Congressional Testimony on Woman Suffrage, December 3, 1913

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Miss ADDAMS. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, I had the honor of appearing before you last August as a woman voter when you very kindly received the delegation of woman voters who were meeting here in Washington. With your permission I will refer to a little discussion at that time, and to a point which the committee made, and which seemed to me at the moment well taken, that the Rules Committee had no power to appoint a committee on [page 2] woman's suffrage because of the fact that Congress did not have jurisdiction over the question of the franchise; that it was a matter for each State to determine by the electors within the borders of that State. The point was made by the gentlemen from Georgia [Mr. Hardwick], and the only exception I was able to give him was that of the fifteenth amendment, and I realized, of course, that that was not an apt instance to give to a gentlemen from Georgia. Since that time, through the courtesy of our president, I have been able to get together nine other instances in which Congress in its official capacity has designated the conditions under which citizens of the United States may exercise the prerogative of their citizenship. Of course, these various classes of citizens have lived within the borders of States and Territories, and those States and Territories did not consider that their States' rights were interfered with when Congress made these conditions.

The second instance -- I still retain the fifteenth amendment as the first instance -- the second instance is that of the Indians. You know, of course, that for many years the Indians were the wards of the Nation, and when tribal relations were broken up they were given suffrage. This suffrage was given to them not by the various States in which the reservations were situated, but by the United States, by the Congress of this country.

Mr. HARDWICK. That was while these different Territorial divisions were Territories of the United States, and therefore Congress has always prescribed the terms of suffrage and designated who should exercise it in the Territories of the United States.

Miss ADDAMS. Then we would be very happy if they would give the franchise to all the women in the Territories upon that same instance.

Mr. HARDWICK. Of course Congress has that power.

Miss ADDAMS. Then I will only call that half of an illustration. I was going to say that there used to be four classes of people who could not vote -- Indians, imbeciles, criminals, and women. Now you have taken away the Indian, so there are only imbeciles, criminals, and women who are left.

The third one, perhaps not a very happy one, is that of the Confederate soldiers who took the oath of allegiance after the war was over, and their oath of allegiance was prescribed by Congress.

The fourth instance is that of foreigners who fought in the Civil War. They were not obliged to go through the process of naturalization, but were given citizenship by the Congress of the United States.

Mr. HARDWICK. The acts by which they were given citizenship did not give them the right to vote, because citizenship and the right to vote are very clearly separate and distinct propositions of law. Women are now citizens of the United States.

Miss ADDAMS. Then I will withdraw that as an illustration.

The fifth instance is that of men who are disfranchised when they are put into a Federal penitentiary. When they come out it lies with Congress to give them the right to vote. They are deprived of it when they are sent to the penitentiary.

Mr. HARDWICK. No; they are deprived of it by State law in each case.

Miss ADDAMS. Why would they be deprived of it by State Law? [page 3]

Mr. HARDWICK. Because the laws of the different States provide that where a man has been guilty of felonies involving moral turpitude he shall, for that reason, lose the right to vote.

Miss ADDAMS. But I am talking about Federal prisoners.

Mr. HARDWICK. It is just the same, if the offense involves moral turpitude.

Miss ADDAMS. Would you like to have that answered by my attorney?

Mr. HARDWICK. Oh, no. If it bothers you I will not continue.

Miss ADDAMS. No; it does not bother me in the least.

The sixth one, which I have down here and which I am advancing with a little less confidence, is the direct vote for United States Senator, recently voted upon by Congress, and the conditions under which that vote is taken are being prescribed by Congress. Is that right?

Mr. LENROOT. It is not within the field of Congress to provide for the electors when we provided for the direct vote for the Senators.

Miss ADDAMS. Then, deserters from the Army are deprived of their vote. Perhaps we can put that on a matter of congressional action. Is that right?

Mr. HARDWICK. I am not sure. You have me there.

The CHAIRMAN. That is correct.

Miss ADDAMS. Next are the naturalized citizens, immigrants who come to this country owing allegiance to the countries from which they come and who are naturalized under conditions prescribed by the Federal Government and not by the various States. I am quite sure about that.

Mr. HARDWICK. There is this objection to that. While they are naturalized, and naturalization is one of the conditions precedent to the conferring of the suffrage, suffrage is not necessarily conferred by naturalization, and there are other things which the State regulates and which must enter into it after naturalization.

