Abolitionist Movement as a school of human rights
Abolitionist Movement as a school of human rights
For Angelina Grimke Document:
1. Why does Grimke refer to the Abolitionist Movement as a school of human rights?
2. What does Grimke say about women’s rights?
For “Declaration of Rights and Sentiments”:
1. Why did they use the Declaration of Independence as the model for their Declaration? (in other words, why does theirs so closely resemble the wording of the Declaration of Independence?)
2. Of the specific issues that they raised in talking about women’s oppression in the mid-nineteenth century, are any relevant to today?
“Human Rights Not Founded on Sex”
Grimke Public Letter to Catharine Beecher
August 2, 1837
Answering Beecher’s Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism, which appeared in March 1837, Angelina in the summer of 1837 composed a series of let¬ters that defended the activism of antislavery women. Her twelfth letter ad¬dressed the issue of women’s rights. It would seem that Beecher’s goading pushed her, and other militant abolitionists after her, into an increasingly open feminist position stressing the essential similarity of men and women and their rights and duties.
Published individually in The Libera¬tor, her letters appeared in book form in 1838.
Since I engaged in the investigation of the rights of the slave, I have nec¬essarily been led to a better understanding of my own; for I have found the Anti-Slavery cause to be the high school of morals in our land – the school in which human rights are more fully investigated, and better understood and taught, than in any other benevolent enterprise. Here one great fundamental principle is disinterred, which, as soon as it is uplifted to public view, leads the mind into a thousand different ramifi¬cations, into which the rays of this central light are streaming with brightness and glory. Here we are led to examine why human beings have any rights. It is because they are moral beings; the rights of all men, from the king to the slave, are built upon their moral nature: and as all men have this moral nature, so all men have essentially the same rights. These rights may be plundered from the slave, but they cannot be alienated: his right and title to himself is as perfect now, as is that of Lyman Beecher: they are written in his moral being, and must remain unimpaired as long as that being continues. Now it naturally occurred to me, that if rights were founded in moral being, then the circumstance of sex could not give to man higher rights and responsibilities, than to woman. To suppose that it did, would be to deny the self-evident truth, “that the physical constitution is the mere instrument of the moral nature.” To suppose that it did, would be to break up utterly the relations of the two natures, and to reverse their functions, exalting the animal na¬ture into a monarch, and humbling the moral into a slave; “making the former a proprietor, and the latter its property.” When I look at human beings as moral beings, all distinction in sex sinks to insignificance and nothingness; for I believe it regulates rights and responsibilities no more than the color of the skin or the eyes. My doctrine then is, that whatever it is morally right for man to do, it is morally right for woman to do. Our duties are governed, not by difference of sex, but by the diversity of our relative connections in life, and the variety of gifts and talents committed to our care, and- the different eras in which we live.
This regulation of duty by the mere circumstance of sex, rather than by the fundamental principle of moral being, has led to all that multi¬farious train of evils flowing out of the anti-christian doctrine of mas¬culine and feminine virtues. By this doctrine, man has been converted into the warrior, and clothed in sternness, and those other kindred qual¬ities, which, in the eyes of many, belong to his character as a man; whilst woman has been taught to lean upon an arm of flesh, to sit as a soul ar¬rayed “in gold and pearls, and costly array,” to be admired for her per¬sonal charms, and caressed and humored like a spoiled child, or con¬verted into a mere drudge to suit the convenience of her lord and master. This principle has spread desolation over the whole moral world, and brought into all the diversified relations of life, “confusion and every evil work.” It has given to man a charter for the exercise of tyranny and selfishness, pride and arrogance, lust and brutal violence. It has robbed woman of essential rights, the right to think and speak and act on all great moral questions, just as men think and speak and act; the right to share their responsibilities, dangers, and toils; the right to fulfill the great end of her being, as a help meet for man, as a moral, intellectual and immortal creature, and of glorifying God in her body and her spirit which are His. Hitherto, instead of being a help meet to man, in the high¬est, noblest sense of the term, as a companion, a co-worker, an equal; she has been a mere appendage of his