HC Deb 07 March 1879 vol 244 cc405-507

rose to call attention to the electoral disabilities of women; and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is injurious to the best interests of the Country that women who are entitled to vote in municipal, parochial, and school board elections, when possessed of the statutory qualifications, should be disabled from voting in Parliamentary elections, although possessed of the statutory qualifications; and that it is expedient that this disability should be forthwith repealed. The hon. Member stated that he wished to present a Petition on behalf of the object of the Motion, signed by Professors at the University of Cambridge and others.


said, the usual time for the presentation of Petitions had expired, it being past 5 o'clock. If the hon. Member's Resolution were brought forward as a substantive Motion, it might be accompanied by the presentation of Petitions; but, inasmuch as the Resolution which the hon. Member was about to propose was brought forward as an Amendment to the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair, the Petition could not be presented, but the hon. Member could refer in his speech to the substance of it.


then proceeded to address the House in support of his Motion. He said: I regret that an accident should have prevented my presenting the Petition in due form, but I had put my name down on the Paper, and the prolongation of Private Business carried us over 5 o'clock. Sir, before addressing myself to the substance of the Resolution which I wish to propose as au Amendment to the Motion that you leave the Chair, there are one or two preliminary observations which I wish to be allowed to make to the House. In the first place, it may be asked of me why, having proceeded before by way of a Bill, I now propose to take the sense of the House on the same question by way of a Resolution. I think the reason for that is tolerably plain. Apart from the advantage which is always secured by a little change in the mode of procedure, I confess that I look upon the proceedings on a Wednesday afternoon as very frequently rather discouraging. Some five hours are nominally passed in debate; but only one hour can be said to have any life in it, and the other four hours are a period of semi-animate existence. There are hon. Members, whose courage I have often admired, who are capable of addressing a House consisting of yourself, Mr. Speaker, and two other hon. Members, with the same enthusiasm as if they were addressing a crowded and excited Assembly; but I confess that for myself I am unable to do justice, as I should like to do justice, to a subject which I have very much at heart, if I have not some auditors to whom I can address myself with the hope that my words may have effect. Again, by bringing forward the question at this hour, I gain this advantage—that instead of having to address the Government through the medium of an Under Secretary, in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, I have now the pleasure and advantage of securing the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and I think that alone a sufficient justification for the change I have made. Moreover, it has happened that the right hon. Gentleman in former years has been good enough to support the proposition which I make to-night, and, as he is present now, I think I may hope that he will repeat the conduct which he has adopted on other occasions. I may also say, Sir, with regard to this change of method in bringing forward the question, that there is no change whatever of substance or even of definition. I believe it has occasionally happened that after a Member has been in charge of a Bill which has gone on for some years without apparently any greater prospect of success, he has dropped his Bill and has put upon the Table of the House a Re- solution embodying the principle of the Bill, but embodying it in a somewhat vague fashion; and in doing this he hopes to secure, and, perhaps, does secure, supporters for his Resolution from amongst those who declined to support his Bill. Hon. Gentlemen who are desirous of giving a friendly assistance to any particular Motion are thus enabled to do so under cover of a vague statement, when they had previously refused to support a specific proposal for an alteration of the law. Now, in the present instance, no such change is at all suggested, for the Resolution before the House is as distinct in its demands as the Bill itself, and possibly even more distinct. Some doubts were expressed as to the proper construction of the Bill when it was brought before the House; but I think no doubt whatever can be entertained as to the meaning of the Resolution. It refers to the way in which the suffrage has been conferred upon female residents in towns and municipal districts, school board districts, and parochial unions; and it asks the House to affirm that, inasmuch as the franchise has been granted in these local elections, it should, on the same principles, and subject to the same conditions, be granted at Parliamentary -Elections. It is those persons only whom I desire, at present, at all events, to have a part in Parliamentary Elections, who are already enfranchised in respect to local elections. [Mr. BERESFORD HOPE: Hear, hear!] The hon. Member for Cambridge University gives me a cheer for that, and seems to indicate that hereafter I shall be found advocating the claims of married women to the franchise. I beg to say that is an object to which I do not see my way now, and to which I do not see any probability of my seeing my way hereafter. I shall, therefore, confine