HC Deb 26 April 1876 vol 228 cc1658-744

Order for Second Reading read.


in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said: Sir, I have to make an announcement which I think will be acceptable to the House—namely, that I do not intend to make a long speech. Last year, when I introduced the question for the first time in a new Parliament, I thought it necessary to go into argument and details at some length; but the subject is now no longer new to the House, and I do not believe that anything new can be said upon it, either by those who support the Bill, or by those who oppose it. The only novelty I am aware of in connection with this matter since I last addressed the House on the subject, is the formation, or the attempted formation, of a committee or association of certain hon. Members of Parliament, who were so frightened at the progress that this question was making in the country, that they bound themselves by a solemn league and covenant to endeavour to save the ark of the Constitution from the sacrilegious hands of audacious women. I find that in the month of May last, at a meeting held in the House of Commons, the right hon. E. P. Bouverie in the chair, it was resolved— That a committee of Peers, Members of Parliament, and other influential men, be organized for the purpose of maintaining the integrity of the franchise in opposition to the claim for the extension of Parliamentary suffrage to women. That committee has, I believe, been formed; but, certainly, it cannot say, "Trecenti juravimus," for I do not believe that it ever numbered 30, and I doubt whether it has numbered twice 13. These champions of men's might against women's rights have, unless I am misinformed, failed as egregiously as Don Quixote, when he tried to found a new order of chivalry, and could only get Sancho Panza on his donkey to be his follower. But if they have not failed, I ask the House what has been the result? Has one single meeting been held against the principle of the Bill? Not one. Has there been a single Petition presented to this House against the Bill? Not one. On the contrary, in favour of the Bill crowded meetings have been held in every large town in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and by large majorities, or rather unanimously, resolutions in favour of the Bill have been enthusiastically adopted. This Bill is a measure for giving women the electoral franchise—unmarried women—widows and spinsters. It was first introduced, if I remember rightly, in 1866. The number of persons presenting Petitions in its favour in 1867 was 13,000, and last year in the month of August they amounted to 415,000;while, in the present year, up to the month of April, the number is 356,000. I am quite willing that the value of these Petitions should be tested according to the maxim Testimonia non sunt numeranda, sed ponderanda. The Petitions have been signed by persons of every class, description, and character. Among the signataries are Peeresses and commoners, naval and military men, landed proprietors and commercial traders, and a larger proportion of the middle classes, than have been willing to sign Petitions in favour of any other measure for the last 20 years. Among those who have signed the Petitions there are numerous Professors of the Universities and distinguished authors. I may mention one Petition that has been presented this morning by my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Spencer Walpole). That is signed by 15 Professors, by 9 Fellows of Trinity College, and by 23 other Fellows, making a total of 32 Fellows of the different Colleges. This shows that the measure is not approved of merely by a few agitators—by a few persons who make themselves conspicuous by getting up agitations—but the principle of the Bill has permeated through all grades and ranks of society throughout the length and breadth of the land, and has commanded a general if not a unanimous approval. I may also mention, as a noteworthy fact, that a gratifying change has taken place in the tone of the public Press on this subject. There are many journals of great influence and wide circulation which openly espouse the movement, and of those which oppose it, there is hardly one that does not do so in a serious manner, no longer trying to treat the subject with ridicule instead of argument. I cannot refrain from expressing my satisfaction at the tone of the debate which took place in this House last year. It was, with one notable exception, worthy of the first deliberative Assembly in the world, an Assembly of Gentlemen; and with that one exception, which is not likely to be repeated to-day, there was no attempt to make buffoonery pass for wit, or offensive assertion do duty for argument.

Now I will briefly advert to the arguments on which I rest the principle of my Bill, and I will also glance at the objections which are urged against it. First of all, I say that taxation and representation ought to be reciprocal and correlative—that is to say, that no class of persons in this country ought to be taxed unless they have also the privilege of voting for those who impose the burden of taxation. Now the only class in this country that is taxed without its consent, is that of women. If you take the case of agricultural labourers, they, as a class, are not excluded from the fran- chise, because any agricultural labourer, who by thrift and industry can raise himself to a position in which he can occupy a house with a rental of £14 or £15, so as to be rated at £12, is entitled to a vote. Beyond this, a vote may be exercised by a lunatic in a lucid interval, by minors when they have attained their majority, and by criminals who have served the period of their sentences; but women, who cannot change their sex, are, because they are women, for ever excluded from a share in the franchise. What, I ask, does the franchise really mean? It means the opportunity of giving a vote in the selection of a person to represent the voter in the House of Commons. The women, for whom I ask this privilege, may be landowners discharging all their duties as such and bearing all the burdens and taxation of rates incident to property. They may be shopkeepers in active business, dependent in many cases entirely on their own exertions. There is also a large number of female farmers and graziers in this country, and this class would be much more numerous than it is but for the fact that in many counties in England the widow of a farmer has no chance of carrying on his farm because she has no vote. The fact is, that the landlord wishes to have as much power over his property as he can, and he will not let his farm to the widow of a farmer, because thereby the voting power will be lost. No exception is made with regard to fiscal liability or the burden of taxation in favour of women. They pay their full share of rates and taxes as owners of property; they are bound by the provisions of the criminal law in the same way as men; and there is not a single exception, that I know of, made in their favour. We all know that, as regards offences against morality, women suffer much more than their fellow-offenders, who are men, for such offences, than falls upon male offenders. I will give an instance of the injustice under which women labour as ratepayers. Some years ago the borough of Bridgewater was thought to be so corrupt that a Royal Commission was sent there for the purpose of investigating the charges against it. The result was unfavourable to the borough, and the cost of the inquiry was thrown upon the town, the inhabitants of which, at least those who were ratepayers, were compelled to pay the expenses. The female ratepayers very naturally said— "Do not tax us, we have had nothing to do with the corruption that has been inquired into, we have no votes; why, then, do you punish the innocent with the guilty?" But what said the Home Secretary? He said—"You are ratepayers, and you must bear your burdens as ratepayers, innocent or guilty." The consequence was, that the female ratepayers of Bridgewater, who had no votes, and who had nothing to do with the corruption, were punished by having to pay the costs of the inquiry incurred by those who had been guilty of corruption. In fact, with regard to women we read the maxim "Qui sentit commodum sentire debet onus," in this way—"Quæ sent it onus non sentire debet commodum." Consider also our present legislation. We are not now engaged in heroic measures of organic change. The glory of our legislation is, that we are trying to improve the social position of the people. We are occupied day after day and night after night in discussing questions of education, of sanitary reform, of improving the dwellings of the people, of saving the lives and increasing the comfort of our seamen, and I want to know which of these questions can be said to have less interest for women than for the male population? Will you say that a woman is not as competent as a man to form an opinion on questions of health, of sanitary reform, and matters of that kind? If she is competent to form an opinion on matters that have to be discussed in this House, why is she to be deprived of a share in the choice of a Representative? The House will remember that my Bill does not propose to give seats in this House to women. Under it they will no more be able to sit in the House of Commons than English clergymen or Roman Catholic priests, who cannot sit although they have votes. Its object is not to enable them to legislate directly, but merely to give them a fractional share in the choice of those who are to represent them in Parliament. Will anyone tell me that women are not as good judges of character as men? Why, Sir, I saw in a newspaper, the other day, that certain male candidates, in a place where women had votes, were obliged to be withdrawn, because their character would not bear the scrutiny of women. I do not mean to say that any hon. Member of this House need be afraid upon that score, because the characters of hon. Members here are supposed to be spotless. But it shows that the purity of women, as intuitive judges of character, operates as an obstacle against the election of improper persons. Now I have said that all this Bill would give to women would be a fractional share in the choice of Representatives. Perhaps the House will be surprised to hear that the number it would add to the entire constituency of the country would not be more than about 13 per cent. This has been shown by statistics and figures which cannot be gainsaid or denied, and they have lately received a curious and important confirmation. There has recently teen published a Return of all the landowners in the Three Kingdoms, and from that Return I find that the entire number of landowners who own one acre and upwards is 269,547, and the number of women who are comprised in that list is 37,806, which is nearly one in seven, or something about 14 per cent. I cannot give you the exact number of the owners of land of less than one acre, because I have not taken the figures out; but there is no reason to suppose that the proportion of women to men in this class would be less than it is in the case of those who own more than one acre, and consequently the result would be that there are 137,000 independent landowners in this country who are women. Only think of this! There are 137,000 widows and spinsters who are owners of land, who are subject to all the burdens incident to the possession of property, who are discharging all the duties consequent on their position, and yet not one of them is possessed of the same privilege which is given to the drunken male occupier of a house in a borough, who pays 5s. towards the relief of the poor. Women do vote now at municipal elections, and I believe that since that measure was passed there has not been a single objection to the way in which they have exercised their votes. We know also that women have votes for and may act as guardians of the poor. We know likewise that they vote for members of school boards, and that they can also sit at school boards, which is going much farther than I propose to go by my Bill. I will read to the House an extract from a Petition which has been presented to the House by the Vestry of St. Pancras. They pray that the Bill may pass, and they say— Many of the women in this parish have given much attention to matters of Imperial and local importance, and take considerable interest in the election of various local bodies, such as school boards, vestries, and boards of guardians, and in all such elections they are entitled to the same privileges as men; and in the late election for members of the school board 827 voted in this parish. I might advance other arguments in favour of the principle for which I contend, but I will content myself at the present moment by reading a passage that was made in this House a few years ago by the present Prime Minister—a speech which seems to me to be unanswerable. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said— I say that in a country governed by a woman, where you allow women to form part of one of the Estates of the Realm—I allude to Peeresses in their own right—and where they have power to hold manorial courts, and may be elected as churchwardens or overseers of the poor, I do not see, where a woman has so much to do with the Church and with the State, on what reason, if you come to right, she has not a right to vote. If any right hon. Member of the front Treasury Bench—the usual occupants of which, by the way, are conspicuous by their absence—should rise for the purpose of opposing my Bill, I hope he will try to answer the arguments of the Prime Minister.

I will now deal very shortly with the objections to this measure. The first objection that used to be urged has now been abandoned. It used to be said that women are so much inferior in point of intellect to men that they could not be trusted with a vote. This objection is never urged now. During the debate in this House last year not a single Member ever alluded to it; indeed, it is too absurd to be advanced at the present day. When we look at the literature of our time; when we see the activity and ability of female pens; when we see women foremost in all works of benevolence and charity, not merely by contributing the contents of their purses, but also by originating schemes, such for instance as that of female emigration; when we find them doing work which, a few years ago, very few men were competent to do, because they were not then accustomed to the machinery, I say it is absurd to maintain that women intellectually are not equal to men, and therefore are not fitted to exercise the franchise. All I ask by this Bill is that they should be allowed to exercise a voice in choosing a person to represent them in the House of Commons. Can you say that women are naturally unfit to exercise that privilege? I say they are not naturally unfitted for it, and if they are unfitted, it is because we have made them so by our legislation. I think that the body of women might address each hon. Member of this House in the words of Milton— Accuse not Nature: She hath done her part; Do thou but thine. I do not say that there are not foolish women, and I can only give for this the same explanation as the immortal Mrs. Poyser, who said—"I am not denying that some women are foolish; God Almighty made them to match the men." But it is said that this Bill is an innovation. But that objection has little weight with me. When a measure is proposed, I ask myself not whether it is new, but whether it is right. Just consider where we should be if we were influenced by this argument. Take the last 50 or 60 years. Was not the Emancipation of Slaves an innovation? Was not the Reform Bill an innovation? Was not Household Suffrage an innovation? And were not the Ballot, and the granting of municipal franchise to women also innovations? Well, I want to know whether is there a single Member of this House who would wish to reverse the hand of the clock of time and go back to the state of things which legislation on those subjects has put an end to? We have had the experience and the benefit of those innovations. Everything must have a beginning. Sketch back the series of precedents, as far as you like, and you will at last come to a first precedent, which is an innovation. It would take more time than I can spare to explain the reason why the enfranchisement of women has been so long delayed. But I will briefly say that the position of woman towards man has, until a comparatively late period, been that of a subject and subordinate class. Their education has been shamefully neglected, and we have been content rather with a few superficial and showy accomplishments than the healthy culture of their understanding. I do not allude to cases in which women have won for themselves as high a niche in the temple of fame as men—to astronomers, such as Mrs. Somerville; or to authors, such as Charlotte Bronté, and George Elliot. But I would ask you to remember the number of books of history, biography, science, and art that have been written, and the practical questions that have been discussed, as well as the mode in which they have been discussed, by women. Depend upon it, the more we recognize the political and social rights of women, the more we shall advance in the progress of civilization. I will quote a passage from the work of a thoughtful and philosophic writer—Sir Henry Maine—who, in his Early History of Institutions, has said— It will probably be conceded by all who have paid any attention to the subject, that the civilized societies of the West, in steadily enlarging the personal and proprietary independence of women, and even in granting to them political privilege, are only following out still further a law of development which they have been obeying for many centuries. But, Sir, it has been asked, and the question deserves an answer—What are the wrongs of which women complain? What are the wrongs which we cannot redress? And what also is the help which women can give us in legislation? As regards the wrongs of women, my answer is—that it is wrong that any class in a free estate should be placed in the position of a political Pariah. Any class must feel that it would be a grievous wrong to be thought incapable of exercising a right which is conceded to the rest of the community. Let me carry your imagination back for a few years. Remember what was the law regarding property in the case of married women. A few years ago every married woman, unless she was rich enough and of sufficient rank to have trustees under a marriage settlement, was deprived of her property, which upon her marriage devolved upon her husband. The result was, that any poor woman, who by thrift and industry had acquired property, could have the whole swept away by a drunken husband, because in the eye of the law her earnings belonged to him. It was a long time, and not until after a great struggle, that this House remedied that abuse, and more remains to be done in the same direction. As the House is well aware, a woman cannot now by law appoint a guardian for her children. A man may appoint his wife as his children's guardian; but when he is dead, and she is on her death-bed, she cannot appoint even a brother or sister as the guardian of her child. Is this just? Is this fair? What I am about to mention is an instance of the social tyranny that prevails amongst the lower classes with regard to women, who are looked upon as inferior creatures, mainly on the ground that they are not allowed to possess political privileges. In 1849 there was an inquiry in reference to schools of design, and some questions were asked with regard to the way in which women are treated by their rival workmen. A question was put by my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge, to Mr. Minton, as follows:—"Am I correct in the information I have had, that in painting flowers females are not allowed the use of the rest for the arm?" The answer was—"Yes; the men have a rest, the women have not." The question was then put—"Can you give the Committee any reason for that?" The answer was—"It is an arbitrary rule just the same as that under which women are not allowed to use gold to gild." This was one of the rules adopted by the male workers, and the women having no voice in the formation of trade regulations had no option but to submit. It has been asserted that this practice has ceased to exist; but there is good reason to believe that it still remains in force, if not to its full extent, yet in a modified form. Secondly, as to the help which women can give in the treatment of questions with which the Legislature have to deal, I answer, that the object of my Bill is not to make women legislators, but to enable them to assist in choosing legislators. I believe that in this respect a woman is quite as likely to make a good choice as a man. Women are proverbially better judges of character than men, and character ought to count largely in the choice of a Representative in Parliament. If my Bill becomes law, 13 women for every 100 men will assist in the composition of the House of Commons. Are you afraid that that percentage will injure or deteriorate the body of men that sits within these walls? Will they be less intelligent, less logical, less eloquent, less independent? Are you afraid that they will be more senti- mental and less practical? For my own part, Sir, I confess that I should not be sorry if the intensely practical nature of our debates were now and then enlivened by a touch of sentiment, and something of the grace of rhetoric; but I have neither hope nor fear that the kind of men who will come here after this Bill has passed into a law, will be at all different from what they are now. The local magnate, the wealthy manufacturer, the opulent trader, the rich brewer, the large landowner, will still be the favourite candidate, as is generally the case at present. But the advantage will be this. In the first place you will have removed a wide-spread feeling of discontent at what is thought to be political injustice, and you will have forced upon the attention of candidates questions which affect the interest and happiness of one half the population of the Kingdom. But the real objection to this measure, and the one which is at the foundation of all others, is a feeling of sentiment. It is thought that for women to exercise the franchise is unfeminine—they ought to have nothing to do with politics, but leave them to the coarser and rougher nature of men. Let me examine this objection a little closely, for, if it can be got over, there is hardly any other that deserves even attention. And first let me say that I freely admit that public display and platform agitation are not the proper sphere of women. I think that retiring modesty and unobtrusive gentleness are their peculiar charm. And I confess I shall be glad when the time has come when it will be no longer necessary for women to appear at public meetings, and make speeches in vindication of their claims to a share in the electoral franchise. But observe the dilemma in which they are now placed. If they absent themselves from these meetings, and their voices are mute, it would instantly be said that they do not care for the suffrage, and I should be told that I was advocating the cause of clients who were themselves wholly indifferent about the result. I remember when I was a boy I was often placed in a cruel dilemma by the inexorable logic of my nurse, who told me that "those who ask shan't have, and those who don't ask don't want." If women are silent on this subject, they are said to be hostile or indifferent, and if they speak they are said to be unfeminine. But consider for a moment what the possession of the franchise really means. It means that on an average, once in five years, a woman who is an independent householder, paying rates and taxes, shall have the opportunity of affixing a cross to a piece of paper, and dropping it quietly behind a screen into a box. How can this possibly change her nature and unsex her character? I agree that if we had not the Ballot something might be said about the unpopularity which a woman might incur in voting for a particular candidate, and the possible persecution that might follow when she had recorded her vote. But now she can vote as quietly and with as little inconvenience as if she were going to church or a meeting-house. Besides, we have the actual experience of what every year takes place at municipal elections and school boards, where local party spirit often runs high, and personal predilections come strongly into play; and I have never heard of the smallest evil having been the result of the exercise by women of the franchise they possess on those occasions. I have heard it said that if this Bill passes, married women will claim a right to vote, and their claim must be conceded when manhood suffrage is granted, so that in that event, as the female population exceeds the male by upwards of 300,000 souls, the pyramid of society will be inverted, and men will be governed by women. But, in the first place, unless you dissociate altogether the franchise from property, married women will never have the necessary qualification. Secondly, the number of those who think that a married woman should vote under any circumstances whatever is exceedingly small. Thirdly, you can always refuse to grant an unreasonable demand. There are only two other objections, which I will notice rapidly. It is said that women, if not actually, are virtually represented. But I thought that the doctrine of virtual representation had been long ago exploded. A hundred years ago it was contended that the American colonies were virtually represented in the House of Commons—and so it was gravely argued. We all know what was the result. It might just as reasonably have been asserted that the working classes need not have votes because they were virtually repre- sented in Parliament, inasmuch as their interests and the interests of employers of labour are in reality identical. But the franchise was given to them, and we know that the result has been that their wants and wishes are much better attended to in the House of Commons. Besides, even if it were true that women are virtually represented, that is no reason why they should not share in the franchise, unless on other grounds you can show that it is objectionable. But, in point of fact, they are not even virtually represented; for when a whole class is shut out from the electoral franchise, it stands to reason that their interests are likely to be neglected. The last objection which I shall notice is the favourite one that this is the thin end of the wedge, and that if women are allowed to vote, they will ask to sit in the House of Commons. Well, Sir, and suppose they do? Cannot we successfully oppose so preposterous a demand? Do you think that by adding 13 per cent to the male constituencies, men will be compelled to grant to women whatever some of them may be foolish enough to ask for? Will it not, on the contrary, be much easier to resist what is unreasonable when we have considered what is reasonable and just? Do you not think that we stand on firmer ground to refuse it, if a cry for manhood suffrage were to be got up in the country, now that we have granted Household Suffrage, than if we had excluded the great mass of the working population from the franchise? I have said nothing in my speech as to how this question might influence the balance of Parties. I should be ashamed to have done so, for this reason, that I do not think any of us have a right to support or oppose this measure simply because it may in one way or another affect the balance of Party. I do not know how it would affect the balance of Party. I believe you would find as great a divergence of opinion among women on political questions as among men: but however that may be, I say it would be wrong to oppose a measure simply because, in extending the franchise, it would affect the balance of Party, unless the measure in itself is wrong. I entirely agree with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), who, when arguing the ques- tion of the enfranchisement of the agricultural labourers, said— For anything I know, a good many agricultural labourers may vote against us; but of all considerations which should influence public men, I think that of the immediate Party effect of a measure is the one we ought to entertain least. I think honesty is the best policy in this as in many matters."—[3 Hansard, ccxxv. 1073.] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich said, a few years ago, in speaking on the same subject— I would set aside altogether the question whether the adoption of such a measure as this is likely to act in any given sense upon the fortunes of one political party or the other. It would be what I may call a sin against first principles to permit ourselves to be influenced by any feeling we might entertain on such a point. I entirely agree with the two right hon. Gentlemen. We have nothing to do with the Party consequences of this measure; we have merely to decide whether it is right in itself. I shall detain the House no longer, but, thanking it for the attention with which it has heard me, I now move the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. W. Forsyth.)


