Post-Civil War & Reconstruction
Democrats, Republicans create breach
Women's rights & Black liberation, part 5
By Leslie Feinberg
In the late 1860s, the Democratic and
Republican parties--acting on behalf of differing economic
interests--tried to drive a deep wedge between the struggles
for Black liberation and women's suffrage.
The "hard-cop, soft-cop" roles of today's Republicans and
Democrats were reversed in that era. In "Market Elections--How
Demo cracy Serves the Rich," Vince Copeland explains that the
Republican Party of the Northern industrialists and bankers had
been the organizer of the Civil War and the leading advocate of
abolishing slavery. "Its smaller radical wing in Congress
identified itself to a great extent with the Black masses,
fighting hard but unsuccessfully for the division of the
plantations into free farms for the oppressed," he writes.
"The Democratic Party, on the other hand, had been the party
of reaction, the party of the slaveholders, and even in the
North was generally their ally," Copeland concludes.
The Republicans, eager to gain ascendancy by winning Black
voters, backed a 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution to
extend suffrage to Black men, but not to women. The Southern
former slave-owners, fearing the numerical and political
strength of the Black vote, offered white women the right to
Black leaders like Sojourner Truth, Frances Ellen Watkins
Harper and Frederick Douglass--who had worked hard for decades
to expand the rights of all women--called on white women
leaders to support the 15th Amendment as a first step toward
putting African Americans on an equal political status with
whites in a period of violent lynch-law repression.
In this decisive moment, two currents emerged among white
women struggling for suffrage.
Several of the most prominent, well-to-do white suffragists,
such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton--those most
recalled and honored today on minted coins and postage stamps
and March television programming--actively opposed the 15th
Amendment. They resorted to white supremacist arguments, which
can easily be found in the historic record.
Anthony actually campaigned against the 15th Amendment with
Democratic Party backing.
Standing tall for Black-white unity
But many, many white women who had been steeled in the
struggle against the patriarchs of property and power to win
Black liberation and women's rights did stand tall for
Abby Kelly Foster, an Irish-American leader of the early
women's rights movement, took on Stanton on the question of
Black men: "Have we any true sense of justice? Are we not dead
to the sentiment of humanity if we shall wish to postpone his
security against present woes and future enslavement till woman
shall obtain political rights?"
Frances Dana Gage also took on Anthony and Stanton. The
three were considered the triumvirate of white leaders for
woman's rights. "Could I with breath defeat the 15th Amendment,
I would not do it," she wrote. "It is my earnest wish that the
15th Amendment may be ratified."
Mary Ashton Livermore refused to publish in her newspaper
articles that Stanton and Anthony wrote calling for opposition
to the 15th Amendment.
After attending woman's rights conferences in Illinois,
Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Kansas and Wis con sin, Livermore
wrote in language that is moving, but dated: "The Western women
moving for woman's enfranchisement do not oppose the 15th
Amendment. We have never heard it opposed at a Western women's
meeting, in a single instance. Western women comprehend that
humanity is one-- that the colored man cannot be elevated
without, at the same time, uplifting the colored woman--and
they see clearly that through the gap in the fence made by the
colored man, as he passes over into citizenship, all American
women will pass to the same destination."
Lucy Stone, who had bitterly opposed Douglass on this
question earlier, also came over to support the 15th Amendment.
Stone introduced a resolution declaring women's support for the
amendment at a Woman's Rights Convention held in Chicago in
September 1869, asserting, "We rejoice in every extension of
When the resolution passed with only two dissenting votes
she observed that this consensus was "an accurate expression of
the feeling of the woman's suffrage advocates in regard to the
15th Amendment. Not one in a thousand of them is opposed to it.
On the contrary, they know that Negro men, and all women,
suffer a grievous, common wrong; and are glad when either
class, or individuals of either class, can escape from it. Let
the friends of both causes cheerfully give each other credit
for real facts. Each bitterly needs all the help of the
When the 15th Amendment was adopted into the Constitution on
March 30, 1870, even amidst the cheers of victory Frederick
Douglass rallied for a campaign to win a new amendment that
would extend suffrage to all women.
Douglass praised Victoria Claflin Woodhull for the support
she'd given the struggle to get the amendment passed.
In May 1872, Woodhull was nominated for president of the
United States by the Equal Rights party, a split-off of the
socialist International Work ingmen's Association. At her
suggestion, Frederick Douglass was nominated to run for
vice-president on the same ticket.
Historian Philip S. Foner wrote that, "Victoria Woodhull
felt that woman suffragists in the Stanton-Anthony camp had
been wrong in splitting with Douglass, whom she admired and
respected, and that the movement would be benefited by
reuniting the woman's struggle with the Negro's cause."
Unholy alliance between masters
But those who struggled for Black freedom and women's
rights--and all who fought for economic and social
justice--came up against a formidable new enemy alliance.
The former Southern slave-owners, desperate to unleash
all-out counter-revolution to overturn Black Reconstruction,
found a class ally in the Northern capitalists.
Once capital was free to expand westward, the monarchs of
money formed a partnership with the old kings of cotton,
helping them swindle freed slaves out of the promise of "40
acres and a mule."
In 1877 the Northern capitalist class withdrew its federal
troops from the South--the last time in this country's
pre-imperialist history that the military could have played a
The Emancipation Proclamation, inked on Jan. 1, 1863, had
mandated that the U.S. government-and the entire military--must
maintain the freedom of former slaves, and "will do no acts to
repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may
make for their actual freedom." And the proclamation also
specifically spelled out the right of African Americans to
self-defense against violence.
But the 1877 Compromise left the largely unarmed former
The political harbinger of this treachery was the
Tilden-Hayes betrayal of 1876--a vote-switching election rigged
particularly against Black voters. It was the political
handshake of the Republicans with the Dixiecrat Southern
Copeland stresses, "Both Republican and Democratic parties
were, from then on, the exclusive parties of U.S. big business
with no other significance (besides the enrichment of
professional bourgeois politicians) than to continue the rule
of big business with one or another reformist or reactionary
Capitalism was rapidly reaching a new stage of development,
one that would leave its impact on all movements for social and
Next: Rise of Rambo.
Reprinted from the April 15, 2004, issue of
Workers World newspaper
This article is copyright under a Creative
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