my observations to spinsters and widows who are at present entitled to vote at local elections. There is one other preliminary remark I wish to make. The Resolution states that the exclusion of women from the franchise is injurious to the best interests of the country, and that it is expedient that this disability should be forthwith repealed. I believe that statement is perfectly well founded; I believe it to be perfectly true that the best interests of the country are involved in this question; but I would say that I should not have used that phrase but for one consideration. That expression, which I believe to be well warranted, is quoted from the present Prime Minister, and I hope that authority will at least have some weight with hon. Gentlemen opposite. The present Prime Minister, in a letter dated in April, 1873, addressed to the late Mr. Gore Langton, expressed his opinion upon the anomaly of the exclusion from the Parliamentary franchise of women who were admitted to the municipal franchise, and stated that he believed it to be "injurious to the best interests of the country," and he trusted to see it removed by the wisdom of Parliament. Now, Sir, having that authority of the Prime Minister, I have ventured to incorporate the phrase in the proposition before the House. I confess I have borrowed it from that high authority, and in making this reference to the original from which I have borrowed it, it is difficult, when anyone desires to recommend the extension of the franchise to women, not to touch for a moment upon the name of a distinguished lady who has lately passed from among us, the wife of the gentleman to whom that letter was addressed. I had not the honour of knowing Lady Anna Gore Langton, but from her public life, and from the testimony of a large circle of friends, I can say this, at least—that no one had more at heart the interests of her sex, and no one, under varied circumstances and in many climes, was more thoroughly devoted to the alleviation of the wrongs or grievances of women. Now, Sir, the mere form of the proposition which I submit to the House to-night raises, I think, a presumption of argument in favour of what I suggest. If Parliament has seen fit, in its wisdom, to confer the franchise upon the dwellers in towns in respect of municipal matters, and upon the dwellers in school board districts and Poor Law Union districts in respect of education and the administration of the Poor Law, there is, at least, some presumption that it ought to be conferred upon women who live in Parliamentary constituencies, if they also are possessed of a Parliamentary qualification. I will touch hereafter upon the extent of that presumption, and would now observe that the form of the proposition necessarily involves some reference to the experience of the past. We have now tried female suffrage in many forms. We have seen how it works, we can refer to its working, and if we have found it work so as to be beneficial not only to women, but to society generally, then I think our experience furnishes the best possible argument in favour of the extension which I recommend to the House. An argument derived from â priori considerations may often fail from the omission of circumstances which we have neglected to observe; but arguments derived from experience are of such weight that I think the burden is very strongly thrown upon our opponents to show us why the experience which has been good in one sphere would not be good in another. Now, I have endeavoured to ascertain what has been the result of the admission of women to the franchise, and I must say that, as far as I have succeeded, it has been very good. It has been good in the limited form in which we have adopted it here; it has been good also in the more extended form in which it has been adopted in at least one territory in America; and I will, with the permission of the House, refer to the experience of that territory first. The House is probably aware that in the territory of Wyoming women's suffrage has existed for some years, and questions have been raised by persons living in the Eastern States as to the desirability of extending it in their direction. I had the pleasure last summer of hearing a lady from Massachusetts, who had been in the West, and who gave us an account of her experience. She made this statement— In Wyoming, the influence of women had been remarkable; it purified and elevated the character of a politician, at all events of those politicians who had been chosen to perform the functions of legislators in the Legislature of Wyoming. A "politician," I am afraid, in the United States, is too often a word of reproach. It is mixed up with questions of trickery, intrigue, and even corruption. Well, when Wyoming was endowed with a Legislature, and when woman's suffrage was first introduced, one of the great Parties of the State put forward a list—a "ticket," as it is called in the language of the United States—containing the names of persons recommended for election, who were eminently of the class of "politicians." When this was made known, the women of Wyoming, who took a great interest in the subject, and who were going for the first time to exercise the privilege of voting, went to the Leaders of the Party and remonstrated with them upon the character of the men whom they had chosen. The Leaders of that Party utterly neglected the appeal so addressed to them, and the women then went to the rival Party. They said they came to express their opinion of the candidates put forward on the other side, whom they regarded as persons of a very obnoxious character, as