I feel that in moving the rejection of this Bill it may be considered presumptuous on my part to undertake such a task on the first occasion on which I have ventured to raise my voice in this House, but I have been urged to do so by those whose opinions on such a subject I am bound to respect. I have listened with great attention to the speech of the hon. and learned Member who moved the second reading of this Bill (Mr. Forsyth), and I have failed to detect any argument which has not been advanced over and over again by hon. Members who have supported the measure on one or other of the almost innumerable occasions when it has previously been before the House. This measure has been so often debated on former occasions, pro and con, by learned politicians, eloquent speakers and practised debaters on both sides of the House, that it would ill become me to venture to travel over the ground they have occupied so well. My observations, therefore, will be extremely brief. I shall confine myself to one or two plain facts which appear to me to warrant the House in rejecting this measure yet again. I will first refer to the argument that has been referred to this afternoon by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone in support of the Bill—namely, that women who hold property, who have to undertake the duties to which the possession of property is incident, and who contribute to the taxation, ought to have a vote in the election of the Representatives who frame the laws which regulate that property, and who control the expenditure of the taxes to which they contribute. The second argument I shall allude to is that which says that women not being directly represented in this House, the laws relating to subjects in which women are particularly interested do not have due consideration from hon. Members of this House who belong exclusively to, and are elected entirely by, the male sex. Such laws have been specially referred to as the laws relating to marriage, to divorce, and to the custody of children. Now, Sir, as regards the first argument, it appears to me that unless it can be proved—and if I understood the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Marylebone aright, he denied that it could be proved—that the effect of giving widows and spinsters the franchise would be to bring an accession of wisdom to the Legislature; or, if women's property is subject in any way to laws different from those which regulate the property belonging to the male sex, I fail to see how this measure can benefit the female sex in any way. For selfish motives alone, if for no other reason, the male sex frame as good laws as it is possible for human ingenuity to devise for the management of property and the control of the expenditure of the taxes to which women, as well as men, contribute, and as women's property is under the same law as that which regulates the property of men, I say that what is "sauce for the gander" ought to suffice also as "sauce for the goose." When this measure was first introduced into this House, married women were also intended to be enfranchised. But, Sir, when it was found that one of the most convincing arguments, on the part of the opponents of the measure, was that to give the fran- chise to married women would be to upset the natural and social relations of married life, and disturb all that harmony which ought to prevail in the married state, this part of the Bill was dropped, I presume, as "sop to Cerberus," and now the House is asked to accept it in its modified form. But, Sir, when that part of the subject was dropped, if I remember rightly, it brought down a perfect storm of abuse and vituperation on the devoted head of the hon. and learned Member who has charge of the Bill from those—and they were chiefly women—who advocated the measure outside this House. Now, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Marylebone has distinctly repudiated the idea of wishing to give the suffrage to married women. But, Sir, if the possession of property and the payment of taxes be admitted as a reason why widows and spinsters should have votes, how is it possible to exclude married women? If we are to give the suffrage to widows and spinsters, why should those women, who fulfil their duty by becoming wives and mothers, be debarred from that which widows and spinsters are permitted to possess? Why should unmarried women be supposed to be and be permitted to have something better than their married sisters? The distinction seems to me to be highly indefensible, and if this Bill is passed, it is positive that the votes of married women must follow. But with regard to the second argument, that the laws relating to the female sex do not have due consideration in this House, this appears to me to be a still stronger argument in favour of extending the suffrage to married women, for at any rate as regards those laws to which I have alluded, such as the marriage laws, the law of divorce, and the laws relating to the custody of children, married women surely have a far greater interest in, and must naturally have far greater knowledge of, such subjects than spinsters; and yet, although these arguments apply with ten-fold greater force to those who are to be excluded by this Bill from the possession of the suffrage, those women are to be classed, as has been said in a former debate, with lunatics, idiots, and minors. To come to another question which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Marylebone has alluded with great force; if women are to have a voice in the choice of Members, how is it possible, in conformity with the practice of Parliament, to prevent them being chosen as Members? Let us suppose for one instant that a constituency chooses to elect a lady to represent it in this House; let us suppose that she comes to the Bar of the House and demands to be admitted to these benches as Mr. O'Connell did nearly 50 years ago, how are we to make good our right to refuse her permission to sit and vote in this House? Besides, we must remember that a very few votes are sufficient to turn an election. The other day it happened that at a political conflict between two gentlemen who were of diametrically opposite political opinions, both were prepared to pledge themselves, in order to obtain the object they had in view, to vote for a measure which many hon. Members of this House regard as meaning nothing less than the dismemberment of the Kingdom. Therefore, it is perfectly easy for the House to conceive that at the instigation of a few ambitious women, hon. Members might be returned to this House pledged to support their claim to the right of sitting on these benches. If women were admitted to this House, what would be the result? The duties of government would be carried on in a far more impulsive, and in a far less rational manner than has hitherto been the case. But besides this, it behoves us to consider what would be the result of our legislation on those who come after us in times when our great grandsons may be occupying these benches. "Sufficient for the day is the evil there of is not a motto that ought to obtain credence in the House of Commons. The House is aware that the adoption of household suffrage in the counties has already been mooted. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), speaking the other day, alluded to that proposal as not only necessary, but as one that was likely soon to be realized. Now, Sir, as women are, as the hon. and learned Member has stated, in a large majority over the male sex, the Government of the country would, if they were admitted to the franchise, virtually be in the hands of the female sex. If this Bill be passed with the result I have tried to pourtray, though unfitted by nature, habit, or physical power for such a position, women will be placed in competition with men. What, then, would become of that refining and humanizing influence which is begotten of the respect and deference which now the stronger sex invariably pay to a woman? What, I ask, would become of that influence, strong though undefined, which women now so happily wield for good? For woman's sake, therefore, as well as for the general welfare of the country, I confidently appeal to the House to reject this measure once again by a large majority. I apologize to the House for having detained it so long. I sincerely thank the House for the kindness with which it has listened to me, in spite of my want of skill in expressing my views. I, however, feel very strongly on the matter, and it appears to me to be certain that if this Bill be passed, instead of the present beneficent arrangement under which, according to the plan of an all wise Providence, men and women work side by side in their own sphere, each combining with the other to produce that harmony which promotes the well-being of the home and family, and consequently of the nation, we shall inaugurate a new state of society where the two sexes, no longer distinct in their occupations, aims, and pursuits, will enter on an unequal struggle, in which be assured the weaker, the gentler, and the frailer sex will inevitably be the victims and the conquered. I beg to move the rejection of the Bill.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now" and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Viscount Folkestone.)