Miss ADDAMS. The naturalization is a necessary proposition and must come from the [Federal] Government?

Mr. HARDWICK. Yes; but the mere fact that a person is naturalized does not entitle that person necessarily to the right to vote. The fact that they are naturalized simply makes them citizens, just as the women are citizens [today].

The CHAIRMAN. I think in the case of deserters from the Army, only the President can remove the disabilities -- Congress or the President. The President frequently does it by virtue of an act of Congress.

Miss ADDAMS. Yes; Congress has jurisdiction in the matter. That was my point. Then there is another thing which Congress regulates, and that is the wives of foreigners or naturalized citizens. If a woman born in America marries a foreigner, a man of English birth we will say, who does not care to take out naturalization papers, she, of course, is a citizen of England and loses her right to vote if she is living in an equal-suffrage State such as California or Illinois. That, of course, is a Federal regulation.

Then, the tenth I have here perhaps you will not admit, although it seems to some of us a very good instance. In 1872, Miss Anthony, who lived in Rochester, was very insistent to test woman's right to [page 4] vote under the fourteenth amendment, which said that "any citizen born or naturalized," and so forth. She went to the polls in Rochester and voted. She was not arrested by the local authorities in Rochester or by any State officer, but she was arrested by a Federal officer on the ground that she had violated the election conditions, the election laws of the Federal Government. She was neither convicted nor pardoned; she was held in a state of suspense, as it were, and such action as was taken, was taken by the Federal authority.

Mr. HARDWICK. Do you know why that was?

Miss ADDAMS. No.

Mr. HARDWICK. It was because at that time the force law was in effect. That regulated during the days of reconstruction.

Miss ADDAMS. In New York?

Mr. HARDWICK. Yes; all over the Union. It affected the suffrage exercised in every State of the Union.

Miss ADDAMS. She was arrested for voting for a Member of Congress.

Mr. HARDWICK. Yes; undoubtedly she could not have been arrested for voting for a State official.

Miss ADDAMS. Some of my instances are poor, but such as they are they show the point that we made during the last Congress before your committee. At that time the committee took the position that the Federal Government had no jurisdiction in the matter of laying down conditions of franchise for the citizens of the various States; that it was a matter for State regulation; but I believe that these instances all show that in certain cases, under certain conditions, the Federal Government did interfere in the matter of the franchise of citizens in the various States. Now, if it is even remotely, even partially a matter of Federal authority, then we claim that we ought to have a committee to take up this matter. If the Rules Committee felt that it was something that did not concern Congress then one could quite understand why they refused to appoint it. But if it does concern Congress, if it is a concern of Congress, even under extraordinary conditions we believe that there should be a committee appointed for this specific purpose. We claim that there has been an extraordinary condition in America in the last 10 years in regard to the enfranchisement of women, and we have every right to expect that the number will be doubled in the next two years, with the wave of public opinion which is sweeping over the country. We think that the Rules Committee ought to appreciate this situation and give us a special committee to take up this very important subject.

I shall be very glad to answer any question or to take back anything which I have said which cannot be substantiated, but in general I claim that the instances I have cited show that the Government has taken up this matter in times past, and now is the moment for them to take it up again.

Mr. LENROOT. Let me suggest there that the jurisdiction of Congress is, of course, limited within the powers mentioned by the Constitution itself.

Mr. HARDWICK. Your claim would have to rest on that I think.

Miss ADDAMS. I was not asking for an amendment to the Constitution at this time. We should like the committee appointed by the House to recommend an amendment to the Constitution. [page 5]

Mr. HARDWICK. I just want to suggest one thing there. We have a committee already in the House that is not very busy and which has, according to my notion of the rules, absolute jurisdiction over this subject, to wit, the Committee on Election of President and Vice President and Representatives in Congress. Would it not be just as satisfactory to you ladies to let that committee, if it can do so under the rules of the House, take charge of your matter? They will have ample time to attend to it.

Miss ADDAMS. I should like to have the president speak on such an important matter as that.

The CHAIRMAN. Would it be satisfactory if the committee would add woman's suffrage to its authority, so that its title would be "Committee on Election of President and Vice President, Representatives in Congress, and Woman's Suffrage"?

Dr. SHAW. So far as we are concerned, we are perfectly satisfied with a committee that will consider our case, if that committee has plenty of time to do so. We only ask for a committee that has time to consider the matter.