being indifferently moral, of low reputation, and not fit to be intrusted with public functions; and they proceeded to urge that the Party they were then addressing would exercise a wiser discretion. This Party did exorcise a wiser discretion in the choice of their candidates, and the result was that in the State of Wyoming the control of the Legislature passed from the first Party, who had it before, and went to the second Party, who consulted, if not the tastes, certainly the morality and feelings of women, in presenting to them for their support a body of men whom they could support without shame and mortification. I thought that was a very remarkable testimony; but I have here in my hand a letter, a short extract from which I propose to read to the House, from the Speaker of the House of Assembly of Wyoming, who was writing to a gentleman who had asked for his experience of the operation of women's suffrage. The letter stated— I have always expected to be called upon to say something, and perhaps the time has come when the public have a right to hear from me on the subject. I started with the strongest prejudice against women's suffrage, and was decidedly opposed to it at all points; but on its introduction I became a close observer of the practical results of this innovation upon the rights of man. I have been for three successive Sessions returned, without opposition, to the Legislature, and I have been twice Speaker of the House of Representatives, and I have had opportunities of forming a judgment upon the circumstances. I can now say that the more I have seen of the results of women's suffrage the less have my objections been realized, and the more has the thing commended itself to my judgment and good opinion; and now I frankly acknowledge, after all my distrust, that it has worked well and been productive of much good to the territory, and of no evil that I have been able to discern. Women are more interested in good government and its moral influence upon our future sons and daughters than men. They look above and beyond mere Party questions or influences in deciding their vote. And, then, again, Sir, he says— If the ballot in the hands of women compels the contending Parties to place their best men in nomination, this in itself is a strong reason for extending women's suffrage. It has been said that woman disgraces herself by going to the poll, and thereby loses the respect and esteem of man; but I must say that amongst all the wild and reckless men in public life, I have never seen any disrespect shown to women as a whole, and that men never forget in all the excitement of elections that woman is their mother; nor, to my knowledge, has the exercising of the political rights of women led to any domestic trouble, or made any of us speak slightingly of them. In whatever concerns the household or family, women are more interested in good government than a single man is or can be; and if it is the good government which is sought by a civilized people, I see no safer manner or better way of securing that object than by putting the ballot in the hand of woman. Now, I think that is extremely remarkable testimony. It may, no doubt, be said to come from very far away. I am afraid that many of us would be at a loss to say exactly where Wyoming was, and I should not like to ask any considerable number of hon. Members to put their fingers upon it in a map; within 1,000 miles; but I am thankful to say I have testimony from nearer home. I heard it last autumn from a lady who lived in a large manufacturing Midland town. In that town, as in all great towns, there was one ward in which resided what might be described as the "residuum," the ward in which lived the lowest class of voters. Well, Sir, this lady went to some of the persons interested in municipal elections in that town, and said— "Have you considered the propriety of contesting this particular ward?" They said—"No, we have not; this is a hopeless ward; the influences in it are thoroughly bad, it is impossible to work up on it at all." The lady went away discouraged; but she came back again, and said—"Don't you think you could do something to put a better candidate in this ward?" "Utterly impossible!" "Do you know there are 450 women electors in this ward; have you tried to ascertain their opinions?" "No." "Let me call a meeting of the women electors, and talk to them." She called a meeting, and it was extremely successful—so successful that another was called, and the women who had not at- tended the first came to the second by their own desire — working women, women working in factories, widows, spinsters, shopwomen, and the result was this—that a candidate was proposed, and he was elected by a majority exceeding 400, just the number of the women electors brought in. I think that fact is extremely remarkable. Here, again, experience has shown that the system of giving the franchise to women has been of great benefit in improving the purity of elections and raising the standard of character required of the candidates, and it has forced upon the men the necessity of consulting the feelings of the women electors. Now, Sir, there is another witness I am going to cite. I know the House is not fond of extracts, but I am not going to read many; this will be the last; but, at the same time, I will confess I am going to read the whole of a speech. It is a speech made by Mr. Henley on this subject in 1873. I need not dwell in this House upon the excellences of Mr. Henley. This much may be said of him —he was not a man given to any gushes of sentiment; he was a perfectly sagacious, well-trained, reasonable, and