* Mr. Speaker, in rising to support the Amendment of the noble Lord, who has just addressed the House with so much marked ability, I am not insensible to the disadvantage under which I labour in having to occupy ground which has been already so well occupied by him, but I feel sure that the noble Lord will forgive me if to some extent I attempt to do so, with the view of still further strengthening the powerful defence which he has offered to the attacks of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Forsyth). Now, Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman concluded his speech by seeking to disarm opposition, upon the plea that this is no Party question. I can discern nothing in it about sewage, or about suet, or about Suez, so perhaps we are entitled to think that it is scarcely a subject for the Conservative Party to take up. But let me remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that his coadjutors in the country, and more especially the ladies, are endeavouring to convince the Liberal Party that it is a question for them to take up; and with such success that it has been already introduced into the extensive programme of the National Reform Union. By a course of reasoning which I am wholly unable to follow, but which has greatly impressed the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren), they are attempting to show that because some recent municipal elections have gone in favour of the Liberal Party, whereas the last General Parliamentary Election went greatly in favour of the Conservatives, and because women have votes at municipal, but not at Parliamentary elections, if we give votes to women, they will chiefly be cast upon the Liberal side. Now, if that be a specimen of feminine logic as applied to political questions, should we give votes to women, I pity the future of political questions. Why, women had just as much votes at municipal elections in 1874 as they have now; yet it is notorious that the municipal elections of 1874 went just as much in favour of the Conservatives as the Parliamentary elections went. And it is by reasoning like this that the ladies have imposed upon the venerable sagacity of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh; but then my hon. Friend is not the first strong man who has been shorn of his strength upon the lap of Delilah! Sir, I will not stop to inquire whether this measure will promote the selfish interests of this Party or of that. When there is no more to be said for a Bill than has been said for this by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the interests of both Parties are identical; they demand that both Parties should combine, as I expect that they will combine to-day, to give it a summary and signal rejection. Now, the hon. and learned Gentleman has spoken of the humble organization which has been formed within these walls to resist his measure; and unbounded is the ridicule which he strives to pour upon the little knot of hon. Members who have availed themselves of the simplest form of organization known, in order, if possible, to keep the Government of the country in the hands of men. But, notwithstanding the ridicule of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and without leave asked of him, those of us who think that whatever else the Government of the country should be, it must be manly and masculine; and whatever else should be the policy of the nation, it must reflect to the full the courage, the energy, and the intellect which belong to men, will still venture to combine, even although the immediate object of that combination be nothing more ambitious than to resist the eloquence of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and the periodical advances of that body-guard of beauty which attends him and his measure to the House. Sir, the hon. and learned Member has said a great deal about Petitions. I should have thought that if there be one place in the United Kingdom in which an hon. Member would care not to parade Petitions got up by an Association, that place would be the House of Commons; for there is no place in which the art and trade of petitioning is quite so well understood. But we have special knowledge of some of these Petitions. I have presented two Petitions to-day from the borough which I represent in favour of this Bill. As those Petitions only reached me on the eve of this debate, I have not been able to examine them. Last year, however, I presented a similar Petition, signed nominally by 6,000 persons, and that I was able to examine. I never presented so disreputable a Petition in my life. The Petition for the Claimant was a masterpiece of caligraphy in comparison with it. There were whole columns of name without a single signature. The Petition must have been hawked about the mills and signed by proxy for illiterate children who could not write their names. The House is not likely to be much impressed by such petitioning as that. I presented a Petition the other day from the Mayor, aldermen, and burgesses of Huddersfield in favour of this Bill. Now, I never heard of any enthusiasm in our town council in favour of women suffrage, so I took the trouble to inquire how many of the town council had voted for this Petition. The town council consists of 56 persons, of whom only 21 had voted for the Petition. Now, when we remember the kind of pressure which is brought to bear even upon Members of this House to support this Bill, and also that parties are evenly divided in the wards, and that women have votes at municipal elections, I think that we shall have no difficulty in discounting at their real value Petitions from town councils. Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman charges us with abandoning first this argument and then that; I reply that we have abandoned nothing, but, that, as a controversy develops itself, it is natural that we should lay greater stress at one time upon one set of considerations than we lay upon another. Perhaps, too, the opponents of this measure are gifted with a trifle more originality than appears to fall to the lot of its promoters. For I have observed that the hon. and learned Gentleman, when he addresses himself to this question, always speaks in stereotype, whether with the view of propitiating the reporters, or from a laudable desire to simplify reply on the part of those to whom his friends are in the habit of denying the faculty of reason. Indeed the arguments which he brings forward for his Bill are most of them neat importations from America, where the Woman's-Rights movement is no longer in the bud, as it is in this country, but is already full blown, and is diffusing, as I shall endeavour to show before I sit down, a very perceptible aroma. The hon. and learned Gentleman has also wished the House to infer that an argument upon which we have always laid some stress—the argument from immemorial usage—is worthless, because in some instances, and notably with respect to slavery, we have set it on one side. But, Sir, nobody has said that the argument was conclusive. All that we have asserted is, that immemorial usage constitutes a very powerful presumption in favour of what is. And as to the taunt which my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright) has hurled at us—that such an argument has no right to come from this part of the House—I repudiate altogether the assumption upon which such a taunt is based. If to sit with Radicals is to turn one's back upon all history—if to be a Radical is to close one's ears to that voice which in every thoughtful man is always ringing in them—I mean the voice of the universal experience of mankind—all I can say is, that for one I must take an abrupt departure from these benches, and seek refuge in some part of the House in which, whatever else hon. Members may be, at all events they are not Radicals. But because with regard to some few questions—very few indeed compared with those which might have been raised—we have thought fit, after mature deliberation, to depart from the conclusions which were arrived at by our forefathers, to argue that we are therefore precluded from appealing to what always has been in England—and not only to what always has been in England to what always has been in Europe, and not only to what always has been in Europe, but to what always has been the whole world over—is not the kind of argument which I should have expected from my hon. Friend. Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman asserts that in giving the franchise to women in connection with the elections for school boards and municipal councils we have already conceded the principle of this Bill. That such a claim should be advanced in the face of repeated declarations—that those changes, if made, should not be regarded as precedents in this direction, is not a little surprising. But a moments consideration will convince the House that they are no real precedents at all. The school-board franchise was given to women almost without discussion, and because everybody felt that there was nothing unfeminine in a woman's assisting in the election of persons who were to superintend the education of girls. Besides, if this be a precedent, it is a precedent which proves too much. In school-board elections the right of voting implies, as it ought always to imply, the right of being voted for; and women are frequently returned to the school boards. But the hon. and learned Member kicks down his precedent with his own foot, for he says that he is inflexibly opposed to the return of women to this House. Again, with regard to the municipal franchise, let me remind the hon. and learned Member, who was not then in the House, that the municipal franchise was not given to women by a distinct and deliberate Act Act of Parliament, but by an Amendment slipped into the Municipal Franchise Bill at 2 or3 o'clock in the morning, when two-thirds of the House, myself, I must admit, included, were locked in the arms of slumber. And I fear that the House has never regarded municipal affairs in the exalted light in which they strike aldermen; but when we come to deal with the privileges of those who return us to this House, the case is very different, and rightly so, because no real comparison can be drawn between the petty controversies of town councillors and the Imperial debates of this House. When the hon. and learned Gentleman brought in his Bill last year he challenged us, if the women's municipal franchise were a mistake, to move for its repeal. That the hon. and learned Gentleman should have made such a suggestion betrays great familiarity with the rules which govern the policy of this House. It may very well happen that the inconvenience which generally follows each piece or even morsel of ill-considered legislation may ultimately compel the House to retrace its steps. But until there is no escape from such a course, the House will continue to stand by its acts. But, Sir, I will throw the hon. and learned Member a counter-challenge, which I venture to think much more appropriate, and it is this—if the municipal female franchise be not a mistake, why, instead of meddling with the Parliamentary franchise, does not the hon. and learned Member come down to the House with a proposal to extend the female municipal franchise to Scotland and Ireland? But, Sir, perhaps the main argument of the hon. And learned Gentleman is based upon the proposition that taxation and representation are reciprocal and correlative terms, and that, therefore, since women are taxed, they ought to have the vote. Now, I deny the proposition entirely. In this country, everybody is taxed; and the man who, in all probability, is taxed the most heavily is the man who has the least power of remonstrance: I mean the habitual drunkard. In a country in which every one is taxed, but only about one-fifteenth of the population, or one adult male in five, possesses the franchise, it is absurd to set up the bald proposition that taxation and representation are reciprocal and correlative terms. But the absurdity becomes all the more flagrant when we remember that, even in the exceptional cases in which the vote is possessed, the voting power of the individual bears no relation whatever to the amount of his contribution to the Exchequer; furthermore, that the same individual, if he happen to reside in one part of the country, exercises a hundred times the voting power which he would exercise if he happened to reside in another. I do not know the number of the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituents; but I will venture to say that each free and independent elector of Port arlington possesses a hundred times the voting power possessed by each one of the far-sighted politicians whose enlightened choice has fallen upon the hon. and learned Member. Now, what is the inference from all this? Why, that when we are dealing with that glorious masterpiece of wisdom and haphazard, which we call the British Constitution, we must not generalize too fast, and we must not theorize too violently. The same remarks apply to the assertion that the franchise is based upon the possession of property, or the payment of rates, or the headship of the family. If it be based upon the possession of property, it is the most iniquitous franchise as between man and man which ever existed, because the voting power of the elector bears no proportion to the amount of property which he possesses. If upon the payment of rates, it is the most illogical; for how can the discharge of a municipal obligation, which is already rewarded by a municipal vote, confer also a distinctly Imperial privilege? And if upon the headship of a family, how can the hon. and learned Gentleman demand it for spinsters, who ought to have no families at all? The fact is, that, by a rough-and-ready method—a method so rough and ready that it involves anomalies and inequalities which deprive the claim to vote of any symmetry in logic—you have contrived to give a general representation to the community—a representation which, on the whole, works well, because the community is, on the whole, homogeneous and penetrated by a sense of justice and fair play; but which would work execrably if the theory of the hon. and learned Member were the true one, and the community consisted of a variety of conflicting interests which were only restrained from over-reaching and demolishing one another because they were held in a state of numerical equilibrium. But perhaps I shall be told that this is not precisely the line of argument which was followed by some hon. Members who spoke from this part of the House when the great question of the franchise was last under discussion. Very likely, but I reply that it is impossible to look back upon any great controversy which has stirred the House, and which is already 10 years old, without being struck chiefly with one thing—I mean the high percentage of clap-trap which entered into the argument upon either side. Clap-trap is the faithful handmaid of reason; and, to judge from some speeches to which we listen, there are some hon. Members to whom the handmaid—and they have classical authority for the preference—is more attractive than the mistress. But, Sir, there was one argument which not even the piercing and solvent criticism of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London could altogether dissipate, and it was this—that, in every free country, there is in every man of quickened intelligence a sense which the spectacle of our whole public life is calculated to foster; that his status as a man, as a member of the great ruling sex, demands some recognition at the hands of the State; and that when that recognition is made through his enfranchisement a positive stigma is removed from his manhood, and he feels that he, too, has his manly part to play in public. But apply this argument to the case of women, and it disappears. No woman can feel a sense of inferiority as regards other women because she has not the vote, for the simple reason that no woman has the vote. Nor can any woman feel justly a sense of inferiority as regards men because she has not the vote, for to vote and to rule have never been the prerogatives or the ambition of the sex, and her relations with ours have always been of an entirely un political character. This is why nine-tenths of the women in the country either stand altogether aloof from this movement, or vehemently protest against the Bill. They know that their kingdom is not a political kingdom, and they have no desire to exchange the vast influence which they exert over our conduct, aye, over our legislation too, on the ground that they are to be cherished and protected, for the flimsy and tawdry boast, without one particle of force to back it, that they have become our political equals, and can protect themselves. And, Sir, in this relation, seeing my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester in his place—and no one rejoices more than I do to see him there again—I should like to say a few words with reference to a speech which my hon. Friend has recently made as President of the Women's Suffrage Association, and in which he paid me the compliment of passing in review some of the arguments by which I have been in the habit of resisting this Bill. My hon. Friend was especially hard upon what he called the "spherical argument"—the argument which is based upon the existence of a distinct sphere of duty for men and for women. I cannot help thinking that my hon. Friend's ridicule was a little misplaced. Instead of lavishing it upon me, he should have reserved it for the arrangements of Providence. If he is really prepared to dispute the existence of women's sphere, he ought also to be prepared with some new plan for the perpetuation of the species. Is there anything in the whole round of human duties which so moves our admiration and respect as the utter devotion of the true mother to her off-spring? But what say the advocates of women's suffrage? Women would not live as they now do, in this enlightened age, in violation of every law of their being," says Mrs. Stanton, at New York, "giving the very heyday of their existence to the exercise of one animal function, if subordination to man had not been made through the ages the cardinal point of their religious faith and daily life. Now, I dare say that I shall be accused of ribaldry in making this quotation, and commenting freely upon it. You are always accused of ribaldry when you say anything with reference to the obligations of the sex, which is distasteful to some women. I was accused of ribaldry when, on a former occasion, I ventured to hint at the inconvenience which would arise when women had seats upon the Treasury Bench, if, at some great political crisis, say when we were about to amplify the titles of the Sovereign, the Prime Minister had suddenly to forego the sweets of office for the sorrows of maternity; and I dare say that I shall be accused, of ribaldry now; but I will risk it, for, Sir, it is high time that some one who still believes in the sanctity of the family should speak out, whether the highest and noblest of women's duties be thus publicly flouted by a woman at New York, or whether the same thing be done in the covert and guarded, but no less mischievous, language of hon. Members who scoff at woman's sphere. And what is the argument upon which my hon. Friend relies to dispose of the "spherical theory"? Why, that there are multitudes of men and women—and he might have added children—who are engaged upon the same avocations. That is only saying that women are human beings, and have hands and feet. But I should like to ask my hon. Friend one question, and it is this—Has the attempt to assimilate indiscriminately male and female labour been a success? I never pass a gang of women sweltering in the fields—I never see women filthy and half-naked toiling upon the spoil-bank of a colliery—I never even watch the young mother lavishing upon the spindles the care and the health which God designed for her children—without thinking of my hon. Friend. We are told that there are little more than three millions of married women in this country. If that be so, why is it? It is because in some parts of the Kingdom the abuse of female labour has almost obliterated the home. Men will not marry women who know so little of household duties, and who have so few of the virtues which are essential to make home happy. What is the result? A bastard population is springing up, which is bound to society by no ties, while thousands upon thousands of intelligent and able-bodied men have left these shores in search of some country where the labour market has not been disorganized by the indiscriminate introduction of female labour. But my hon. Friend exults in all this. He seeks to crown this edifice of domestic disaster by still further unsexing women; and yet if there be anyone in this House the evidence of whose senses should have taught him how great is the demoralization which follows the abuse of female labour, one would have thought that it would have been the hon. Member for Manchester. It may be, Sir, that the employment of multitudes of women upon most unwomanly labour is one of the harsh necessities of our times, but it is a thing to deplore; it is not a thing to exult over; it is not a thing at which to point in triumph, and say—"The man who believes in the existence of two distinct spheres of human duty is an ignoramus or a dreamer." There is one man, Sir, who is an ignoramus or a dreamer—the man who can observe his own offspring, his own boys and girls, and not discern, almost from the cradle, a vast divergence in mental organization—a divergence which is enormously augmented by the development of sex. It is not the law of man the stronger, but the law of a stronger than man, which has consigned, and I may say, consecrated, woman to the family; while his superior strength and courage, his love of argument and conflict, and, if my hon. Friend will not quarrel with me for saying so, his masculine intellect, which summons man to the Forum and the Senate—there to exercise those manly faculties which God has given him for the management and the mastery of mankind. And, Sir, if the argument from natural right and so forth is disposed of, what remains? Is it possible to conceive anything more pitiable than the plea for pity which the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone has put forward to-day? He tells us that our legislation with respect to women has been, for centuries, the legislation of the strong over the weak; and the grand result of all these ages of oppression appears to be comprised in nothing worse than this—that in some schools of design, women are not allowed to use a rest in painting! Oh, yes! I forgot the grievance of farmers' widows. It is a great grievance that the widows of farmers are unable to hire or keep their husbands' farms, because they have no votes for the landlord to pocket. But when it is the object of the promoters of this Bill to show how many women are earning their own livelihood, they point in exultation to the fact that there are no fewer than 24,338 women who are farmers. But, mark the glowing inconsistency of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He demands the franchise for women, on the ground that women ought to have an independent voice; and, in the same breath, he demands it for them because it is a shame that they should not enjoy all the advantages of being coerced! And then there is the great Bridgewater grievance, which is duly paraded every year. Some ladies of Bridgewater protested against having to pay their share of the expense of a local election inquiry, on the ground that they had no votes, and had had nothing to do with the bribery. They might just as well have declined to pay their share of the expense of a local lunatic asylum on the ground that they were not lunatics. But, Sir, assuming that these grievances exist, how will the Bill before the House remove them? And if I wish to find an apt illustration of the bogus character of this Bill, and of the whole reasoning upon which it is defended, I have no further to go than to the only argument which is sufficiently plausible to have the least weight with the House. I mean the assertion that there are some millions of women in this country who are earning their own living, and that our legislation may interfere with their labour. We are told that, upon the common principles of justice and of the British Constitution, we are bound to make them parties to that legislation. Why, then, in the name of justice and the British Constitution, do you not propose to make them really parties to it? Why do you only propose to enfranchise 1 woman in 40, of working women not 1 in 400;while man, the antagonist, man, the competitor, man, whose selfish interests are inimical to those of women, is enfranchised in the proportion of 1 in 5? There is no justice in your proposals upon your own grounds; on the contrary, there is the greatest possible injustice. For, granting the antagonism of the sexes, granting the competition between male and female labour, granting the power of this House to handicap the competitors, and granting that women must have votes in order that they may properly control the handicapping process in the House, how can you come down and propose the enfranchisement of 1 woman in 40 as that which is to enable woman to sustain the legislative balance between the sexes, to protect her labour, to rescue her property from our greed and her children from our custody? Either your premises are unsound or your conclusions are ridiculous; and these are the people who are going about telling everybody that it is we who cannot reason when we come to deal with this question, and that the monopoly of reasoning is with them. If this be reasoning, Sir, I hope that they will long enjoy the monopoly. But, Sir, if the Bill before the House is likely to be so completely inoperative, I may be asked why I take the trouble to oppose it. I oppose it upon two grounds: firstly, because, as I have attempted to show, taken by itself, it is an imposture; secondly, because, not taken by itself, but in connection with the principle which it is intended to affirm, it is one of the most dangerous and revolutionary measures which can be brought into the House. For what is that principle? The political equality of the sexes. What does that mean? It means that women are as well qualified, and as justly entitled as we are, to discharge all political functions, not merely electoral, but legislative, administrative, and judicial; it means, further, that all legislation which bars these careers to women is unjust; it means, further still, that all legislation which decrees the subordination of women to men in the normal condition of marriage is oppressive, and ought to be repealed. For how can you maintain the subordination of a sex which has been declared the political equal of the other? All reason and all justice would cry out against such oppression; and, accordingly, when we turn to lands in which the Women's Rights movement has shaken itself loose from the shackles of conventional prudence, we find the principle affirmed by this Bill carried out to its logical issue in the inexhaustible programme of the party. The difference between the advanced women of America and the hon. and learned Gentleman is this—that, granting the premises which they demand in common, the advanced women are logical, but the hon. and learned Gentleman is simply irrational. There is no woman who speaks from the platform of the Apollo Hall who would not scorn the feeble expression of women's rights which is comprised in the Bill of the hon. and learned Member; and justly, for no more cruel sarcasm could be flung at the sex than that which the hon. and learned Gentleman flings at them when he says "Woman is the political equal of man, therefore enfranchise 1 woman in 40, and she will be content." And in stating that this Bill would enfranchise 1 woman in 40, I should like to hear from the hon. and learned Gentleman whether I do not exceed the mark. No doubt, he is in possession of statistics which will show the amount of satisfaction and contentment which his measure will confer upon a grateful sex. If so, let us have them. The House would be glad to know what infinitesimal representation will satisfy the aspirations of the woman of Great Britain. But the woman of America demands the enfranchisement of half the American nation: she declares that she is bringing about a revolution greater than any religious or political revolution which the world has ever seen: she speaks of the accident of sex, and the superstition of marriage; and among those who write to the great congress at which these startling truths are propounded, heartily sympathizing with the object of the meeting, I find the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester.


I presume I may be allowed to make an explanation. My letter gave sanction to no object beyond that of the representation of women.


Speaking of my hon. Friend, and of the hon. and learned Gentleman who has charge of this Bill, the accomplished Editor of The Womens' Suffrage Journal asks us "What we may not expect from the combined efforts of two such champions?" There is one thing, Sir, which we may not expect, and that is anything like agreement upon the cardinal point which is raised by the proposal to enfranchise married women. My hon. Friend is evidently about to take part in the debate. If I am wrong, let him tell us, like the hon. and learned Gentleman, that he has no ulterior views; that he is "inflexibly opposed to the enfranchisement of married women;" that he has effected a political separation from the gifted and indignant lady who writes letters to The Times under his name. But if my hon. Friend shrinks from this avowal, if he tells us, as in conformity with his speeches elsewhere he is bound to tell us, that he is in favour of the enfranchisement of married women, then, Sir, when he rises, let him denounce, as he is bound to denounce, the sophistry, the mockery, and the imposture of a Bill which, while pretending to remove the electoral disabilities of women, leaves every woman, except the widow and spinster, out in the cold!