being, and instrument of his con¬venience and pleasure, the pretty toy, with which he wiled away his lei¬sure moments, or the pet animal whom he humored into playfulness and submission. Woman, instead of being regarded as the equal of man, has uniformly been looked down upon as his inferior, a mere gift to fill up the measure of his happiness. In the poetry of “romantic gallantry” it is true, she has been called the “last best gift of God to man;” but I believe I speak forth the words of truth and soberness when I affirm, that woman never was given to man. She was created, like him, in the image of God, and crowned with glory and honor; created only a little lower than the angels,-not, as is too generally presumed, a little lower than man; on her brow, as well as on his, was placed the “diadem of beauty,” and in her hand the scepter of universal dominion…. Let us examine the account of her creation. “And the rib which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.” Not as a gift-for Adam immediately recognized her as a part of himself-(this is now “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh”) – a companion and equal, not one hair’s breadth beneath him in the greatness of her moral being; not one iota subject to him, for they both stood on the same platform of hu-man rights, immediately under the government of God only. This idea of woman’s being “the last best gift of God to man,” however pretty it may sound to the ears of those who love to discourse upon the poetry of “5o¬mantic gallantry, and the generous promptings of chivalry,” has never¬theless been the means of sinking her from an end into a mere means – of turning her into an appendage to, instead of recognizing her as part of man – of destroying her individuality, and rights, and responsibilities, and merging her moral being into that of man. Instead of Jehovah being her king, her lawgiver, and her judge, she has been taken out of the ex¬alted scale of existence in which He placed her, and crushed down un¬der the feet of man….
Measure her rights and duties by the sure, unerring standard of moral being, not by the false rights and measures of a mere circum¬stance of her human existence, and then will it become a self-evident truth, that whatever it is morally right for a man to do, it is morally right for a woman to do. I recognize no rights but human rights–I know nothing of men’s rights and women’s rights; for in Christ Jesus, there is neither male or female; and it is my solemn conviction, that, until this im¬portant principle of equality is recognized and carried out into practice, that vain will be the efforts of the church to do anything effectual for the permanent reformation of the world. Woman was the first transgressor, and the first victim of power. In all the heathen nations, she has been the slave of man, and no Christian nation has ever acknowledged her rights. Nay more, no Christian Society has ever done so either, on the broad and solid basis of humanity. I know that in some few denominations, she is permitted to preach the gospel; but this is not done from a conviction of her equality as a human being, but of her equality in spiritual gifts – for we find that woman, even in these Societies, is not allowed to make the Discipline by which she is to be governed. Now, I believe it is her right to be consulted in all the laws and regulations by which she is to be gov¬erned, whether in Church or State, and that the present arrangement of Society, on those points, are a violation of human rights, an usurpation of power over her, which is working mischief, great mischief, in the world. If Ecclesiastical and Civil governments are ordained of God, then I contend that woman has just as much right to sit in solemn counsel in Conventions, Conferences, Associations, and General Assemblies, as man -just as much right to sit upon the throne of England, or in the Presidential chair of the United States, as man….
I believe the discussion of Human Rights at the North has already been of immense advantage to this country. It is producing the hap¬piest influence upon the minds and hearts of those who are engaged in it; … Indeed, the very agitation of the question, which it involved, has been highly important. Never was the heart of man so expanded; never were its generous sympathies so generally and so perseveringly excited. These sympathies, thus called into existence, have been useful preser¬vatives of national virtue. I therefore do wish very much to promote the Anti-Slavery excitement at the North, because I believe it will prove a useful preservative of national virtue….
The discussion of the wrongs of slavery has opened the way for the discussion of other rights, and the ultimate result will most certainly be “the breaking of every yoke,” the letting the oppressed of every grade and description go free -an emancipation far more glorious than any the world has ever yet seen, an introduction into that liberty wherewith Christ hath made his people free….
ANGELINA E. GRIMKE
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