mode rate man, a man also of equal courage and intelligence. I remember one expression once used by this Gentleman in this House. He once said, with reference to a speech that was full of high-sounding phrases, perhaps not sufficiently ballasted by common sense— "Old as I am, I can at least lie down on my back in a ditch and cry 'Fudge!'" I am sure Mr. Henley could always "lie down on his back in a ditch and cry 'Fudge!'" Mr. Henley voted against giving women the suffrage in four successive years. He, therefore, was not only an opponent, but put his opposition on record; but in 1873 he told the House he had changed his mind. He said— Sir, I have always voted against this Bill; but I have lately watched carefully the operation of the exercise of the franchise both in municipal and in school board elections, by women, and as I think it has been beneficial in these cases, I do not see any reason why it should not be beneficial in Parliamentary elections.…I confess I have always hitherto voted against the Bill, but for the reasons I have stated I shall now give it my hearty support." — [3 Hansard, ccxv. 1254.] That is a manly confession by one who had the courage to look things in the face, and I think it is one of the strongest possible arguments in favour of the proposition I am submitting to the House. He was a man not to be led a way by old prejudices or foolish phrases; he watched things, and no man could watch more warily than Mr. Henley. Everyone knew when he looked through a Bill he knew the whole Bill; he watched this thing, and having found that it had done good in municipal elections he supported it. I go back to my proposition. The form of it brings out another thing—it shows the moderation of it. I have been asked during the last two or three days—and I dare say some one will put the question this evening—how it was that I, who demurred to the extension of the franchise to the agricultural labourers, can yet want to extend it to women? People say— "Have you not yourself made the best possible speech against any extension of the franchise whatever?" Now, Sir, I do not think that the confusion is in myself when I say I am quite able to advocate the extension of the franchise to women, and at the same time to adhere to every word I said on Tuesday night. In the first place, I do not place the claims of women to the franchise on the basis of any claim of natural right. Of course, if I attempted to assert that women, being adult human creatures, were entitled to vote, I should be obliged to admit that the agricultural labourer, as an adult human creature, was entitled to vote; but I do not base my argument upon any such reason. My reasoning is solely of a utilitarian character, as it was also the other night. My argument is this—Admit women to the franchise, and both they and the State will benefit; and the form in which my proposition is put shows the extreme moderation of the proposal. It differs entirely from other enfranchising proposals in this respect—that it is eminently a case of lateral, and not of vertical, extension. I propose to enfranchise the women where the men are already enfranchised. Where a man lives in a house and has a vote, and his sister-in-law or his mother-in-law dwells in the next house as the rated occupier, I propose to give her the vote. In this proposal no new class is attempted to be brought in— it is a lateral, rather than a vertical, form of extension. There is another thing— our electoral system is one of an anomalous character. We have all kinds of constituencies, with different qualifications prevailing. The system is not a good one; I wish to see it amended in many ways. But, at all events, it is a workable system, and it does in some way secure a balance between the different powers in the State. The present proposal differs entirely from that to enfranchise the agricultural labourers in that it touches all constituencies, and all alike. You do not, as you would under another proposal, have any one-sided, over-balancing of the Parliamentary system, enfranchising voters in one half of the constituencies and leaving the other unaltered. You leave the different parts of the machine among themselves perfectly unaltered. Of course, that goes to the root of the question. Everybody knows, everybody confesses, that if the agricultural labourer were enfranchised you must necessarily have a re-distribution of seats. There have been many fantastic arguments advanced against women's suffrage, but I have never heard anybody argue against it on the ground that it would involve a re-distribution of seats; and I do not expect anyone will thus argue. It leaves your Parliamentary system very much in statu quo, the different parts bear the same relation to one another as parts of the great whole. I therefore can see no inconsistency in what I said the other day, and in what I say now. The proposition before us is one of the simplest, most moderate, and safest character; it is recommended by experience, it contains in itself nothing alarming, it involves no further changes. Why is it wanted? Well, it is wanted for many reasons; but, in the first place, it is forthisreason— That these women whom I ask you to enfranchise have rights and interests very much the same as men have, and that their rights and interests will, at all events, not be so adequately considered as the rights and interests of men until they are admitted to the franchise. From the cradle to the grave women are under the subjection of the law; their rights and interests are regulated by law; and I ask hon. Members to consider carefully whether women have had