The noble Lord the Member for South Wilts (Viscount Folkestone) who has moved the rejection of this Bill went over old ground, and it was necessary, perhaps, that he should do so. He dwelt on the fact that the Bill would only enfranchise unmarried women; and this is the scope of the Bill. But it should be remembered that the promoters of the measure in this are only treading in the old lines of the Constitution. From time immemorial, when women have had votes—as they have in local elections—the rate book has been taken for the purpose of a register. This Bill takes a further step in the same direction, and uses the rate book as the register. In the elections for the school board there is an occasion when it would seem that married women, as the mothers of the children to be educated, should have votes, but there again Parliament decided to take the rate book as the register. In the course of his speech, the noble Lord said that the taxation of men and of women was the same, and he told us that, "sauce for the gander was sauce for the goose;" but he failed to show why in legislation dealing with property the "sauce for the gander" was not allowed to be "sauce for the goose." Of course, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham) has referred to Petitions presented in favour of the Bill. Now, I find that in looking at a Petition we are disposed to think favourably of it, or with disapprobation, according to whether it is in our favour or against us. It is the commonest thing in the world to speak slightingly of a Petition against us, or to refer with satisfaction to one that favours our views. But I will say that no class of Petitions brought to this House will bear a closer inspection than those presented on this subject. The hon. Member, referring to the clause conferring the municipal franchise upon women, spoke of it as an Amendment which was slipped into the Bill. But it was before this House for weeks, and it was considered by the Cabinet. It was passed not without discussion, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary making a speech in its favour. When it came before the House of Lords it met with opposition from Lord Redesdale, and Lord Cairns supported it. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield has done what has been done 50 times before by those who wish to bring discredit on questions in this House. Not finding matter for the purpose in England, he has travelled to America, and he gives us extracts from documents referring to the move- ment for the enfranchisement of women, of which I know nothing. It is an old trick, but I suppose it is used, because it is found to answer its purpose. I have been challenged to give my opinion on the subject. I have never concealed my opinion, and I do not wish to do so. I would give a vote to every householder in the Kingdom, man or woman. I would not stay to ask if a woman were married if I found her name upon the register, I should consider her as possessing the qualification, and I would give that woman a vote. If it be contemplated that some day the principal of manhood suffrage will be introduced, and that is the reason why there should be objection to this Bill, it is a reason with which I have no sympathy. I will not contemplate the time when a man only because he is 21, whatever may be his character, shall have the right to vote and every woman shall be excluded. The hon. Gentleman has referred to what I have heard called the "spherical argument." In reply to former speeches in this House, I have undertaken to show that men and women do not occupy different spheres, but that they intermingle in most of the pursuits of life. In art, in education, and in literature, and in many of the domains of labour this may be seen; and when my hon. Friend draws a picture of men and women working together in the degraded walks of life, I could show him a very different picture, with none of these degrading features. In Lancashire and such districts he might see men and women by the thousand, and the hundreds of thousands, working side by side at the same machinery. The speech of the hon. Member has tended to obscure a very simple question. Parliament has established various qualifications for counties and boroughs, the possession of any one of which enables a person to vote. Some 2,000,000 persons, by virtue of these qualifications, have claimed the vote, and have been admitted to the register; but there are 300,000 persons possessed of the same qualifications, who claim the right to vote and are contemptuously rejected, and yet he can give no sufficient reason for their rejection. They are many of them in possession of property and education. As to intellectual fitness, I will not discuss such a barren question; I will only say that among those whose claims have been refused a great number are en- gaged in important pursuits, and wage successful battle to support their families. They have enough intellectual qualifications to decide between the merits of two political candidates. If there is no doubt as to their intellectual fitness, what shall we say about their moral fitness? They are more temperate, more law-abiding, more frugal; they pay their rates and taxes with greater punctuality, and they are less often in the hands of the police than many of the enfranchised class. What reason then is there for the exclusion? The one thing put forward as a reason is—that they are women. There may be many men to whom this reason will appear all-sufficient. I can only suppose these are men whose experience of the other sex has been unfortunate—whose mothers, or wives, or sisters have happened to be weak, or ignorant, or selfish; but I am sure that amongst the Members of this House there has been a very different experience, and that there are those who are not contented with this answer as the country is not satisfied with it. The question, as the hon. Member ought to know, is growing throughout the country. I do not think you could call together a meeting in any part of the country of a thousand persons, where a resolution in its favour would not be carried. Allusion has been made to an association formed in this House for the purpose of opposing this Bill. I am disappointed to find this association is still-born. We understood it was to get up Petitions, and that it was pledged to obtain the opinion of the people. I am sorry this was not done. The promoters of this Bill have challenged the opinion of the country whenever the opportunity offered. Some 18 months ago a political congress was held in London. It was of a somewhat mongrel character, and there was only one subject upon which they were able to decide. After a long argument a resolution in favour of this Bill was carried. The National Reform Union is an association having many connections in the North of England. The association when settling the objects for which they should unite, brought this subject under discussion, and a lady present—a lady who bears an honoured name—Miss Sturge, of Birmingham, desired that the resolution should be expressed in accurate language, and moved an amendment that all householders should have a vote. Without discussion this was carried by a large majority. I was informed only last night by a gentleman from Birmingham of the feeling in that town. He said that twice in the Town Hall the Liberal Association had agreed to support this Bill by almost the whole of the meeting; and further that the committee of four hundred, embracing the most energetic men of the town, had at the last meeting agreed unanimously to petition Parliament in its favour. Again at King Edward's School, Birmingham (an institution well-known to many hon. Members), my informant tells me that everyone of the masters has signed a Petition in favour of the Bill. My hon. Friend has spoken on the subject in his personal character, and not as the Representative of the people of Huddersfield. The people of the borough are against him. [Mr. LEATHAM: No.] My hon. Friend has tried hard to convince his opponents; but, whatever success he may meet with in this House, he has failed to convince his own constituency. About six months ago, at Huddersfield, there was one of the largest meetings ever held in that borough. At the close of that meeting a resolution was moved, urging the Member for the borough to support this Bill. A friend of the hon. Member who was present—of course there were many of his friends present—I mean one of his political friends, did not like this Resolution, and tried to alter it, considering it was not fair to press their Member. But in the whole of that vast meeting there was not a single person to second the amendment, and the resolution was carried with that solitary dissentient. We often judge a cause by the kind of men put forward to defend it. Thus the fact that the agricultural labourers were able to find one of their number possessing the ability and moderation of Mr. Joseph Arch, did much to obtain for them respect in the eyes of the country. There are too many eminent women who have defended this cause for me to mention all of them, but among the names are those of Harriet Martineau, Mary Somerville, Florence Nightingale, and Frances Power Cobbe. These and many more have supported this Bill, and have signed Petitions to this House, and are not these ladies as likely to be right on this subject as the hon. Member for Huddersfield or the hon. and learned Member for Taunton? Do not they know the needs of their sex? There is another I may mention as a representative woman—the daughter of the senior Member for Birmingham. She has made a speech—which I daresay many hon. Members have read—which for political grasp, breadth of sympathy, and at the same time moderation of tone, has not been excelled, I will venture to say, by any Member of this House who has spoken in opposition to those who advocate this Bill. This is not the first time that fears have been entertained on the subject of an extension of the franchise, but those fears have generally found expression on the Conservative benches. Now, however, we hear them from this side of the House, below the Gangway. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield had great boldness in other directions. By a stroke of his pen, if he had the power, he would admit a million of the labourers of England, and half a million of those in Scotland and Ireland; he would give votes to a million and a half, many of whom are in a state of extreme poverty and great ignorance. But when asked to give the right to 300,000 persons, many of whom are not illiterate and poor, he becomes greatly alarmed. His political courage in other directions is well known. He can make clever speeches, I will not say they are always wise ones; he can make wild appeals for the disestablishment of the English Church. Now, I am in favour of the disestablishment and the disendowment of the English Church; but I look upon it as too great and momentous a task to be undertaken by a Prime Minister advanced in years. It requires time to ripen, and cannot be effected without delay; but my hon. Friend has courage enough to require it to be done on the spot. Among the farmers of the country an eleventh part are women. He would give their labourers votes, but he would deny votes to these women. One-seventh part of those owning landed property of one acre and upwards are women. I fail to see why we should deny the vote to those who own the soil and give a vote to those who cultivate it. The question of representation has been discussed in this House from time to time through the whole of this century. Usually hon. Members on this side have favoured such reforms, while opposition has come from those who now sit on the other side. It is curious to see the po- sition of parties with regard to this Bill, the reverse of what was usually the case. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has voted for the Bill, the noble Lord the Postmaster General, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the First Lord of the Admiralty the President of the Board of Trade were in favour of it, while on the front bench on this side only one or two hon. Members gave it their support. They had made appeals in favour of household suffrage, that if properly expressed would have been described as male household suffrage. But it would have spoiled many a peroration to have done this, and it would be difficult to use such language. It would show that whilst professedly just and generous they were really in favour of political monopoly and political privilege. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster)—whom I regret is not in his place—has frequently made appeals in favour of household suffrage in this House and in the country, and in order to give more weight, or, if I may so call it, pathos to his argument, he used the words "hearthstone suffrage;" but what an extraordinary thing it is to make a selection of your hearthstones, and exclude those hearths which of all others needed the constitutional protection of the vote—hearths where were found all the virtues that go to make this country great. I do not care to judge the political conduct of men by any rigid standard, but those who have a serious purpose in life should exhibit a general consistency. Hon. Members on the front bench on this side show a singular inconsistency. Either they have gone too far, or else they have gone not far enough. You have given women the franchise in municipal contests, you have given votes in school-board elections, and allow them to become candidates, and in these contests the political element largely enters. In Birmingham, in Manchester, and many places ladies have contested seats successfully. You propose to give them University education, and to allow them medical diplomas, and you invite them to tasks requiring great skill and intellectual power. You have done all this. You have taken up this position, and I ask you is it wise, or is it statesmanlike to stop there? I defy you to stop there. You must either go further or you must go back, and with- draw the privileges you have granted. I do not know what may be the result of the division at the close of this debate. As to that I am not anxious. I am more anxious to know the feeling of the country which is unmistakeably growing in favour of the Bill, and when the door is again opened to give further admission to persons now outside, there will, I believe, be enough just men on both sides of the House to give us a real and honest household suffrage.


Gradually, Mr. Speaker, the wide issue involved in this apparently petty Bill is becoming palpable to the House. This measure was brought in, if I may be allowed to use the expression, at the tail of the great political movement which had been inaugurated by the late Government, when hon. Members were induced by those feelings which are creditable to them towards the other sex, to lend too easy an ear to the promptings of a few ambitious women, and these women are, after all, merely the instruments of those who have long and inveterately designed the destruction of the form of government established in this country. Everyone must have remarked, in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth), who introduced this Bill, with how much pains he sought to describe it as a petty measure. The hon. and learned Member, who has the good fortune of being a male Representative of the borough of Marylebone, but desires to become its epicene representative, thus described the measure which he has introduced. He said that this Bill would only make an addition of 13 per cent to the present constituency. He assured the House that his proposal would make no difference in its constitution, and that the same kind of Members, nay, the same persons, would be returned if this Bill be passed as now. He said that there had been great changes effected within the last half-century. He said that Roman Catholics and Jews have been admitted to seats in this House. He said that there have been two Reform Acts; and another innovation, which I agree with him is the greatest innovation of our times—namely, the system of secret voting, instead of open voting, has been adopted by Parliament. That, Sir, is the greatest and is the worst innovation that has been made in the representative system of this country. Now, I do not say that lightly, because this proposal is one consequence of that change. The first of my political studies were prosecuted in the United States of America, more than 30 years ago, when Harrison and Tyler were the candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency; and on that occasion I watched the operation of the vote by Ballot in the United States. I saw it as none but a young man, with good recommendations, though personally unknown, could see it; and 30 years afterwards, when the Ballot was being discussed with a view to its adoption in this country, my late Friend Mr. Graves, then Member for Liverpool, produced a Report of a Committee of the Senate of the United States, proclaiming and denouncing the abuses under the Ballot which I had seen in operation in the United States 30 years before. "Oh!" said the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone, "we have now the Ballot; and what will it matter if we allow a few women to go once in three or four years behind a screen to drop a paper into the ballot-box?" I would ask, Sir, is not this bringing the franchise into contempt? and will it not confirm and perpetuate that contempt if the House were to adopt such a plan as this, and for no immediate or important object, and for the sake of producing no sensible change in the constitution of this House, repeal the law of the country, a law which prevails throughout the world, and should thus reject and repeal an enactment founded upon the law of nature, which debars women from the exercise of the political franchise per se in their character of women? I have, Sir, been consulted by many persons upon this subject, both by Members of the House, and by persons out of the House in private, and I have been asked—"Why do you object to the admission of women to the franchise?" To that question I have returned one answer—"That it is the most democratic measure in principle that could be devised;" because the natural feeling of men with respect to women, which has been implanted in them from the earliest days of which we have any record, even from the days of Adam, is such that, if you admit any women to the franchise, I defy you hereafter to keep any men out of the franchise. They will not submit to it. That is shown in the rules which workmen have adopted throughout various trades for the regulation of their own industry. It may be said, perhaps, that these are selfish rules, and they are selfish; but only in the sense that the rightful head of the family claims for himself priority in labour as the chief breadwinner. If that be selfishness, it is selfishness for the family. I am convinced of this—that the plea that this Bill is founded upon the principle of the representation of property is utterly fallacious. This House has gone too far; the Legislature has gone too far for that. You have adopted the system of household suffrage in the boroughs; you have also adopted the system of lodger franchise in boroughs; and you contemplate, though I hope the day is far distant, the system of household, which is an occupation franchise, for the counties. In fact, you have practically done with the representation of property; and if you flatter yourselves that you are about to revive it in the persons of a few women, I tell you that the democratic, the ultra-democratic tendency of this Bill, which is so regarded in the United States that the Legislature there has rejected it as being too democratic for their Constitution, will utterly overbear you. This, which is represented to you as a petty measure, is the first step towards, not only manhood suffrage, but to universal suffrage, in the sense of admitting both men and women, as of right, in the person of each individual subject or citizen of the State, to the possession of the franchise. If you once accept the principle that the franchise is a right, you cannot, without inflicting injustice, refuse to adopt manhood suffrage, or even the universal suffrage of both sexes. I object to this extreme measure, because it tends to the establishment of despotism. Have we not heard of, have went known something of, Empires founded upon Plebiscites? Does this not prove that ultra-democracy, as the foundation of any institution, means mob-law? and inasmuch as the mob has no capacity for legislation, the mob seeks refuge from its own incapacity in despotism. In this respect, I thoroughly agreed with Mr. Goldwin Smith. At first he was favourable to this measure; but he went to the United States, to the wide school in which I was taught, and there he arrived at a conclusion directly opposed to the adoption of the principle of this measure, however modified; for he found that in the United States it was rejected, because it was felt that the principle of this measure is utterly uncontrollable. Perhaps the House will allow me to quote a passage or two from the writings of Mr. Goldwin Smith on this subject. He is a gentleman to whose political opinions upon other questions I am entirely opposed. He is an ultra-Liberal, and was an advocate of this Bill until he visited that great sphere of experiments—the United States of America. This is the description which he gives of what he saw. He condemns the view which was taken by the late Mr. John Stuart Mill with regard to the relations of women to their husbands in this country, and throughout the world. He writes— Mr. Mill and his disciples represent the lot of the woman as having always been determined by the will of the man, who, according to them, has willed that she should be the slave, and that he should be her master and her tyrant. 'Society'"—and here he quotes Mr. Mill—"'both in this (the case of marriage) and other cases, has preferred to attain its object by foul rather than by fair means; but this is the only case in which it has substantially persisted in them even to the present day.' This is Mr. Mill's fundamental assumption; and from it, as every rational student of history is now aware, conclusions, utterly erroneous as well as injurious to humanity, must flow. That is the view of marriage upon which this proposal was advocated by its most powerful representative, Mr. John Stuart Mill. Elsewhere Mr. Goldwin Smith quotes against Mr. Mill's historical records, with an extract from which I will trouble the House. He says— That the present relation of women to their husbands literally has its origin in slavery, and is a hideous relic of that system, is a theory which Mr. Mill sets forth in language such as, if it could sink into the hearts of those to whom it is addressed, would turn all affection to bitterness, and divide every household against itself. Yet this theory is without historical foundation. It seems, indeed, like a figure of invective heedlessly converted into history. Even in the most primitive times, and those in which the subjection of the women was most complete, the wife was clearly distinguished from the slave, The lot of Sarah is different from that of Hagar; the authority of Hector over Andromache is absolute, yet no one can confound her position with that of her handmaidens. The Roman matron, who sent her slave to be crucified, the Southern matron who was the fierce supporter of slavery, were not themselves slaves. Whatever may now be obsolete in the relations of husband and wife is not a relic of slavery, but of primitive mar- riage, and may be regarded as at worst an arrangement once indispensable which has survived its hour. Where real slavery has existed it has extended to both sexes, and it has ceased for both at the same time. Even the oriental seclusion of women, perhaps the worst condition in which the sex has ever been, has its root, not in the slave-owning propensity so much as in jealousy, a passion which, though extravagant and detestable in its excessive manifestation, is not without an element of affection. The most beautiful building in the East is that in which Shah-Jehan rests by the side of Nourmahal. Mr. Goldwin Smith thus condemns the view of the marriage state which was held by the leading mind that advocated the principle of this Bill, who wrote, that the married woman is a slave; but what does this Bill do? It proposes to enfranchise her unmarried sisters, but to leave the wife in the position Mr. Mill described as that of a slave! Will the House permit me to take one further glance at what Mr. Goldwin Smith found in the United States, where this movement for the enfranchisement of women originated, though it is still unsuccessful there— In the United States," says he, "the privileges of women may be said to extend to impunity, not only for ordinary outrage but for murder. A prisoner, whose guilt has been proved by overwhelming evidence, is let off because she is a woman. There is a sentimental scene between her and her advocate in court, and afterwards she appears at a public lecture. The whiskey crusadeshows that women are practically above the law. Rioting and injury to the property of tradesmen, when committed by the privileged sex, are hailed as a new and beneficent agency in public life; and because the German population, being less sentimental, asserts the principles of legality and decency, the women are said to have suffered martyrdom. So far from the American family being the despotism which Mr. Mill describes, the want of domestic authority lies at the root of all that is worst in the politics of the United States. If the women ask for the suffrage, say some American publicists, they must have it, and in the same way every thing that a child cries for is apt to be given it without reflection as to the consequences of the indulgence. I will not detain the House by reading more of this article from the pen of Mr. Goldwin Smith, though I should like to read the whole, because it so thoroughly confirms my own early observations and the lessons I learned, in the United States. If, with this extraordinary deference to the wishes of women, with this extraordinary deference for them, which practically sets them as rioters above the law in the United States, still the Legislature firmly resists the prin- ciple, which this House is now asked to adopt, is it for the Legislature of England to set at defiance that which has hitherto been a law of Nature, that man should go forth to labour and to warfare as the defender and representative of woman? Is it for the Legislature of England to admit this ultra-democratic principle tending to despotism which the Legislature of the United States, notwithstanding all the urgency with which it has been assailed, has hitherto resisted? Mr. Goldwin Smith also observes that, if this unwise measure were to be adopted, it would tend to the establishment of a despotism, and probably a despotism of the worst kind—a sacerdotal despotism. I quite agree with him. Any man who has read the works of Michelet must know that, if the majority of a constituency in any country were composed of women, and if the Roman Catholic Church, for example, were to become the dominant power in this country—an object which has been very much encouraged by a certain section of this House—we should not only have a despotism, but probably a despotism, following upon a Democracy, either governed, or overturned as in France in 1852 by the internal though extraneous force of the Papal despotism. It is to this view of the case that I attribute the favour which has been shown to this proposal by the Representatives of the Ultramontane Roman Catholic priesthood. [Laughter.] Hon. Members who are the representatives of Ultramontane opinions laugh; but will they deny that this proposal, if adopted, is calculated to augment the influence of the Roman Catholic priesthood? But, Sir, it is enough for me, other considerations apart, that this Bill is founded upon so violent a principle that it has been rejected by the Legislature of the United States. We are told by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone that it will not affect the constitution of this House; then, what reason is there for passing it, if it is not to produce any change? What good can it do to the widows and spinsters of this country if it produces no effect on the constitution of this House? What is this but to tell us that the Bill has been introduced merely as an electioneering lollipop, as a sweetener for those who have undertaken the promotion of the measure for the sake of bringing themselves before the public? There can be no other interpretation put upon this minimizing of the scope and object of the Bill. It has been argued, especially by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright), that because women have, by an accidental interpretation of the law, been admitted to the municipal franchise, therefore they ought to have the franchise for the election of Members of this House. I will give the House a specimen in point illustrative of how this matter went at Huddersfield. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham) has, in a most able speech, which did him great honour, declared his disagreement with the Petition he had presented from the municipality of Huddersfield in favour of this Bill; and here is a description from an authority which cannot be suspected of any bias against the Bill as to how this Petition was got up. I hold in my hand a copy of The Women's Suffrage Journal, edited by Lydia E. Becker, of April 1st, 1876, and here is an extract from a report of what took place in the Huddersfield Town Council, when the Petition to this House from that body was proposed for their adoption. That proposal was made, and this is the manner in which The Women's Suffrage Journal, a publication specially devoted to the advocacy of this Bill, reports the proceedings— Alderman Woodhead"—[Laughter]—"Alderman Wood head seconded the Motion, and said—'Seeing that so many of the Council were indebted to the ladies for the seats they occupied at that board, he conceived they would not be unwilling to extend to their female constituents the privilege of voting for Members of Parliament, especially as they had displayed such excellent taste in voting them into the Council. So, according to Alderman Woodhead, the election of several members of the Council—I suppose his own was so—is due to the ladies of Huddersfield, and he argues that because the ladies of Huddersfield have voted himself (Alderman Woodhead) and others into the Town Council of that borough, they should be invited to display the same good "taste" in Parliamentary elections, and that, therefore, these ladies should have the right of voting in the elections of Members to this House. We have the assurance of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone that it would effect no alteration in the character or conduct of hon. Members so elected to seats in this House. Sir, I regard this measure as containing a most dangerous and revolutionary proposal, the disguise of which the hon. and learned Member has failed to penetrate—a fact which is manifest to me from the mode in which he has advocated it. It is a proposal that has been rejected by the Legislature of the United States, by the Autocrat of Russia, who has enfranchised all his serfs, and by the common consent of all mankind. There is, indeed, an exception to the decision of the United States; this exception is not that made by a State, but by a small territory containing 15,000 inhabitants on the outskirts of the United States. The proposal before the House has been adopted by the 15,000 inhabitants of the territory of Wyoming; but I trust that the House of Commons will be guided in its decision to-day by the example of the civilized world, and not by that of the territory of Wyoming.