The CHAIRMAN. Judge [Raker], of Missouri, is the chairman of that committee. Perhaps you would like to know how he stands on the suffrage question?

Dr. SHAW. No; we are not so much concerned in knowing how the chairman stands as we are in that the committee will let Congress know how the country stands. May I ask the gentlemen who objected to the point made by Miss Addams in regard to the enfranchisement of Indians, stating that this was done under Territorial regulation, if it did not also apply to Indians living in States, like New York and Massachusetts? Were those Indians not recognized as citizens?

Mr. HARDWICK. Congress could never have conferred the right to vote in New York. It may have conferred the right of citizenship, but the right to vote has nowhere been conferred by congressional action in any State of the Union. However, there are some inhibitions in the Federal Constitution against withholding the right to vote.

The CHAIRMAN. Under the present terms of the Constitution, if Congress should conclude to take charge of the election of Representatives and Senators in Congress, could Congress enact a law conferring the elective franchise on women as well as men?

Mr. HARDWICK. That might be possible, although I would say that is a question which raises the constitutionality of that proposition.

Mr. POU. I would like to ask Dr. Shaw just one question. Did I understand you to say a moment ago that you would be entirely satisfied if this committee should arrange under the rules of the House to specifically give to the Committee on the Election of President, Vice President, and Representatives in Congress jurisdiction over the woman-suffrage question? I consider that this is a serious matter, and my own inclination is to give to the question a fair consideration, and I would like to find out specifically whether or not it would be entirely satisfactory to you.

Dr. SHAW. I have not consulted with the other members of my board, or with our convention, but I am quite sure that we would agree that whatever committee was given us should be a committee [page 6] which had sufficient time and considered the question of sufficient importance to give it sufficient time so that we could have a clear discussion of the matter.

The CHAIRMAN. Since that question has been raised, I think we should be perfectly candid about it. That committee is composed of 13 members, I think, and is not a busy committee at all. They meet infrequently and would have an abundance of time to consider the question, and the Committee on Rules will seriously submit the question to you and your executive board, whether or not that would be acceptable to you, for the reason that it is a committee that is not very busy and has jurisdiction, or may be given jurisdiction to specifically recognize that subject.

Dr. SHAW. Will you permit me to ask you to defer action as to that until I have consulted with my associates?

The CHAIRMAN. Certainly.

Mr. POU. We would like to know whether or not it would be as satisfactory to you ladies to confer that jurisdiction on the committee that the chairman has mentioned, as it would be to ask for a new committee.

Dr. SHAW. Immediately after the close of the hearing I will try to consult the members of my official board, and as many members of the convention as we can, and give you a reply.

Mr. LENROOT. In that connection, you or your board may not be aware of the fact -- I think it is a fact -- that the present committee is treated as a minor one. I believe that is the fact.

The CHAIRMAN. Oh, yes.

Mr. HARDWICK. On the contrary, during this session -- I served on it eight years, and it is really a very important committee.

Mr. LENROOT. Then I will withdraw that statement.

Mr. CAMPBELL. I was just going to suggest that it will be a very busy one if it takes up the suggestion made by the President yesterday with regard to nominations of candidates for President and Vice President. That is a question of sufficient importance to require a large portion of their attention.

The CHAIRMAN. I will state, Dr. Shaw, that the House is a little averse to creating new committees. They abolished six or eight some time ago, but if this committee has the time they might have an additional force -- clerical force, and so forth -- to go ahead with the work that they would be called upon to do if this jurisdiction was given them.

Dr. SHAW. Of course, Mr. Chairman, the time has come when the committee which takes up our question should not be a minor one -- a committee that never meets, a dead committee, or anything of that sort -- and I assure you that the committee that has it will be alive if there is any power in women to quicken their spirit. We had intended to introduce a gentleman in the middle of the list here, but he is evidently busy now, but will be in later. Judge Raker, of California, was to speak at this point, but he will probably be in a little later, so I will introduce next Mrs. Desha Breckinridge, whose great-grandfather was one of the greatest statesmen that was ever born in the United States or anywhere else. Mrs. Desha Breckinridge is the great-granddaughter of Henry Clay, and therefore we were very glad to have a descendent of Henry Clay speak in behalf of justice for the womanhood of America.