equal justice, or even now have equal justice with men? It is not any imputation on the justice of this House; but men, whatever class they belong to, wherever they are, have not, and I think we, Sir, in this House especially, have not that power of sympathy which is a pre-requisite of human intelligence to enable us to understand how women are affected in their rights and interests, because we do not feel as women do. It appears to me that this House, at all events, is deficient in the power of sympathy and sensibility, and must always be so; because, as a matter of fact, those who are Members of this House have come into it on account of the possession of qualities that are anti-sympathetic. We must have pushed ourselves forward in order to get here. Of course, there are exceptions; some are brought here by their parents and guardians to perfect their education—and I am afraid some of these think it a great bore to go through this additional course of instruction—but the mass are pushing, energetic men, and must have a great deal of egotism in them, or they would not be here at all. Until women are able to speak for themselves, and to explain their special grievances, the disadvantages under which they labour at present will never be redressed. I said from the cradle to the grave girls were under the law. Take a girl's education. What provision is made for the education of girls? See how educational foundations have been appropriated. The boys have charitable trusts like Christ's Hospital. We all know what Christ's Hospital is as a school for boys; but I dare say the vast majority of the hon. Members of this House are not aware that Christ's Hospital was founded as a school for girls also. It was intended to be a school for both, but the girls' school of Christ's Hospital is a small school at Hertford, which is very limited in extent, and the education given is that which might fit her to be a sort of upper housekeeper, whilst for the best of the boys a career is opened; they are sent to the Universities, and can and do rise to fill the highest offices in the State; but the girls are few in number, they are imperfectly educated, and turned out fitted for no higher function than that of a moderate housekeeper. That is not a single case; there was the case of the administration of the Leeds Charity before them the other year, and I lately saw a case of a school in which £ 150 a-year only out of a large endowment was provided for the girls' education. If we were to look into that we should probably find it ought to have been much larger. Again, I would ask the House to consider what has been done for the higher education of women. What has the House done to promote the higher education of women? Even now what does this House answer? When a most modest request was made to this House, I am sorry to say this House refused to listen to the proposal. Only two years ago, when the University Bill was passing through the House, it was asked that power should be given to the Universities to grant degrees to women, but that was refused. At present the resident members of the University of Cambridge—all honour to them—do, in a by-way, examine candidates and give certificates of honour. This House was asked to meet that, and to give the University of Cambridge power to do openly and publicly what it does now by a side wind; but the House refused to do that. Well, Sir, I pass to another statement. I consider the case of marriage. Even your marriage laws are not equal. Are the rights and duties, obligations, and privileges of husband and wife equal? You know perfectly well they are not. The man and woman enter on equal relations into the married life; but the law at once destroys that equality; for we are told that when it has been a stipulation on the part of the woman that a certain condition should be imported into the contract of marriage, a condition the law acknowledged to be a good one, yet that can be disregarded at the will of the man after the marriage had been consummated. I am referring, of course, to the Agar-Ellis case. He, as a matter of fact, gave a promise that the children should be educated in a particular fashion; but after marriage the husband refused to carry out that contract. Of course, I cannot say what action the House will take when this question is brought before it; but so long as these things are the consequence of the relation of marriage, then I say you do not treat women in anything like an equality with men. I may here mention that I had the curiosity some days ago to look back upon the Divisions on this question, to see how Mr. Agar-Ellis had voted on the question of Woman's Suffrage, and I was not surprised to find that he had been a very consistent opponent; for whenever the question was brought before the House he voted against it. Now, Sir, I will pass for a moment or two to an objection that has often been raised against this proposal. It has been said with an air of great philosophy that government after all rests entirely upon force, and it is absurd to attempt to fight against that principle, by giving to those who are physically weak an equal degree of political power. Now I altogether repudiate that view. No doubt, government is supported by force, but government rests on the moral ideas of the people; the ideas of the people are those of a government, and it is in aid of those ideas only that force is introduced. If we had a moral conviction that the wills of women ought to be considered equally with our own, we should admit women to political power, and, having thus admitted them to power, we should, respect and even