said, that having listened with considerable attention to the debate, he was struck by the great difference in the manner of those who opposed the Bill as compared with that of those who supported it. While the promoters of the Bill advanced their arguments carefully and quietly, those opposed to the measure replied with considerable warmth, answering not so much the speeches made in that House as the violent speeches of some foolish persons outside. He thought that warmth rather suspicious, as it appeared to be resorted to in the want of any real argument. That there was a want of such arguments was further shown by the fact that the attack was almost wholly confined to matters which were not in the Bill. They were told that it was most objectionable, because it was highly to be deprecated that married women should have votes. But the Bill did not give the married women votes, and the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Forsyth) who introduced the Bill distinctly stated that he was opposed to give votes to married women. Those whom it was now sought to enfranchise were in a wholly different position as regarded representation from married women. Married women were practically already represented, but the unmarried female ratepayer was not. Women when they married gave up, for the sake of a higher privilege, many advantages which they previously possessed, and, moreover, in several cases they gained considerably in political influence. But the owners of property who were not married females were cut out. It was next argued against the Bill that women, if they got votes, must necessarily get seats in that House. The hon. and learned Member distinctly stated that it had no such object, and he pointed out to the House the fact that while clergymen had votes, they had not seats in the House. He (Dr. Ward) maintained that to argue because women had votes they would therefore obtain seats was wholly untenable, more especially when they considered the fact that clergymen who long had the franchise—who were a body of eminence, power, and ability—had not asked for, and if they had would have no chance of obtaining, seats in the House. He repeated, that in the course of the debate almost all the objections raised were directed against matters that were not at all in the Bill. Then they had all kinds of prognostication as to the evils that would at some distant period occur if this Bill became law. They were told that it would lead to the adoption of the whole programme of the women's righters. Now, he was as much opposed as any man in that House to what was known as women's rights, and he denied that this was a measure leading to it. It was a measure in itself just, and to reject it as a merely fanciful prognostication of opponents he considered ridiculous. If they rejected measures on such grounds, he feared they would do but little in that House. There was hardly a measure which could be brought forward as to which prophecies of evil could not be uttered. As usual, the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) was the most far-fetched and grimly solemn in his forebodings. He told the House, and he challenged contradiction, that the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church were working earnestly for the measure, in the belief that, because of their influence over women, they would thereby gain considerable political power. He (Dr. Ward) denied that there was any proof as to the opinion of the Catholic clergy on the matter. He believed there was considerable difference of opinion amongst them on the subject. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for North Warwickshire might laugh, but he should remember that his statement was a mere assertion. He (Dr. Ward) further thought that the hon. Gentleman should remember that when he made assertions, as he was accustomed to do, involving grave charges against a body of clergymen—when he stated that they were conspiring to obtain by this measure political power for the exercise, as he termed it, of "priestly despotism," he should, at least, bring forward some proof. Then it was urged, as an argument against the Bill, that because some people who advocated it wished to go very much further, therefore it should be rejected. He believed there was hardly any hon. Member of that House who, if he were a Frenchman, would not support the establishment in France of a proper free municipal system; but surely by doing so they would not necessarily join the Commune. He would once more repeat that not an argument brought forward in opposition dealt with the real provisions of the Bill. Unmarried women who were rated, by vote had at that moment the right to deal with three most important concerns in England—they had the right to vote for the administration of the Poor Laws, they had the right to vote for the management of municipal affairs, and they had the right to vote for the regulation of the education of the country. Those were three of the most important questions which could occupy the attention of the House, and made up, perhaps, three-fourths of its business. He could not, then, see how they could fairly refuse them the Parliamentary franchise. For those reasons, as well as from the fact that the opponents of the Bill had failed to advance any real argument against it, he would support the second reading.


In 1875, when this little curiosity of a Bill was introduced and came to a second reading, I ventured to say a few words against its further progress. The observations that I made on that occasion have excited the intense ire and indignation of the women out-of-doors, some of whom acquire notoriety, while others gain a livelihood by this movement. The consequence has been that at every meeting held in town or country to carry on this agitation, which after all is a tempest in a teacup, I have been honoured with the abuse of some females, whom I can only properly designate in the affectionate language used by Mr. Mantalini to his wife when she upbraided him, as a set of "demnition savage lambs." I was abused in good company. Hon. Gentlemen who were present at the discussion in April, 1875, must remember the able and eloquent speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham) against the Bill. Well, that hon. Member appears to have come under the ban of those terrible women, who, at a meeting held at Huddersfield, have represented him to the people of that town as a silly, feeble, and irrational creature. The hon. Member and myself have been held up to the little world in which these women live as culprits compelled to bend their backs for the last 12 months under the well-directed scourge of fair but merciless executioners. I learn this and a great amount of twaddle of the same kind from The Women's Suffrage Journal, which they have sent to me. It is a work published in Manchester, edited by Lydia Becker, and published at an office in 28, Jackson's Row, Manchester, where may be obtained any number of ready-written Petitions in favour of the measure. I presume this is the reason why so many of the Petitions are identical. They are as like as two peas; in fact, they all come from the same mint. Now I have read this literature with much attention, and I must say that the sayings and doings of those ladies have not convinced me of two things—first, I am not satisfied that they have any right or title to speak of themselves as representing the sense or intelligence of English women; and, secondly, they fail to show me that this little Bill is an honest attempt to give them the privileges they so ostentatiously demand. For what are the facts? There are in this country, or rather there have been, a number of associations recently organized in this country for the attainment of female suffrage. Those societies call themselves national societies, and collect subscriptions from people who are foolish enough to give them money, for nothing in this country can be done without a little ready cash. Those people have agents in all the large towns, who tout for signatures to Petitions. The societies also employ persons to itinerate the Provinces, and as women- lecturers attract better than men, attractive women are generally employed. They have been visiting the town of Cambridge recently, and some of my constituents tell me that there have been very fascinating women there lately, some of them uncommonly enticing. Now, what are the doctrines which these apostles in petticoats disseminate? They lecture on the rights and wrongs of women, they proclaim the equality of the sexes, and they lay down as an indisputable dogma that woman is entitled to every privilege in social, civil, and in political life that man is entitled to enjoy. They declare that no woman on account of her sex should be debarred from practising or following any trade or profession which any man is entitled to follow, and that any laws which restrict them should be at once abrogated. Now that is an intelligible dogma, and he who runs can read it; but how does this Bill meet the case? It ignores the dogma altogether; it deals with the franchise only, and so faras women are concerned, it deals with it in a very fragmentary manner. Now the franchise, let me tell the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth), is not the greatest privilege which a man can enjoy. In the profession of the law a man can attain to the highest position without being a freeholder or enjoying the franchise. He may fill lucrative offices under the Crown, and yet not enjoy the franchise. I represented a county for 10 years, and I was eligible to fill any position of trust which Her Majesty's Government might have thought me fit to occupy. Certainly, they never gave me any, and more's the pity, but I never had the franchise, and I do not think the franchise is worth one shilling. There are upwards of 30,000 electors in the borough of Marylebone, and I would ask how many of those does the hon. and learned Gentleman suppose would remain on the register if 2s. 6d. was charged every year as a registration fee. I say that I think one-half would be struck off to-morrow. Women who conduct this movement ask for something tangible and something elevating, and you fob them off with a lodger or a household franchise, that not one of them would pay 2s. a-year to preserve. The Bill in reality only proposes to enfranchise spinsters and widows; and if a spinster or widow duly qualified ob- tains the franchise, when that spinster marries, and that widow re-marries, she would become a Helot. Does this Bill put women on a footing of equality with men? It does not. A man does not lose the franchise when he weds—some men come under petticoat government, but that is a different thing. Frequently men are qualified for the franchise through property brought them by their wives. By this Bill the woman will lose her vote on her marriage, and the husband will exercise the privilege without the knowledge of the woman, through the protection of secret Ballot. Therefore, there is no equality in the Bill at all. And why is this to be done? Simply because by the common law of the land a man and his wife are supposed to be one and indivisible—they are supposed to be one flesh and blood. Everyone knows that that is a legal fiction; but our lawyers are partial to fiction, and even when they propose to emancipate womankind, they have not the courage to sweep away the cobwebs of the common law. Small as the Bill is, and adjured as we are not to travel beyond the four corners of this small Bill, no two hon. Members look upon it in the same light. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), whom I do not see now in his place, asked us last year not to oppose the Bill, because it was so small a measure and so excellent a measure, and because it was the logical corollary of the Bill of 1867; but my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire says it is a huge Bill of reform which is calculated in a short period to bring us to universal suffrage. A Bill of this tendency the hon. Member thinks ought to be in the hands of a responsible Government, and not in those of a private Member, and I quite agree with that view of the question. Then the sponsor for this measure, the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone, says that the Bill was framed especially to exclude married women from the franchise, and he stakes his professional reputation that the Bill as now drawn will have that effect. But what did the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) tell us last year? He said that under the Bill, as it is now worded, any married woman having property settled on her for her separate use would be entitled to vote in a county; and that a married woman, if separated from her husband by a legal decree, or by mutual arrangement, would be entitled to vote in a town or borough, if qualified as a ratepayer or a lodger. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone defends his own Bill. He says that it is the quintessence of sense, and therefore he adheres to it; but if the House thinks it necessary to frame a provision to exclude married women from the suffrage, he will allow it to be inserted. But if the Bill is amended in that way, it will not commend itself to my judgment, because I think if a Bill is to be passed at all, we ought to go the whole animal. I think the married women should as a rule be enfranchised, because they are partners for life, with their husbands, in their property. The husband, upon his marriage, promises to endow his wife with all his worldly goods, and they both become partners for life in one concern. Surely then, a married woman would be much more fitted to give a vote for the good of the common weal than her daughters or nieces, because spinsters, and I submit that such a distinction would be absurd, and could not be maintained. Last year, in his peroration, the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone indulged in some sad vaticinations. He said he did not anticipate the immediate outbreak of a social war, but he seemed to feel that if this Bill was rejected, a great convulsion would befall the country. Well, the Bill was rejected, and on Thursday, the 8th of April, I walked into the City to see if any great catastrophe was approaching. To my astonishment and surprise I found people pursuing their business avocations as usual, there was no panic on the Stock Exchange. Returning to the West End, I found ex-Ministers of State practising on the bycicle, I saw ladies amusing themselves in skating rinks; and in the evening, young girls laughing and chatting, dancing and singing, as if nothing wonderful had occurred. Very shortly afterwards, the strong-minded women, who were dejected at the rejection of the Bill, gathered strength and arranged to hold an indignation meeting in London, in order to show Parliament the absurdity of its conduct. The meeting was arranged to come off on Saturday, the 29th of May, and it came off. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone absented him- self from that meeting, probably because he thought the convulsion which he had predicted was about to take place, but no convulsion did take place; there was hardly a riot, one man only, a Captain Jones, was hooted down. It seems that the ladies engaged a newspaper to chronicle their proceedings—The Observer—which gave a verbatim report of their meeting on the 30th. From that journal I learn that there were present on the platform as leaders of this new sedition, Miss Lydia Becker, Miss Babb, Miss Biggs, Mrs. F. W. Hoggan, Miss Mary Beedy, M.A., who hails from America, Miss Rhoda Garrett, Mrs. M'Laren, of Edinburgh, and Miss Isabella Tod, of Belfast. Now I do not doubt that all these are very respectable, highly reputable people; but when we are told that the country is not unlikely to be convulsed by this question, I did expect to see ladies of greater social eminence than these heading the movement. Ladies of fortune and distinction, who have made their names famous for works of benevolence and charity in this country, on that occasion at all events, were conspicuous by their absence. I shall not inflict upon or weary the House by reading any of the sayings and doings of the ladies at that meeting. The arguments which they used were fair specimens of that rhetoric which the learned called rigmarole. Every woman on the platform who spoke praised this little bantling of a Bill. It was perfection in their eyes, and they declared that anyone who looked beyond its four corners was a dolt and an idiot. Having so expressed themselves, they at once rushed into gushing ecstacies as to the rights of women and the equality of the sexes. One woman cited the example of Her Majesty the Queen. She was described as a woman who with very slight tuition had made herself competent to perform all the duties connected with her situation—duties of the most onerous character, and ever increasing in intensity. It was asked if there was anything in the blood Royal or anything in the purple which did not appertain to the people at large; and the logical inference from this argument was, that a woman out of the gutter should be entitled to hold any political office in the State if she was qualified to do so. A lady from the northern part of the kingdom spoke for one hour upon the pure and simple right of women to be put upon an exact political equality with men. She demanded that that should be the case, and said that the women were determined to have it, and she gave her reasons why they should have it. She said the sex, of which she is no doubt an ornament, having an innate sense of all that was womanly, and an innate detestation of all that was mean and base, was determined to stamp out some recent legislation which was an indignity on the womanhood of Great Britain. We all know the legislation at which this sarcasm was levelled. It was levelled at a subject which the coarsest men would rather discuss with closed than with open doors; but strong-minded women revel in matters of this description—matters not to be mentioned in decent society or within the hearing of a modest woman. Under these circumstances it is not wonderful that women of culture, and women of gentleness keep aloof from these heroines of the platform. They do so, we know, and they sometimes allow their sentiments to be known through the Press. A day or two after the Bill last year received its quietus in this House, I received a letter which I now have in my hand, from a gentleman of some reputation in the literary world, Mr. Samuel Carter Hall. That gentleman has written and published a memoir of seven or eight remarkable women, and his wife, Mrs. Hall, has added recently a short chapter to that memoir, that chapter mainly dealing with the Bill which is the outcome of this agitation. Mrs. Hall expresses herself in the strongest terms against the Bill. She speaks of the parties who have got it up as foolish brawlers. She speaks of the deep regret and intense sorrow with which she sees the progress of the movement, and says that it may in the end be dangerous to society and perilous to the sex itself. In consequence she begs the Legislature of the country to reject the claims of these women, because she thinks they are opposed to wisdom and mercy and religion. Mrs. Hall declares that it is no part of the business of a woman to compete with men in the various out-door avocations of life. She says it always has been, and ever should be, the controlling impulse of woman to make herself agreeable to man, whether by beauty, gentleness, forethought, domestic cares, home virtues, toil, assist- ance in hours of ease, or amid the anxieties, disappointments, and labours that environ life. She says it will ever be so, notwithstanding the opinion of strong-minded women, who describe as humiliation that which is woman's glory, and should be her boast. Mrs. Hall concludes, and I will conclude also by stating that— Woman as she is now situated in this country has immense power. The hand," she says, "that rocks the cradle rules the world;" and she adds that, "wicked are some and foolish are all who strive for the enactment of laws which would deprive a mother of her first and greatest and holiest rights in order to try a wild experiment by which, under the senseless cry of equality, women would be displaced from the position in which God has placed them from the beginning of the world, for all time, and for eternity. Now, these are the words of, I think, a woman of culture and gentleness, but we never hear sentiments of that kind coming from the Beedys and the Beckers of this worthless agitation.


