this course of humiliation. I pray you to stand by your manhood. Do not for one moment admit, being as you are, men, an assembly of men elected by men, that you cannot or will not do justice to women. Be assured, that you cannot, either as a House of Commons or as individuals, command the respect of Englishmen, of Scotchmen, or of Irishmen, if you are perpetually repeating and acting upon the understanding, that you are ashamed of the conduct of your own predecessors, and feel yourselves incapable of performing the common duties of manhood; and among these stands prominent the duty of guarding and protecting the interests of women.
§ SIR JOHN TRELAWNY
said, that although he had hitherto supported this Bill and intended to do so now, he could not help remarking that during an im- 1257 portant debate to which ladies ought not to have listened, ladies were in the gallery fanning themselves, and that much mischief had been done by ladies going about the country to agitate for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. He referred to some passages in the 34th Book of Livy, in which there is censure of certain women for proceedings therein described.Matronæ nullâ nee autoritate nec were cundia, nec imports virorum contineri limine poterunt.…. At quo ego vix statuere apud animum memn possum utrum pejor ipsa yes est an pejore exemplo agatur.
§ MR. JACOB BRIGHT
I am not going to make any speech in reply to the debate; but I should like to thank the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire for what I should consider, in spite of what the hon. Member for North Warwickshire has said about manhood, as one of the most manly speeches made in the course of this debate. I must congratulate those who support this Bill upon that speech, for I remember the influence which the right hon. Gentleman has exercised on this House and in this country in regard to household suffrage for men. I believe his speech to-day will have a great influence in household suffrage for women. I now leave the question to the judgment of the House.
§ MR. GREENE
could not understand on what ground this Bill could be supported as a Conservative measure. He should be very sorry to see any Member in the House vote for a measure which he did not believe to be for the good of the community. He did not believe it to be for the good of the community to enable ladies to vote at Parliamentary elections, although no man had a higher regard for them than he had. He had taken counsel with many ladies on this question, and nearly all of them advised him not to vote for this measure, because they were of opinion that the operation of it would excite unpleasant feelings between themselves and their male relatives. He would tell a little story which might be of some service to political ladies whose husbands were refractory as to voting. There was a poor woman in his parish who had a very bad husband. A clergyman advised her to talk kindly to her husband, and thus try to "heap coals of fire on his head." Subsequently, the clergyman asked her how matters 1258 were going at home. She replied—"I thought a good deal about putting fire on my husband's head, but I tried boiling water."
§ Question put, "That the word now ' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 155; Noes 222: Majority 67.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill put off for six months.