enforce the decisions of the community, to which they were parties, even when we questioned their expediency. To do so would be no more than justice, and justice and law are the outcome, not of physical force, but of right ideas of public morality. Now, Sir, I do not wish to detain the House too long, but it is said in the proposition before the House, it is injurious to the highest interests of the country that the Parliamentary franchise should not be conferred on those women who are entitled to vote at municipal, parochial, and school-board elections, and the proposition is true for this reason, that the withholding of the franchise has the worst possible effect on the character of women. That, after all, I believe to be the crucial point of our discussion; it is the question that has acted as a stumbling block, it is the question that occupied my attention most seriously when I first considered this question—what effect would the giving of the Parliamentary franchise have on the character of women? If it is to elevate their character, then I say, anyone who knows how profoundly women influence men, and how the standard of morality in the whole community depends on that of the women, will readily say whatever keeps down women's character must be injurious to the best interests of the whole community. Of course, if political power is likely to injure the character of women, it had better be withheld so as not to lower the standard of morality. A good deal has been said, Sir, in many different ages about the character of women. I suppose there is no subject on which more nonsense has been talked. Pope cut short the subject, by declaring of the character of women, that— Most women have no character at all; though we know Pope had among his acquaintance more than one woman who possessed strength of mind and character, and he has left us in his Atossas and Narcissus the most vivid pictures of individual character. For my part, Sir, when men begin to talk of the characteristics of women, I prefer to fall back on a confession of the difficulty of describing them, which occurs in the mouth of one of Molière's lackeys. It is the old story of a master and lackey in search of mistress and maid, and the lackey is planning how they are to proceed— Car voyez vous, la femme est, comme en dit, mon maître Un certain animal, difficile à connaître. Those who know most about women may perhaps be the first to admit of the sex, that it is difficile à connaître. I believe this, at all events, that whatever the character of the women will be, the character of the men will not be very far off it. We run together, as it were, in double harness. You cannot get very far ahead of women, and women will not get far ahead of you. Moreover, there is this truth to remember, that we are generally on our best behaviour when in the presence of women, and the influence which each exerts on the other is fruitful either for good or evil; and I venture to say that I can prove to the House—I hope to prove to the satisfaction of a majority of the House—that the result of giving Parliamentary franchise to women, will be to elevate her character and make her influence reciprocally good for us. Sir, if you find a sphere in which the influence of women does not prevail, then I venture to say you will find a sphere of life in which the elements of health and vitality are wanting. I say, that influence ought to be extended to the sphere of political action, which is eminently a sphere in which the influence of women is wanting. We have all of us been acted upon, in our early years, most strongly and deeply by the influence of woman, that influence is paramount in the domestic household, it is strong and enduring also in the sphere of religious thought. But when we go out from the household, when we go into practical life, when the boy leaves his mother and quits his home, he is supposed to enter upon a sphere where the influence of woman is excluded, and where that influence, being wanting, a lower morality prevails. If you could find, as happily you can in many instances, in spite of this disability —if you could find me an instance of a woman who is a mother, who is not only perfect in her domestic relations, who is not only pious in her inner life, but is moved by a deep sympathy for the life of nations, and indeed for the life of humanity, whose feelings go forth from her household, go forth from her town, go forth from her county, and extend to the history of her country, to the history of other countries, to the development of the whole human race—if you find such a woman living at home, exchanging on equal terms high thoughts, broad aims, with her husband worthy of her, and if children are brought up under the influence of such a pair, you will find that they too carry forward in their public life lessons deeper than are ordinarily found in those who have not been so placed. Is it not, indeed, in accordance with first principles to suppose that by making woman's sympathies wider, deeper, and nobler, she must be better, and being better she must carry with her greater influence, and her influence will be extended through her children to future generations, affecting the whole tone of the community? Is not that the lesson of that experience to which I have referred? Do you not see such influence exercised by the women who have interested themselves in public affairs in our townships and in the American territory? You have departed from the old ideal of woman that she is to dwell at home; long since have you departed from the ideal of the house-wife spinning among her maidens; you admit women