It is a matter of regret to me to have to reply to such a speech as that we have just heard; but I am sure that the House, which is always generous to a losing case, will allow me to say a few words. I think that many hon. Members will rejoice in one thing that I am about to say, and that is that I shall not condescend to make any lengthened reply to the speech we have just listened to. The course which the hon. Member has adopted is a very unusual one, and I will do the opponents of the Bill the justice of assuming that it is equally distasteful to them as it is to the supporters of the measure—namely, that of reading out a list of names of some ladies who attended a certain meeting. Among those names was that of the sister of one of the most distinguished Members of this House. I refer to the sister of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), and the wife of another highly-respected Gentleman, the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren). The hon. Member had the effrontery to take a course without a precedent in this House, and to say that these ladies and others of equal taste and refinement revelled in prurient matters. Now, I wish in the most distinct manner possible to tell the hon. Member for Cambridge that he never committed a greater mistake. I have resided for 20 years of my life in the borough which he represents. I am, or shall be within a few weeks of this time, one of his constituents. I know many men in that constituency who are utterly and entirely opposed to me in politics; but although they are opposed to me, I know their tastes and sentiments sufficiently well to assure the hon. Member for Cambridge that, although they may differ from me in politics, they will never forget or forgive the speech which he has made in this House this afternoon. He shall not with impunity cast these vile aspersions on the wives and sisters and relations of hon. Members of this House—ladies against whose character there has never been a word of suspicion, and ladies of whose friendship any man, who knows them, on whatever side of the House he may sit, must feel proud! And now, with this remark, let me only make this further reply to the hon. Member for Cambridge, and then for the present I have done with him. He says the ladies who take an interest in this question do not represent the sense and the intelligence of the women of this country. I am not going to do the women of this country the injustice to suppose that the hon. Member for Cambridge is the representative of their sense and intelligence or, let me add, of the good taste of the women of the country. He says his speech has been objected to. Now neither his arguments nor his speech have been objected to. But what was felt, and not simply felt by those who are in favour of the Bill, but by others—we who are in favour of it do not object to arguments which are not insulting to persons—was, that the tone of the speech of the hon. Member was most objectionable. The speech which he has delivered to-day will, I have no doubt, be similarly objected to. I will now pass on, as briefly as I possibly can, to consider some of the arguments which have been advanced by hon. Members against the Bill. It seems to me, as has been previously said, that the Bill has not been argued against, but that the only thing which has been argued against is something that the Bill is supposed to portend, and which, in my opinion, is not likely to happen. Let me take the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham). What does that speech amount to? The hon. Member's most effective point was the quotation of a wild rhapsody from some American lady. When he makes his next speech for the extension of household suffrage to agricultural labourers, would not he think me unfair if I came down to the House and said—"What does this proposal for household suffrage mean?—if it is carried, one-half of the male population will remain without the franchise," and if I were to terrify the House by quoting some wild declaration made by some person, for instance, M. Victor Hugo, in favour of manhood suffrage? He would at once say that that argument was unfair, and that it was unfair not to discuss the Bill before the House, but to go abroad and discuss something which we have no right to say the Bill portends, and which it must inevitably lead to. There never has been a Bill brought forward in this House for the extension of the suffrage, that has not always been met in this way by its opponents. The £10 franchise was objected to because it would lead to household suffrage. Household suffrage was opposed because it would lead to universal suffrage, and just in the same way because we propose that sex should not be a disqualification to the franchise, the same argument is used, that it would inevitably lead to the enfranchisement of married women. Now, I think it is of great importance that this question should not be discussed upon any abstract principles, and, for my part, I will say nothing of the political rights of women, their political equality, or make any comparison between their intellectual power and that of men. My purpose is a much more simple and a much more practical one, and I put this simple and serious question to the House—"When the municipal franchise was carried for women, why was it carried?" It was carried because it was thought unfair that if women were ratepayers and possessed the qualifications for the exercise of a vote that they should be excluded simply because they were women. The educational franchise was also suggested, not because men and women were educationally equal, but because it was felt that it was unfair to say that women who were ratepayers should not exercise the same privileges as men. It is said that the granting of the political franchise to women who were ratepayers would inevitably lead to the enfranchisement of married women. I do not know why it is not in a similar way said that the granting of the educational and municipal franchise to women would lead to the conferring of it upon married women. The municipal franchise has been in existence for years. No one has ever proposed to repeal it, and not a single word has ever been said in favour of extending it to married women. I altogether deny what the hon. Member for Huddersfield said, that that Bill was slipped through the House. I remember the occasion on which it was brought forward. It was very carefully discussed, not only here, but in the House of Lords, and it was ably defended by Lord Cairns, and on the distinct ground that it was unfair to deprive a woman who was a ratepayer of the right to exercise the same power which was exercised by a ratepayer who was a man. Lord Cairns was not in the least degree affected by the argument that if Parliament enfranchised women who were not married, they would have to enfranchise those women who happened to be married. He simply dealt with the question as it presented itself in a practical form, and that is the only way in which the Bill ought to be dealt with on the present occasion. If it is unjust to deprive a woman who is a ratepayer of the municipal franchise, how can it be right to deprive a woman who is a payer of taxes and who possesses every other qualification of the right to exercise political power? The argument which produced the most effect was this, if you admit women to the franchise you must admit women to seats in this House. Now the franchise has been extended over and over again to people who cannot be admitted into this House. Even in the last Parliament it was extended to people in the Civil Service. No one can suppose that they can ever be admitted to seats in this House, even if they were elected. I may take a stronger case, the case of the clergy. Not only are they represented but they are exceptionally represented, because not only do they exercise as electors great political influence in the places in which they may happen to reside, but so anxious does the House seem to be to represent that class, who be it remembered cannot hold a seat in this House, that we have actually allocated four Members to the clergy, for the Members for the Universities of England are as much the Representatives of the clergy as Members elected by the Inns of Court would be the Representatives of the legal profession. Everyone knows that if the clergy of the Universities wish a particular man to be their Representative they are certain to secure him; and if the clergy went against a man that man knew that he had no chance of a seat in this House; and if the clergy bring forward a man and support him that man knows perfectly well that the clergy would be sure to secure his election, whatever laymen might say to the contrary. We have here two parallel cases, that of the clergy and that of the voters in the Civil Service, to show that it is perfectly possible for a class to enjoy the political franchise without having any right or any permission given them to obtain seats in this House. But then there is the practical question—what good will women get from being enfranchised? Now it seems to me that this really raises the question—what is the good of representative institutions at all? If the interests of a class can be looked after by a delegacy, why should any class—why should the working men, the farmers, the shipowners, or any other section of the community, be represented? Why should not you leave it to the general sense of justice and good faith? But I remember what again and again has been said in this House on this subject. I remember the words spoken with the great experience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster) last year, when he made that memorable speech in the defence of the extension of the franchise to agricultural labourers. He said— That experience had convinced him that the interests of a class were never certain to be attended to unless that class were distinctly represented, and had the chance of exercising political power. The experience of this House represents what is far better than theory; and, if the House will bear with me for one or two minutes, I will from a great number of examples select one or two in which it seems to me that it is not only of the first importance to women themselves, but it is of the first importance to the country at large that they should have the chance of being represented in this House. Every one admits the importance now of giving to women the best education that they possibly can enjoy. If this is the case, should not the women of this country have some power in deciding to what extent the vast educational endowments possessed by this country should be devoted to the education of women. Then, again, in this House we constantly have industrial legislation protecting women. Not long ago we discussed a Bill for limiting the hours of labour of women; and in the course of that discussion the influence and feelings of women were again and again referred to. When you have to appeal to the opinions, the wishes, and the sentiments of a class to influence your legislation, the only direct, and the only certain, and the most constitutional appeal is the appeal to the influence they exercise upon that question. There is only one other question to which I will refer. I know that the argument is not advanced even in this House; but I believe there is a consideration which has indirectly produced a great impression amongst men who hold the same political opinions as I do with regard to this question. I know that many persons who consider themselves extreme Liberals, and who look forward to the day when the Church will be disestablished, dislike the enfranchisement of women because they believe that the majority of the women who will be enfranchised would support the continuance of the Church as a State institution. Now, I am as much in favour of disestablishment as any man in this House; but I am not going to be so presumptuous as to say what will be the effect of the vote of women in England, if they were enfranchised, on this question. But this I do feel, that if I could know beforehand, anxious as I am for disestablishment, that out of every five women who would be enfranchised four would vote on this question diametrically opposite to the opinions I hold, it would all the more convince me that it was not only unwise, but I would say unjust to attempt to disestablish the Church. If the women of England are opposed to it, their opinions ought to be considered, for surely their spiritual welfare and their spiritual concerns are quite as important as those of the men in this House. And now a great deal has been said in this House about the feeling of the women of England on this question. I am not going to presume to speak on behalf of the women of England. I know that many women are opposed to this Bill. But I also know that many thousands of women, whose opinions are well entitled to consideration and respect, eagerly look forward to it. Women look forward to it with the best and most proper of all motives. Women who are actuated by no desire to leave their homes, women who are second to none in their interest and devotion to their children, these women look forward to the passing of this Bill not from any selfish or improper motives, not from any love of display, but because they think it will improve the welfare of the class to which they belong, and add to the general welfare of the country. But in these debates, and in other debates, there is a matter raised against which a word of protest ought to be uttered. I have been told by those who respect the Constitution of this country, that there is no more sacred right than the right of Petition. But no sooner now does any class exercise this ancient and this constitutional privilege, than contempt and ridicule are thrown upon it. If they do not petition, it is said—"Oh, they don't care anything about it." Now supposing not a single woman had petitioned, what would have been said about the proposal? What has been said about the Royal Titles Bill? "There has been no feeling against this Bill," because they said—"There have been few Petitions presented against it." Directly the women who are interested in this subject petition, they are ridiculed. Not the slightest doubt has been thrown upon any of those Petitions. These Petitions are somewhat different from those Protestant emanations which have been presented by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate). Everyone of these Petitions is genuine. Ten times more Petitions have been presented in favour of this Bill this Session than in favour of or against any other proposal in this House, and why should the hon. Gentleman—forgetting apparently his notable Protestant Petitions—attempt to throw ridicule upon them? [Mr. NEWDEGATE said, he must deny having spoken a word in disrespect of the Petitions presented in favour of the Bill.] The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Smollett), and the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham), and I think every single person who has op- posed this Bill, has referred to these Petitions, and attempted to cast doubt and ridicule upon them; and I think I am right in saying that the genuineness of not one of these Petitions has been disproved, and it ill becomes hon. Members to discourage or speak in a disapproving tone of this constitutional way of people outside expressing their wishes. And now, in conclusion, I have only one further remark to make. A month, ago I listened to a speech—a speech such as we only hear from one hon. Member in this House. It was a speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), who eloquently pleaded for the enfranchisement of Irish householders—"even though the householder live in a house rated at only £1 per year." I looked over that speech last night; and as I heard it, and as I read it again, I thought to myself—"I wish the Forms of this House would allow me to repeat that speech, substituting in every sentence where the words 'Irish householders' appear the words 'women householders;' "for it would be an infinitely more powerful argument in support of this Bill than anything I could say, or anything that is likely to be said in this House. But perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to again direct the attention of the House to some words with which he closed his memorable speech on that occasion. He said— It remains to be true—though all the officials in the world think it worth while to call it in question—it remains to be true that justice done by the Government and Parliament to any portion of the population, be it most remote, be it the most abject, still that measure of justice is never lost. It is compensated to the power that grants it, be it Monarch or be it Parliament, by greater affection, greater and firmer allegiance to the law and by the growth of all those qualities and virtues by which a great and durable nation is distinguished. Well, with these few remarks I will conclude what I have to say in favour of this Bill. I can add nothing to what my right hon. Friend has said, and I will only say this much—that I believe whenever you enfranchise a class, the first result of that enfranchisement is to make those who are enfranchised take a keener and a deeper interest in all that concerns the public affairs of the country. It does not draw them from their homes, it does not draw them from their shops, it does not draw them from their daily labour; but I believe that all experience will show that those who are the best workmen, those who are the best traders, and those who are the best merchants are those who are the best citizens; and I believe this will hold equally true when that day shall arrive when women who are ratepayers shall be enfranchised.


I cannot help feeling that I owe an apology to the House for again stating my opinion on this subject, after having made a speech on this question last Session. But this is a matter on which I hold so strong an opinion that I can scarcely refrain from asking to be permitted to make few remarks. Now I have carefully listened to the whole of the speeches which have been made in the course of this debate, but so far I agree with the noble Lord the Member for South Wiltshire (Viscount Folkestone), who moved the rejection of the Bill, with an able, manly, and straightforward speech, as to confess that I am not aware that a single new reason has been adduced, or one single new argument used in support of this measure which has not already been used and been answered before. Nor is this much to be wondered at when we remember how fully and how often this question has been the subject of repeated debates in this House; and I trust that I shall be excused entering again into the details of this much-vexed question, which have been so frequently discussed in this House before. Now, we have been often told, and the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth) has again spoken of the necessity which has arisen for this legislation, owing to the gross inequalities in the laws as between the men and the women; and he has cited numerous instances to show how hardly some of them press upon women. My hon. and learned Friend has referred to the marriage laws, the laws of settlement, the laws relating to married women, their property, and to the position of the children, and he has also called attention to the grievous and unfair burden of taxes which are placed upon women, and he concluded by pointing out some of the hardships of women in connection with painting, and he stated that women were not allowed to use a rest for their arms, while men enjoyed that privilege. So far as the last of these allegations is concerned, it struck me that this was rather an argument against the tyranny of trades unions, than an argument in favour of women's suffrage. But with regard to the rest, when the hon. and learned Gentleman referred to it as being owing entirely to their not being represented in this House, I deny that statement entirely, and I believe that a charge more unfounded has never been made—and out of his own mouth I will convict him. On whose behalf have these numerous and excellent speeches been made to-night? Why, the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman himself, and the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright), and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Fawcett), are still ringing in my ears, and the eloquent words and the language from these hon. Gentlemen show that they were unconsciously representing the strongest possible and the most complete refutation of their own case by those speeches which they so ably delivered in support of the rights of a sex, and a cause which has found such devoted and enthusiastic supporters. But if statements like these are in reality true; if our laws in reality press so hardly upon them; if women really suffer injustice in so many cases as is alleged, how is it that the vast majority of them are silent upon it? and what has my hon. And learned Friend been about all this time? How is it that he has done so little or nothing to deal with, or even attempt to remove them? I will guarantee that, if his assertions are accurate, and he will himself undertake to deal with the various causes of grievance of which he complains, he will meet with the hearty support of many of those who, like myself, are his determined opponents to-night. But apart altogether from the necessity for this legislation, our attention has been directed again to some other claims, which, it is said, women possess to the franchise. We are reminded that women pay rates, that they already enjoy the municipal vote, that they may be elected as Guardians and Overseers of the Poor, that they already vote for and sit upon school boards, that there are Peeresses in their own rights, and further, my hon. and learned Friend has told us to-night, that women are often farmers, graziers, and shopkeepers besides. Now, with regard to what has been said by the hon. and learned Member of women being farmers, or rather of their being turned out of their farms because landlords desired the votes of men, I must say that the hon. and learned Member's experience is the reverse of my own; and even if it was the case in former days the necessity for such conduct—which I can term as nothing but harsh—has been removed altogether by the Ballot; but with regard to the rest of the arguments which I have named, I am prepared at once to admit that so far as theory goes they are conclusive in favour of your proposal, and I am aware of no valid reason which can be adduced upon these grounds why women should not have votes in the same way as men. But then, happily, in this country we are not governed by theory; and if this question is to be treated no longer as simply a matter of ridicule—a species of treatment with which it almost universally, and not altogether unnaturally, met with, as I think, in the first instance, and we are to discuss it in earnest; we are bound to consider, with all the attention in our power, the various practical difficulties with which we are confronted the moment we really propose to confer the franchise on women. One of the very first, and by no means the least, of these questions is, do you intend, under your Bill, that women possessing the requisite property qualification shall be put on an equal political footing with men; or do you intend under your Bill that some disabilities shall still rest upon women, although its object professedly is to remove them? If their political footing is to be one of perfect equality, then I can quite understand your position, because it is a consistent position, although I must say I think that you will not obtain much support for your views; but, on the other hand, if there is still to be some distinction between them, then I must ask you what is to be that distinction? How and where are you going to make it? And when you have made it, after giving them votes and placing all the power of a minority—a power of which we have frequently witnessed the influence—in their own hands, how are you going to keep it? Why, how often have we been told by our opponents that we have no right to draw the line where we do now, and to say as we do to women already possessing these numerous qualifica- tions, it is true that you pay rates, it is true that you have the municipal vote, and that you already do this that and the other; but nevertheless there is the line of distinction—"thus far shalt thou go and no further." If that argument was good for anything now, or good for anything then, surely it would apply as strongly as ever and with still greater force when you have made these greater concessions, because by that very fact you will have admitted its force and validity now, and if that be so you cannot deny that we are brought at once face to face with the question, not only of the admission of women to the franchise, but to Parliament also. Again, let me ask what will be the position of married women under this Bill? Either you give a vote to married women or you do not. If you do, one of two things will happen. Either the vote will be simply a duplicate vote for the husband, or it will be an element of perpetual family discord, the last thing which I suppose you wish to arise. But if you do not, your position is infinitely worse. You will be going to give to the mistress—it is painful to say this, but the fault rests with those who introduced the measure—that which you will not confer on the wife; and to make that which you describe as a boon and as a privilege which all women wish to enjoy so far as the virtuous mothers and wives are concerned, a premium not upon virtue but upon vice. Talk of anomalies in the law as it exists now, but what, Sir, are they to be compared with the new and monstrous anomalies which you are going to create by the Bill? I wish for a moment to call the attention of the House to a matter which I do not remember that I have heard mentioned before. There is one class of women who appear to be overlooked altogether under this Bill. What will be the position of Peeresses in their own rights, if this Bill becomes law? Clearly they cannot have votes, because you can scarcely confer upon them that which you withhold from the Peers. How then are they to be represented? There is only one other mode of which I am aware—namely, that they should sit in that House themselves, and so far as they are concerned, you appear to me to be placed in this dilemma, that either you must acknowledge this principle as part of the Bill— "That it is fitting and right that women themselves should be Members of Parliament;" or you will exclude from the pale of your legislation those women who of all others I should have thought, if any, ought to enjoy it. These are some of the practical difficulties which occur to my mind in connection with this question, and I am anxious that the House should seriously consider them, because both in and out of this House, although they have been raised before, they have never been met, but have always been evaded by our opponents. The hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) has referred to the disabilities of clergymen and civil servants; and went on to say that they nevertheless had influence in the election of Members of Parliament. But the hon. Gentleman's parallel is not correct. Clergymen are not prevented from sitting in Parliament because they are men, it is because of the office that they hold; while women are prevented from voting simply because they are women. The idea is not so ridiculous as some people imagine. To my mind it will not be so difficult to imagine a state of things as having women sitting in Parliament. You have at once a woman party and women questions in every constituency; a candidate then must have women sitting on his committee and acting as agents; and in the case of a closely-contested election, in order to conciliate the women party, the candidate would be accompanied to the hustings by a woman, who would deliver a fervid oration on the rights of women and dilate on the wickedness of men in general. And so the distinction and the difference by these means would become small by degrees and beautifully less. We live, however, in the days of progress; and there is one man, at all events, in this House, whose views have advanced in this direction. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon), who has the courage of his opinions and the manliness to avow them, in a speech which he delivered at one of the meetings in support of female suffrage, stated that "he saw no reason why women should not be admitted into this House." I am not going to discuss the wisdom or policy of that proposal. It would be waste of time to do so, because I am convinced that it would be met by an overwhelming majority. But I agree with him so far, that sooner or later, if this Bill were to become law, that is what we shall come to. Before sitting down I would just ask by whom is this Bill asked for? Do not tell me that the women of England or anything like a majority of them are in favour of this Bill, or really desire it. You may depend upon this, that wherever the women, or a majority of the women, desire it, that no power on earth will prevent their obtaining it. This movement is the result of agitation which has become so common in these days, and which is carefully fostered by all the various paraphernalia used upon these occasions. They have a journal and a secretary, funds, and and an organized association. But I say that, in spite of it all, it is a sham and an unreal agitation, manufactured to order, and which may easily be traced to nothing but a bustling clique of masculine women and feminine men, who have devoted their energies to the support of this cause. We were told a few nights ago, on a remarkable occasion, that the opinion of the country may be gathered from the letter bag. Well, since I moved the rejection of this measure last year, I have been favoured with letters from ladies totally unknown to me, entreating me to do everything to cause the rejection of this measure; and it is because I firmly believe it is not in the interests of women, but that if we pass this measure at the call of a reckless sisterhood we shall be inflicting injury upon them in after times, that I call upon the House of Commons to reject, by an overwhelming majority, this mischievous and idle measure.


