To All Men and Women: A Call to the Caucus

Utah’s political caucuses take place this week: tonight for Democrats and Thursday for Republicans. If you have never been to a caucus, please come to increase your part in self government. If you have attended before, come to lend your strength. These two nights are what it’s all about—the vote before the vote. Opponents of the neighborhood voice say there is little participation in caucuses. Prove them wrong.

A major talking point of Count My Vote was the decreased political participation of women. This has been a state and national concern—a long-standing irritant, with charges that the Founders were sexists in not granting women the right to vote. It is, in fact, politically correct to make that accusation, but the facts don’t agree.

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution gave women the vote (suffrage) in1919. Unfortunately, it also took from the states their constitutional right to set voting policies, which increased voracious federal control. The states were moving forward in this area, as they should. Western states had given women the vote decades before: Wyoming in 1869, and Utah officially in1896.

If we judge the past by the present, we mistakenly overlook cultural differences and can brand women’s earlier non-voting status as discrimination. Not so. In early America’s world of intact families, most women, centered on the home, were politically uninvolved by choice. The male, as head of household, voted for the family. Women’s entry into commercial life was decades away, and the flood of single parent families, supported by big government “daddy” and its welfare checks, did not explode until Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1968 Great Society. Both led, inevitably, to suffrage for women.

While early American women played a limited role outside the home, the impression that they were unequal (and thus kept from voting by discrimination) is challenged by Frenchman Alexis de Toqueville’s fascinating description of America and its women in the early 1800s. He related that American men esteemed their female counterparts and “constantly display an entire confidence in the understanding of a wife…her mind is just as fitted as that of a man to discover the plain truth and her heart as firm to embrace it.”

De Toqueville’s important writings give a consistently invaluable picture of colonial America. He shows the equal worth given to both genders and compares this with the European movement to “make men and women into beings not only equal, but alike”, to give both the same functions, rights, and duties, which he said would leave both “degraded”. He disclaims our modern charge of discrimination against women when he says: “The Americans do not think that men and women have either the duty or the right to perform the same offices, but they…consider them…of equal value…(and) believe the understanding of the one to be as sound as that of the other.”

His explanation of American families in the 1800s clarifies their voting policies: “every association must have a head in order to accomplish its object and that the natural head (of the family)… is man.” He continued: “I never observed that the women of America consider conjugal (marriage) authority as a …usurpation of their rights nor …thought themselves degraded by submitting to it. It appeared…they attach a sort of pride to the voluntary surrender of their own will…it is not the practice…to clamor for the rights of women.”

The right to vote was not an issue among most early American women. It was in this spirit that the constitutional right to vote was confined to males; not to exclude women, but place them in a voting team.
De Toqueville concluded: “If I were asked…to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of… (Americans) ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply, to the superiority of their women.”

In today’s world, we prize the insights, participation, and votes of women and men of all ages. We need all of us to participate is self-government. Join us this week at the caucuses. Utah needs your voice.