now to the conduct of local and charitable affairs; she has become a very active agent in all forms of parish and town work. You consent to give her a parochial mind, why not give her a national mind? Why not give her, if you like, an Imperial mind? I am glad we have not been wanting in women of great minds in England in past generations. At particular periods, to which we can refer as periods of great distinction, periods for instance as those of Elizabeth and Anne, periods of great vitality, intellectually and morally, it has always been noticeable that women have been foremost. Let us carry our minds back to the days of Elizabeth, and of Lady Jane Grey. They were not alone—far from it—in education and culture. Women shared the highest life of that great time. Consider for a moment Sir Anthony Cooke's children. He had four daughters, all of whom were trained in the highest learning and morality of that day; and what was their influence? One of them was the wife of Lord Keeper Bacon, and mother of the great Chancellor. Another was the wife of Burleigh, and mother of Robert Cecil. A third was married to the Earl of Bedford, and from her the Russells have descended. Such women were like a great gift to their generation. They brought within themselves the highest life of that generation and if you can only infuse into the life of woman generally feelings of national and Imperial duty, you will not only improve the quality of women, lifting them far beyond the idea of imperfect grammar which my hon. and learned Friend (Sir Henry James) once dwelt upon with such fond regard, you will give not only benefit to women, but reciprocal benefits to yourselves. Then we are told that women do not want this. I venture to say, although it may be rather paradoxical, that those who want it most want it least, and those who want it least want it most. The word want has two meanings, and when you say women do not want it, you mean to say that women do not wish it, or that they do not need it. The women who do not want it, are the women who are most in need of it; the women who are least in need of it, are the women who ask for it most. Why is this? The answer is very simple. Until a woman has reached a certain degree of education, until her sympathies are enlarged, until she understands with a living understanding something of the movements of nations, and something of the growth of successive generations, she has not got in her the power of political enthusiasm. When she has got it, she does not want it herself only, but she wants to infuse a similar desire in other women. The woman who has not felt the inspiration of political enthusiasm, of course does not want it. She has not received that education of heart and mind to appreciate what it is, and therefore she does not want it. But who are they who do want it? Let me refer to one illustrious example—Miss Martineau. Will anyone who knew what she was say that she only wanted the right to vote? We all know something about her history. She was a woman of most wonderful range of information, and of the highest political interests. At a time when such knowledge was rare, she had studied by personal travel, and by constant intercourse with travellers, the politics of the Northern States of America. She had mastered the most important and difficult questions of Indian administration. She had investigated in travel those Eastern questions which for three or four years have occupied our attention. She was at home in the truths of political economy, and she made these truths popular; and for years and years, living in her cottage at Ambleside, she wrote for The Daily News, thereby creating an influence upon an unknown number of men. Do you suppose that she wanted a vote? To her a vote would be worthless. She had already got influence and education; she had got that range of ideas which I am claiming for all women, and she knew what an educational influence the privilege of voting would have upon others of her sex. Her desire was to benefit them. So, too, with many of those influential women now living. Do they want a vote? They want it in order that other women may be educated as they have been educated, and that other women may be elevated to the position they have the privilege of occupying; and as long as these aspirations are unfulfilled, the best interests of the country will remain injuriously affected. I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House it is injurious to the best interests of the Country that women who are entitled to vote in municipal, parochial, and school board elections, when possessed of the statutory qualifications, should be disabled from voting in Parliamentary elections, although possessed of the statutory qualifications; and that it is expedient that this disability should be forthwith repealed."—(Mr. Courtney,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