Mr. Speaker, for one reason I am perfectly glad to follow one whose speech, as might well be expected from him, was free from the gross coarseness of the hon. Gentleman who represents Cambridge (Mr. Smollett), and also free from the bad taste which characterized a speech made in the early part of this afternoon by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham). I can have no fault to find with the way in which my hon. Friend has handled his subject. But I observed at the outset he stated that many of the arguments in support of this Bill had been repeated many times, and that he did not intend to meet them with arguments in reply. Now I think my hon. Friend showed great wisdom, because had he attempted to meet the argument I can have little doubt that he would failed. He adopted the tu quoque argument, and left the matter very much as he found it. My hon. Friend repeated all these hobgoblin arguments, which I have also heard from a distinguished man, the noble Lord the Member for South Wilts (Viscount Folkestone), and who, considering that he made his maiden speech, has every prospect of developing into a most accomplished debater. It is the evils they do not see which they are trying to frighten us with. It is like the German fairy tale of the girl who went down into the cellar to draw beer for the lover, and she never came back; and the mother went to the cellar, and she never came back; and the father was sent to the cellar, and he never came back; and at last the lover, either anxious for his sweetheart or his beer, went to look for them. He found them all in tears. The girl said that after the tap of the beer barrel was drawn a beam ran across the beer cellar; and she thought that after she was married she might have a son, and that son might grow up to manhood, and that man might draw beer and that beam might come upon his head and kill him, and she was so overwhelmed and had so affected her father and mother with the story that the lover found them in the condition named, and the beer barrel was empty. These are the sort of fears which come over hon. Gentlemen opposite. I prefer to look to one or two arguments against the Bill rather than to those hobgoblin fears of hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. A great many of the arguments in opposition have been addressed to proposals not within the four corners of the Bill. For instance, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham) complained of that, because it only enfranchises a certain number of the women of England; but would he have liked it better, if it had enfranchised the whole of the women in England? A great deal of his speech would have applied equally well for women or manhood suffrage. Whether he intended it to have that effect I know not, but when he came to the proposal in the Bill he used entirely different language. He used language which I venture to think was far more strongly in favour of the second reading than the conclusion which he intended to arrive at. Speaking of the educational franchise, in the Act of 1872, my hon. Friend said everybody agreed to give the vote to women for members to sit upon the school boards, because there was nothing unfeminine in voting for school boards, in which every woman or girl was interested. Surely that is an argument in favour of conferring it upon women to vote for Members of this House. The House of Commons has to deal with many things in which women are specially interested. It has to superintend the education of girls; it has to do with the Factory Acts for the matters in which women are greatly interested; and if my hon. Friend's argument was good for anything at all, it was distinctly in favour of the second reading of the Bill, rather than against it. If there was nothing unfeminine, and no fear of those dreadful evils anticipated, and none of those evils which we were told were about to arise in this case since the women have had the educational franchise, why are women notallowed to become Members of Parliament? It seems to me that no case has been made out at all against the Bill. If the fact of the women taking an interest in these school matters be not only of benefit to themselves, but a great benefit to the community, why should not the same thing follow from their having the Parliamentary franchise? I confess that I am entirely unable to see how it can be otherwise. Then, we have heard a great deal about the married women question, and he complains that the Bill does not alter their position. But this Bill does not create those anomalies. The distinctions between married and unmarried women are made by the law of England. This Bill does not propose to touch the law of England. It simply proposes to say that where a woman is otherwise qualified by the possession of property or the payment of rates, she shall not, because she is a woman, be debarred from the exercise of the franchise. And therefore my hon. Friend cannot fall upon that, because the distinctions are not in the Bill, but made by the law. But he said that the women of England do not desire it. He will not dispute that some women desire it—some most admirable and intellectual women in England desire it. I do not mean to say that every woman who desires to have it will exercise it if she had it, but is that an argument against conferring it upon those who really do desire to exercise it? The result would be that you enfranchise those women who are holders of property, who would be enfranchised were they men. If they do not choose to exercise it they can stay at home; but those women who think that they can by the exercise of the franchise do good, should have the opportunity of exercising it. Where is the evil of enfranchising a certain number of people who do not intend to exercise the right? Only take the case of your men who do not exercise the franchise. Is that an argument for withdrawing the franchise from those who do exercise it? You refuse to allow an educated woman, possessed of property, to have the franchise, while her servant, or her gardener, or blacksmith, or any of her dependents can exercise it, irrespective of any special qualification. Take the case before the Committee on the Ballot Act the other day. There the illiterate man, not the man who cannot sign his name, but the man who is so ignorant that he cannot tell into which square to put a cross, is allowed to vote; and are you going to refuse ladies of education and intelligence the franchise altogether upon the ground that they are not capable of exercising it for the welfare of the country? Then as to the revolutionary argument, so far from its being revolutionary, it strikes me that it is a Conservative measure. I wonder why every man on the other side does not vote for its second reading, and more than that, why Her Majesty's Government has not long ago taken the matter up with the view of passing the Bill, for I believe that it is as sound, and as wise, and as constitutional, and as Conservative a measure as can possibly be introduced into this House. I shall certainly most heartily support this measure.


I should not intrude my short experience, had it not been that I am in the position of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham), in having had to present a Petition of my constituents on this Bill. If the House will bear with me for a short time, I will try to explain how the wishes of an agricultural constituency are mis-expressed by the Women's Suffrage Committee. The Petition that I present to the House reads thus— The exclusion of women in being disqualified for voting in the election of Members of Parlia- ment is injurious and contrary to the principles of justice and of the laws now in force regulating the municipal, parochial, and of other representative governments. This is supplied wholesale by the Women's Municipal Suffrage Society. These women did us the honour of trying to hold a meeting in the borough of Buckingham. I have tried by personal conversation with many good and charitable ladies who have signed the Petition which I have presented to the House to arrive at their real wishes in this matter. They say that they desire that spinsters who have property shall be allowed to vote for Members of Parliament, as they have a right to vote for town councillors. They have an opinion that their influence on the school board secures their children being more virtuously brought up; and they argue that as they have a right to vote in municipal matters, they ought to vote for Members of this House. I think we may safely draw the line, and say that women may have a vote for town councillors, but they shall not have a vote for Members of Parliament. I have been told by one of the great speakers of the Women's Suffrage Society, that women have an equal interest with men in electing Members of Parliament who will vote for making men more sober and saving, and give them husbands and brothers who will make their homes more happy. I think the women of England can safely trust the Members of this House to try to pass such measures as shall make men more sober and saving, and so make virtue come easier to the homes of our poor people, even though women do not vote for Members of this House. It has been said that Members of Parliament do not sufficiently appreciate their wants and wishes, and that women are unrepresented here. In that case let them in every constituency request its Members to promote and support those social measures in which they are peculiarly interested, and I venture to say that not a single Member on either side of the House but will readily pass any such measure as may tend to make their homes more happy; but I hope it will be found, by a large majority, that we cannot give up the old Constitution of England, which has done so much to contribute to the greatness of this country, to try an experiment by giving votes to women to elect Members of Parliament.


Mr. Speaker; Sir, the energy and the eloquence with which this debate has been sustained cannot have failed to prove one most unmistakeable fact, and that is, that the Bill to remove the electoral disabilities of women is fast becoming, even if it has not already become, one of the leading questions of the day. It is a matter for rejoicing that, so far as the debate has gone, no women have been individualized as specially qualified to exercise the franchise. Surely, Sir, by mentioning a few names, even though they be the names of those who are an honour and an ornament to their country, is not the way for those to argue who, like myself, feebly endeavour to advocate and support their cause. Far otherwise;it is on the broad grounds of fairness and justice that I shall ask the House for a few minutes only to consider the proposal now before us. Sir, I listened with much interest and attention to the speech of my noble Friend who moved the rejection of this Bill, and I only regret he has not devoted his talented opposition to some other measure; but as he has not done so then I ask myself the question—why is it that the house of Bouverie always offer such an uncompromising opposition to this Bill? Why is it that they object so strongly to women having the power to vote. Sir, we have heard many objections raised on various grounds, but I have not heard any hon. Member say that women are not sufficiently educated; and I go farther, and say that there is no valid reason that I have heard to prevent them voting, except that they are simply "women." Then I say is this the reason, and the only reason, for hon. Gentlemen to oppose this Bill, because it is said that women are unfit to exercise this privilege because they are women; and not because if they were men they would be unfit, but they are unfit because they are women? Sir, it may be a fine lofty opinion to say women are not entitled to be enfranchised, but it is not an argument, and I can quite understand that no better reason than that has been advanced by any hon. Gentleman who has endeavoured to show that women, as women, are unfit to exercise the Parliamentary franchise. Sir, it is continually said that women have other duties to perform than to engage in hotly-contested political struggles; but in answer to that, may I ask why you have already given to women semi-political privileges? At the present moment they have a vote, and not an unimportant vote, in all parochial and municipal elections, and I have yet to be told that their conduct in those matters has not been most beneficial and of great advantage. And, Sir, if this be so, how can anyone say that you will be overstepping the bounds of the Constitution by giving a woman having property the power to vote for a Member of Parliament, any more than you are overstepping the bounds of the Constitution by allowing a woman to vote for a town councillor or a member of a school board? Sir, this being the case, is it fairness, is it equity, is it justice, that women holding a stake in the country, possessing property, but not possessing husbands, should be debarred from exercising the right which every Englishman who possesses it values dearly, and that is the right and the privilege of recording his vote for one Party in the State or the other? No, Sir, wonderful events indeed may happen in the 19th century, and questions of great doubt and difficulty may arise, but I have this confidence in my countrymen, that I will not believe when the question is put to them in reality, that they will deny to that portion of their fellow-subjects, and when those fellow-subjects are interested and intellectual fellow-beings, the rights and the privileges which they so highly value and possess.


Sir, I need hardly tell you that it is with extreme reluctance that I take part in this debate; but I am somewhat peculiarly circumstanced with regard to this question, and duty compels me, to make some observations. In the year 1867, when Mr. Stuart Mill first made a proposition like that contained in this Bill to the House, I was one of those who went with him into the Lobby. In his autobiography he refers to this fact, and he says that I was one of those who were opposed to the proposition being submitted to the House, but that the weight of argument in its favour was so great that I was obliged to go with him into the Lobby. I can very honestly say that he was entirely mistaken in that statement. Though I did vote with him I voted under extreme doubt, and far more from sympathy with him—for whom in many respects, and on many grounds, I had so great an admirations—than from sympathy with the proposition with which he was then identified, and at that time advocating. But if I had doubts then, I may say that those doubts have been only confirmed by the further consideration I have been able to give to this question. The Bill seems to be based on a proposition which is untenable, and which, I think, is contradicted by universal experience. In fact, it is a Bill based on an assumed hostility between the sexes. Now, I do not believe that any hon. Member in this House who is going to support this Bill entertains that view; but if hon. Members have been accustomed to read the speeches of the principal promoters of this Bill out-of-doors, and if they have had an opportunity, as I have had, on many occasions, of entering into friendly and familiar conversation on this question with those who support it I think they will be forced to the admission, that the Bill, as it is offered to us, and by those by whom and for whom it is offered to us, is a Bill based upon an assumed constant and irreconcilable hostility between the sexes. The men are represented as seeking to rule, even to the length of tyranny; and the women are represented as suffering injustice, even to the length or depth of slavery. These are words which are constantly made use of, both in the speeches and in the conversation of the women who are the chief promoters of this Bill. And this is not said of savage nations, or of savages—and there are some in civilized nations—but it is said of men in general, of men in this civilized and Christian country in which we live. What if we look over this country and its population would strike us more than anything else? It is this that at this moment there are millions of men at work sacrificing, giving up their leisure, their health, sustaining hardship, confronting it in every shape for the sake of the sustenance, the comfort, and the happiness of women and children. Yet it is of these men, of these millions, that language such as I have described is constantly made use, and made use of eminently by the chief promoters of this Bill. The object of the Bill is not the mere extension of the suffrage to 300,000 or 400,000 persons; its avowed object is to enable women in this country to defend themselves against the tyranny of a Parliament of men, and the facts that are brought forward are of the flimsiest character. There is the question of the property of married women. There may be injustice with regard to the laws that affect the property of married women; but is there no injustice in the laws which affect the property of men? Have younger sons no right to complain just as much as married women? If a man dies in the street worth £100,000 in land, and he leaves no will, what does the fiat of this House say? It says that the £100,000 in land shall all go to the eldest boy, because he happened to come first into the world, and that the rest of the family of the man shall be left to seek their fortunes as they like. Is there any greater injustice than that? But that is an injustice which Parliament inflicts upon men as well as women; and the fact of there being some special or particular injustice of which women may or have a right to complain—I am not asserting or denying it—is no argument, no sufficient argument, for the proposition which is now before the House. I have observed when the question of the property of married women has been before Parliament—I think it was brought forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Southampton (Mr. Russell Gurney)—that he was supported by several hon. and learned Gentlemen, lawyers of eminence in the House; and, so far as my recollection goes, the matter was discussed with great fairness, great good temper, great liberality, and changes were made which, to some extent, met the view of those who had proposed them. There can be no doubt then—I think no Member of the House on either side will doubt, or allow it to be said without contradicting it—that this House is not as fairly disposed to judge of all questions of that kind which affect women as it is qualified and willing to judge all questions of a similar or analogous character which affect men. If married women are wronged in any matter of this kind, surely we all know that many of our customs and laws in regard to property come down from ancient times, and from times when power was law, and when women had little power, and the possession and the defence of property was vested, and necessarily vested, almost altogether in men. But there is another side to this question. It seems almost unnecessary to quote it, but I would recommend some of those very people who blame Parliament in this matter to look at how much there is in favour of women in other directions. Take the question of punishment. There can be no doubt whatever that as regards that question there is much greater moderation, and I might say mercy, held out to women than there is to men. Take the greatest of all punishments for the greatest of all crimes. Since I have been in Parliament I think I could specify more than a score of instances in which the lives of women have been spared in cases where the lives of men would have been taken. It is a horror to me to have to speak in a civilized and Christian Assembly of the possibility of the lives of women being taken by the law, but the law orders it, and it is sometimes done; but whether it be from mercy in the Judge, or from mercy in the jury, or mercy in the Home Secretary, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the highest punishment known to the law is much more rarely inflicted upon women, and has been for the last 30 or 40 years, than upon men. Also in all cases of punishment, I say the Judges and juries are always more lenient in disposition to women than they are to men. I might also point out to some of those ladies who are very excited in this matter that in cases of breach of promise of marriage, the advantage on their side seems to be enormous. As far as I can judge from the reports of the cases in the papers, they almost always get a verdict, and very often, I am satisfied, where they ought not to get it. Beyond that, the penalty inflicted is very often, so far as I can judge, greatly in excess of what the case demands. Take the small case now of taxation. We know that the advocates of this measure deal with very little questions, showing for instance how badly women are treated by Parliament. Take the case of domestic women-servants, who are numerous; they are not taxed, men are. That is an advantage to the women as against the men. I do not say that it is any reason why you should not pass this Bill; but I am only saying that these little differences exist, and will exist; they exist in every coun- try, and under every form of government, and in point off act have nothing whatever to do with the real and great question before us. The argument which tells with many persons who sign the Petitions to this House is the argument of equal rights. They say, if a man lives in a house and votes, and a woman lives in another house, why should not she vote also? That is a very fair and a very plain question, and one not always quite easy to answer. It is said, there can be no harm to the country that women should vote, and I believe that is a thing which many of us, even those who oppose this Bill, may admit. It is not a question which depends upon a proposition of that kind. As to the actual right, I would say nothing about it. I suppose, however, the country has a right to determine how it will be governed—whether by one man, whether by few, or whether by many. The intelligence and the experience and the opinion of the country must decide where the power must rest, and upon whom the suffrage shall be conferred. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Forsyth) told us that unless this Bill passed there would be a class injured and discontented, and reference has been made to the condition of the agricultural labourer. But I think there is no comparison between the two cases. If the landowners could only vote, the tenants would have a right to complain; and if the landowners and the tenants only voted, the labourer would have a right to complain. The landlord, no doubt, has interests different in many respects from the tenant, and the tenant and landlord different from the labourers; and if a whole class like the agricultural labourers, or like the agricultural tenants, were shut out, they would have a right to be discontented and to complain of the injustice or un-wisdom of Parliament. So with regard to merchants, manufacturers, and their workpeople. But the great mistake is in arguing that women are a class. Why, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Marylebone, who, being a lawyer of eminence and a great scholar, ought to be able to define rather more accurately, spoke more than once in the course of his speech of women as a class. Nothing can be more monstrous or absurd than such an appellation for women. Why, Sir, women, so to speak, are everywhere. Not in a class as agricultural labourers, or factory-workers. They are in your highest, your middle, your humblest ranks. They are our mothers, our wives, our sisters, and our daughters. They are as ourselves. We care as much for them sitting in this House as Members of Parliament and as legislators for the country as for ourselves, and they are as near our hearts here as in our homes and our families. I venture to say that it is a scandalous and an odious libel to say that women are a class, and that, therefore, they are excluded from our sympathy, and that Parliament can do no justice, or rather would do any injustice, in regard to them. If there be any fact which seems at any time to contradict this, I am sure it can arise only from the ignorance of Parliament; and that fair discussion such as we bring to bear upon all questions, will at no remote period, but at an early period, do all the justice which it is in the power of Parliament to do. So much then with regard to these political wrongs. I do not believe that the women of England suffer in the least from not having what is called direct representation in this House. Politically, I believe it would be no advantage if they were so represented. I dismiss altogether the question of what may be called political wrongs, and come to consider whether this Bill has in it more than that which you read in its clauses. Some one has said in the course of the debate that there would be about 380,000 or 400,000 voters added by its passing to the present constituencies—about 13 per cent. But the Bill, unfortunately for those who argue about political wrongs, excludes by far the greatest portion of women, and excludes those specially who, if there be any special qualification required for an elector, may be said to be especially qualified—that is the married women. They are older; they are, on the whole, generally more informed; they have greater interests at stake, and yet they are excluded. But, then, it is said by those outside, not by their Friends here—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) went so far as to deny what I am about to say altogether, in which I think he was inaccurate and very injudicious—it is said outside that this Bill is an instalment only, that it is but one step in the path of the redemption of woman. Now, if that be so, it is very odd that those most con- cerned in the Bill do not appear to be aware of it, because I find that last year, or the year before, there was a general dispute on this matter. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone himself will acknowledge that he knows that he has only very partially the confidence of his clients. They go with him, or he goes with them, in a certain direction, and they know that at the next milestone, or at some point to be approached by this Bill, they are to part company, and instead of having to listen to half-an-hour's or three-quarters-of-an-hour's pleasant speech on behalf of his present clients, we shall have no doubt to listen to a speech of equal length to show that he has gone so far that nothing could be more perilous than an attempt to go any further. But last year I recollect reading in a newspaper which is supposed to represent the opinions in some degree of a Member of this House who warmly sympathizes with the cause of those who promote this Bill a letter which I will read, because it does not say much more than is generally held by the warmest supporters of the Bill. It says— Married women cannot claim to vote as householders, but why should not they, as well as men, vote as lodgers? Since the law recognizes none but a direct payment for lodgings as conferring the franchise, why should not a married woman who desires it, and who possessess money independent of her husband, pay him for her lodging? Married women devoid of means could not make such an arrangement. But let us say, for argument's sake—suppose a wife's position is by English law established, the most abject possible for a human being short of absolute slavery; that she is a servant, differing from, and better than a slave, only inasmuch as her servitude is voluntarily assumed at her will, still, by the law, she retains the right to appraise her services, and to stipulate for her remuneration before she accepts a master, and that remuneration might enable her to constitute herself a lodger. The lady who writes this—if it be a lady—then says— If the money value falls short of the requirements of the franchise, it is just that she, like men similarly poor, should not possess a vote. That is signed "A Married Claimant to the Franchise;" and I believe, though in broader terms, that it expresses very much the kind of extravagant desire there is—I admit on the part of a few women—that this Bill should pass, and that other Bills naturally and logically following it, should at some future time pass. Now, in discussing this question, I am much more anxious to lay before the House the doubts and difficulties that I feel, than to say anything very strong either against the measure or against those who propose it. But I should like to ask two or three questions. How, for example, if this Bill passes, you will contend against further claims? When I was accustomed, and Friends with me, to ask the House to extend the franchise to the householders to any point below the then existing franchise, there were those who argued in this way—"Well, but this will not settle the question; you will want more. Very likely you will go on to universal suffrage, or what is called manhood suffrage." But if we did go on to that, we introduced no new principle; we understood what votes were, and that the alteration effected no great change or social revolution of any kind. But when you come to this question of giving votes to women, although the claim may become irresistible at some time, although it may be wrong or right—I am not going to set my opinion against those who differ from me—Parliament ought to have the sense to try and understand where it is going, and what it is intending to do. If this Bill passes, what will be the question asked of this House by some hon. Members whom I need not name. They will say, very reasonably—"Shall marriage be a political disqualification? You have given a vote to all young women who are unmarried who occupy a house and have property, and to all old women who are widows who occupy a house and have property, what do you say to those who compose, it may be, nine-tenths of the whole, or a very large proportion, what do you say to them? They have votes until they marry, but the moment they come out of church or chapel, though they may bring fortunes to their husbands"—and the supporters of this Bill are very anxious that the property should be separate—"yet the moment the marriage takes place the lady's vote merges, and the husband becomes the elector." Having first granted this, that women shall vote, how can you answer any man who says—"Shall marriage disqualify, and if the unmarried vote, shall the married be disfranchised?" It seems to me that if you pass this Bill, and you go no further, what Mr. Mill called the subjection of women will be established, and you must agree upon every Bill which is intended to enfranchise them. Then I would ask another question. If all men, being electors and householders, have a right to be elected, if the constituency choose to elect them, upon what principle is it that women should not have a right to be elected? These are reasonable questions, and we who are asked to pass this Bill, but who oppose it and doubt its wisdom, have a right to ask these questions and to have answers to them. If we are to travel this path, let us know how far we are going, and to what it leads. I have always had a great sympathy with a wide suffrage, and have now, but still I want to know, if we are embarking on an entirely new career, what sort of weather we are to have, and what is the haven to which we are about to steer, if we grant that every woman, whether married or unmarried, shall have a vote? The hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) referred to what would happen if this Bill were passed—namely, that in every house there would be a double vote. If the parties were agreed, it would make no difference at an election. If they were not agreed, it had been suggested that you might introduce discord into every family, if not between man and wife, certainly between the parents and children, the brothers, as had been said, taking the part of their mother, and the sisters that of their father. In any case, you would have discord in the house, and an amount of social evil which surely the friends of this measure do not contemplate, and which cannot arise under the present system. Now, we in this House have one peculiar knowledge—thatis, of the penalties which we pay for our constitutional freedom. There are many hon. Gentlemen in this House who cannot look back upon their electioneering experience without feelings of regret, and I am afraid there are some who must look back with feelings of humiliation. Now, I should like to ask the House whether it is desirable to introduce our mothers, and wives, and sisters, and daughters into the excitement, and the turmoil, and it may be into the very humiliation which seems in every country so far to attend a system of Parliamentary representation, whether it be in the United States, where so many systems are tried, or whether in this country, or in France, of which we recently have had an ex- ample, we see there how much there is that candidates can scarcely avoid, yet must greatly deplore, and we are asked to introduce the women of England into a system like this from which we can hardly extract ourselves without taint of pollution, which we look back upon even with shame and disgust. I will not say that women would be more likely to be more tainted in this manner than we are; but I believe there have been some experiences even since the Municipal Act gave them votes. I know one place in my own neighbourhood where scenes of the most shocking character took place; and in another borough not far from where I live, whose Member or Members vote for this Bill, at a recent municipal contest women were served, with what certainty was not wholesome or good for them, during the morning and forenoon, until they had been polled. I know at another borough in Lancashire at the last General Election there were women by hundreds, I am told, but at any rate in great numbers, drunk and disgraced under the temptations that were offered in the fierceness and unscrupulousness of a political contest. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) referred to the Catholic question—to the influence that might be exercised by the Catholic priest. I will not go into that further than to say that every man in this House must be sensible, and those who are in favour of this Bill have never to me ventured to deny, that the influence of priest, parson, and minister would be greatly increased if this Bill and other measures of a similar character were passed. I recollect last year discussing this Bill with a gentleman who was a Member of a former Parliament and a Member for an Irish constituency—I rather think he supported this Bill, but I am not quite sure—and he said—"One thing you may rely upon, that in Catholic Ireland every woman's vote may be taken to be the priest's vote." Hon. Members who come from Ireland may contradict this, and they are much better authorities on the subject than I am. But I do not give it on my own authority. I give it on the authority of one of their own Members in a previous Parliament, and a man equal to any Members for Irish constituencies or English either, as a gentleman of knowledge and veracity in a matter of this kind. All these risks and all this great change we are asked to make—for what? To arm the women of this country against the men of this country. To arm them, that they may defend themselves against their fathers, their husbands, their brothers, and their sons. To me the idea has something in it strange and monstrous, and I think a more baseless case, that is on the ground of any suffered injustice, was never submitted to this House. I believe that if everybody voted, if all women and all men voted, the general result must be the same; for, by an unalterable law, strength is stronger than weakness, and in the end, as a matter of absolute necessity, men must prevail. My sympathies have always been in favour of a wide suffrage. They are so at this moment, and I grieve very much that a measure should be submitted to this House in favour of the extension of the suffrage to which I cannot give my support. But I confess I am unwilling for the sake of women themselves to introduce them into the contest of our Parliamentary system, to bring the munder the necessity of canvassing themselves or being canvassed by others. I think they would lose much of that, or some of that, which is best that they now possess, and that they would gain no good of any kind from being mingled or mixed with Parliamentary contests and the polling-booth. I should vote for this measure, if I were voting solely in the interests of the men; I shall vote against it, I believe with perfect honesty, believing in doing so that I am serving the interests of women themselves. I recollect that an hon. Member who voted for this Bill last year, in conversation with me next day, said he had very great doubts upon the matter, because he believed that the best women were against it. Well, I find, wherever I go, that all the best women seem to be against this Bill. If the House believes that it cannot vote justly for our mothers, our sisters, our wives, and our daughters, the House may abdicate and pass this Bill; but I believe that Parliament cannot be otherwise—unless it be in ignorance—cannot be otherwise than just to the women of this country, with whom we are so intimately allied. Believing that, and having these doubts—doubts which are stronger even than I have been able to express, and doubts which have come upon me stronger and stronger, the more I have considered this question I am obliged, differing from many of those whom I care for, and whom I love, to give my vote in opposition to this measure.


said, that feeling, in the very few moments available to him, he could not possibly do justice to the task, he would waive his right of reply.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 152; Noes 239: Majority 87.

Anderson, G. Fawcett, H.
Archdale, W. H. Fitzmaurice, Lord E.
Bateson, Sir T. Forester, C. T. W.
Bathurst, A. A. Forster, Sir C.
Beach, W. W. B. Fraser, Sir W. A.
Beaumont, Major F. Gardner, J. T. Agg-
Beresford, Colonel M. Gardner, R. Richardson-
Biggar, J. G.
Birley, H. Goldsmid, Sir F.
Blake, T. Gordon, rt. hon. E. S.
Bourne, Colonel Gorst, J. E.
Bousfield, Major Gourley, E. T.
Briggs, W. E. Greenall, Sir G.
Bright, Jacob Gurney, rt. hon. R.
Brooks, M. Hamond, C. F.
Bruce, rt. hon. Lord E. Harrison, C.
Bruce, hon. T. Harrison, J. F.
Burt, T. Henley, rt. hon. J. W.
Cameron, C. Hervey, Lord F.
Carter, R. M. Heygate, W. U.
Cawley, C. E. Hodgson, K. D.
Chadwick, D. Holker, Sir J.
Chapman, J. Hopwood, C. H.
Charley, W. T. Ingram, W. J.
Cholmeley, Sir H. Jackson, Sir H. M.
Clarke, J. C. Jenkins, D. J.
Clifford, C. C. Jenkins, E.
Cobbold, T. C. Kenealy, Dr.
Collins, E. Kinnaird, hon. A. F.
Conyngham, Lord F. Knightley, Sir R.
Corbett, J. Lambert, N. G.
Cowan, J. Laverton, A.
Cowen, J. Leeman, G.
Crawford, J. S. Legard, Sir C.
Cross, J. K. Leith, J. F.
Cubitt, G. Lloyd, M.
Davie, Sir H. R. F. Lopes, Sir M.
Deakin, J. H. Lusk, Sir A.
Dickson, T. A. Mackintosh, C. F.
Dilke, Sir C. W. M'Arthur, A.
Dillwyn, L. L. M'Kenna, Sir J. N.
Disraeli, rt. hon. B. M'Lagan, P.
Dixon, G. M'Laren, D.
Dodds, J. Manners, rt. hn. Lord J.
Downing, M'C. Marten, A. G.
Dundas, J.C. Mellor, T. W.
Elliot, Sir G. Milbank, F. A.
Elliot, G. W. Mills, A.
Ennis, N. Morley, S.
Eslington, Lord Mundella, A. J.
Ewing, A. O. Muntz, P. H.
Neville-Grenville, R. Simon, Mr. Serjeant
Nolan, Captain Sinclair, Sir J. G. T.
Norwood, C. M. Smith, E.
O'Byrne, W. R. Smyth, R.
O'Clery, K. Spinks, Mr. Serjeant
Palk, Sir L. Stacpoole, W.
Pateshall, E. Stansfeld, rt. hon. J.
Pennington, F. Stewart, M. J.
Perkins, Sir F. Taylor, P. A.
Phipps, P. Temple, rt. hon. W. Cowper-
Pim, Captain B.
Playfair, rt. hon. L. Tennant, R.
Polhill-Turner, Capt. Thwaites, D.
Potter, T. B. Torrens, W. T. M'C.
Powell, W. Trevelyan, G. O.
Puleston, J. H. Villiers, rt. hon. C. P.
Ramsay, J. Ward, M. F.
Redmond, W. A. Wells, E.
Reed, E. J. Wheelhouse, W. S. J.
Richard, H. Whitworth, B.
Ripley, H. W. Wilson, C.
Round, J. Wilson, Sir M.
Ryder, G. R. Yeaman, J.
Rylands, P. Yorke, J. R.
Sanderson, T. K.
Sandford, G. M. W. TELLERS.
Sheridan, H. B. Anstruther, Sir R.
Shute, General Forsyth, W.
Adam, rt. hon. W. P. Cavendish, Lord G.
Adderley, rt. hn. Sir C. Cecil, Lord E. H. B. G.
Agnew, R. V. Chaplin, Colonel E.
Allsopp, C. Chaplin, H.
Allsopp, H. Childers, rt. hon. H.
Amory, Sir J. H. Churchill, Lord R.
Arkwright, A. P. Clifton, T. H.
Ashley, hon. E. M. Clive, hon. Col. G. W.
Bagge, Sir W. Clowes, S. W.
Balfour, A. J. Cobbett, J. M.
Barclay, A. C. Cole, H. T.
Barrington, Viscount Colebrooke, Sir T. E.
Barttelot, Sir W. B. Corbett, Colonel
Bass, A. Cordes, T.
Bass, M. T. Corry, hon. H. W. L.
Bates, E. Cotes, C. C.
Beach, rt. hn. Sir M. H. Cotton, rt. hn. W. J. R.
Beaumont, W. B. Crichton, Viscount
Bell, I. L. Cross, rt. hon. R. A.
Bentinck, G. W. P. Dalkeith, Earl of
Biddulph, M. Dalrymple, C.
Blackburne, Col. J. I. Davenport, W. B.
Bolckow, H. W. F. Davies, R.
Brassey, H. A. Denison, W. E.
Brassey, T. Dodson, rt. hon. J. G.
Bright, rt. hon. J. Douglas, Sir G.
Bright, R. Duff, M. E. G.
Bristowe, S. B. Duff, R. W.
Broadley, W. H. H. Dunbar, J.
Brown, J. C. Dyke, Sir W. H.
Burrell, Sir P. Dyott, Colonel R.
Butler-Johnstone, H.A. Eaton, H. W.
Butt, I. Edmonstone, Admiral Sir W.
Buxton, Sir R. J.
Campbell, C. Edwards, H.
Campbell, Sir G. Egerton, hon. A. F.
Campbell-Bannerman, H. Egerton, hon. Adm. F.
Elcho, Lord
Carington. hn. Col. W. Errington, G.
Cartwright, F. Fellowes, E.
Cartwright, W. C. Foljambe, F. J. S.
Cave, rt. hon. S. Forster, rt. hon. W. E.
Foster, W. H. Montgomerie, R.
Gallwey, Sir W. P. Montgomery, Sir G. G.
Galway, Viscount Moore, A.
Garnier, J. C. Morgan, hon. F.
Goddard, A. L. Morgan, G. O.
Goldney, G. Mowbray, rt. hon. J. R.
Goldsmid, J. Mulholland, J.
Gooch, Sir D. Mure, Colonel
Gordon, Sir A. H. Naghten, Lt.-Col.
Gordon, W. Newdegate, C. N.
Gower, hon. E. F. L. Newport, Viscount
Greene, E. Noel, rt, hon. G. J.
Gregory, G. B. North, Colonel
Grey, Earl de O'Callaghan, hon. W.
Halsey, T. F. O'Conor, D. M.
Hamilton, Lord C. J. Paget, R. H.
Hamilton, Lord G. Parker, Lt.-Col. W.
Hamilton, Marquess of Pease, J. W.
Hamilton, hon. R. B. Peel, A. W.
Hankey, T. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Harcourt, Sir W. V. Pell, A.
Hardcastle, E. Pemberton, E. L.
Hardy, rt. hon. G. Pennant, hon. G.
Hardy, J. S. Peploe, Major
Havelock, Sir H. Percy, Earl
Hay,rt.hon.Sir J. C. D. Plunket, hon. D. R.
Hayter, A. D. Plunkett, hon. R.
Herschell, F. Portman, hn. W. H. B.
Hildyard, T. B. T. Praed, C. T.
Hinchingbrook, Visct. Praed, H. B.
Holford, J. P. G. Raikes, H. C.
Holland, Sir H. T. Ridley, M. W.
Holms, J. Ritchie, C. T.
Hood, hon. Captain A. W. A. N. Robertson, H.
Roebuck, J. A.
Hope, A. J. B. B. Rothschild, Sir N. M. de
Hubbard, E. Russell, Lord A.
Hubbard, rt. hon. J. Russell, Sir C.
James, Sir H. Salt, T.
James, W. H. Samuda, J. D' A.
Johnstone, Sir H. Scott, M. D.
Jolliffe, hon. S. Scourfield, Sir J. H.
Kavanagh, A. MacM. Sidebottom, T. H.
Kay-Shuttleworth, U. J. Simonds, W. B.
Smith, S. G.
Kingscote, Colonel Smith, W. H.
Knowles, T. Smollett, P. B.
Lawrence, Sir J. C. Smyth, P. J.
Lawrence, Sir T. Somerset, Lord H. R. C.
Lee, Major V. Sotheron-Estcourt, G.
Lefevre, G. J. S. Stanhope, W. T. W. S.
Legh, W. J. Starkie, J. P. C.
Lewis, C. E. Steere, L.
Lewis, O. Stevenson, J. C.
Lindsay, Lord Stuart, Colonel
Lloyd, T. E. Swanston, A.
Lopes, H. C. Sykes, C.
Lorne, Marquess of Talbot, J. G.
Lowe, rt. hon. R. Tavistock, Marquess of
Macartney, J. W. E. Thornhill, T.
Mac Iver, D. Thynne, Lord H. F.
M'Arthur, W. Torr, J.
Maitland, J. Tracy, hon. C. R. D. Hanbury-
Maitland, W. F.
Majendie, L. A. Tremayne, J.
Makins, Colonel Trevor, Lord A.E. Hill-
Malcolm, J. W. Walker, T. E.
Marling, S. S. Wallace, Sir R.
Massey, rt. hon. W. N. Walsh, hon. A.
Merewether, C. G. Walter, J.
Mills, Sir C. H. Waterlow, Sir S. H.
Monckton, F. Watney, J.
Monk, C. J. Weguelin, T. M.
Wellesley, Captain Wolff, Sir H. D.
Whitbread, S. Woodd, B. T
Whitelaw, A. Wynn, C. W. W.
Williams, Sir F. M. Yarmouth, Earl of
Williams, W. Yorke, hon. E.
Wilmot, Sir H. TELLERS.
Wilmot, Sir J. E. Folkestone, Viscount
Winn, R. Leatham, E. A.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.