Mr. Speaker, I have so frequently addressed the House on this subject, that I really feel I owe an apology to hon. Gentlemen by venturing to address them again. But I have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney), and it appears to me that the only advantage which he hopes to get from the present form in which he has put the question before the House, is this—that inasmuch as his Motion is in general terms, the difficulties of practically applying the measure he suggests may not be so manifest to the House, while it enables him to get rid of these qualifications which the pressure of the House induced those who preceded him in proposing this measure to include in their Bill. Under this Resolution, all married ladies would be introduced into the electoral roll. Hitherto, the promoters of this measure have been content that married women should be represented by their husbands; but I see no such qualification now. This would, indeed, be a great extension of female influence, because the very advocates of this measure have hitherto held that it is sufficient that a married woman should be represented by her husband. But as this proposal is now placed before us, the assumption is that the hon. Member for Liskeard discards any qualification of that kind, and, therefore, married women are to be doubly represented. My objection to this measure is this — that there is no precedent for it in the government of any independent country in the world; among civilized nations there is no precedent for it. The hon. Member for Liskeard came to the House the other night and strenuously opposed a proposal for extending the household suffrage to counties; but to-day he comes down and proposes an extension of the franchise manifestly much more democratic in its tendencies. [Mr. Courtney: No, no!] The hon. Gentleman says "No, no!" Now, if I understand what a domocratic Constitution means, it means universal suffrage; and if you break down the limitation I which all civilized nations have observed —the limitation of sex—I ask you what chance you have of preserving the limitation of property, or, indeed, of preserving any other limitation? It is on these grounds that the people of the United States, through the House of Assembly and their Senate, have rejected this proposal. They have manhood suffrage; but they dare not venture upon universal suffrage, upon the principle which has formed the basis of this proposal. Sir, the hon. Member for Liskeard feels this, and he has entertained the House with long extracts from a letter written by the President of the House of Assembly in the territory of Wyoming, which is not even a State; it is not numbered as one of the United States. It is a mere territory, containing less than 20,000 inhabitants, and this is the vast precedent which the hon. Member for Liskeard sets up against the unbroken testimony of the civilized world. Well, Sir, the hon. Member bases this proposal upon a principle which is in excess of the principles of the rights of man. As these rights were described by the late Mr. Thomas Paine, whom I suppose the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Wexford has read of, if not heard of—


I simply said nothing about it. Why the hon. Member should bring my name in, I cannot understand.


The hon. and learned Member carries on his private conversation in such loud tones that it cannot escape my ears. But I know that the hon. and learned Baronet is learned in the Roman law. Well, he will admit that the Roman civil law cannot be looked upon as a specimen of the crude legislation of an enlightened people. What did the Roman civil law provide with respect to women? It provided all protection for their rights, and all protection for their personal freedom; but the hon. and learned Baronet will admit that in no one instance did the Roman civil law entail any duties which involved public responsibilities upon women. They were not even permitted, when they possessed property, to become surety. Their rights over their children were preserved while their children were young; but without the intervention of some I male guardian, these rights ceased upon their children coming of age. I might go through further provisions of this civil law; but I have only mentioned this, because I have heard it said that our objection to this great innovation is due to an ignorant prejudice, a prejudice which is unworthy of civilization. There is no code even now more advanced than was proposed by the Roman civil law. It is embodied in the Constitution of France, and so far as personal rights, it is embodied in the Constitution of England. Yet I have heard hon. Members speak of our objection to this Bill as if it were founded on ignorant prejudice. I have said that this proposal is, in principle, in excess of Mr. Thomas Paine's system concerning the rights of man. Well, Mr. Thomas Paine's system has been found so much in excess, that it is gradually being abandoned by the civilized nations of the world; and I will quote a few words from an authority who, although a German by birth, is an American by practice, and an American by the great reputation he has attained, first, as a Professor of Political Economy, at the Carolina College in the Southern States of America, andthen—and I trust he is so still—as Professor of History and Political Science in the Columbia College at New York. It seems to me that it is the political ethics of this country that the hon. Member for Liskeard has concerned himself about, and I find this in Lieber's Political Ethics, vol. ii., p. 107— Dumont, speaking of Paine, in the Souvenirs Leu Mirebeau, ch. xvi., says—'He was a caricature of the vainest Frenchman.' Paine said to Dumont, that if it were in his power to annihilate all libraries, he would do it without hesitation, in order to destroy all the errors deposited in them, and to commence a new chain of ideas and propositions with the rights of man. How many Paines, in their respective spheres, and more or less bold, have we not seen since and are we not seeing daily? Well, Sir, in principle, the proposal now before the House is in excess of Paine's theory, and if this was the opinion which Lieber records as entertained by Dumont and others, what do we think of the authors of the present proposal? But there is in this a mixture of sentimental kindness which commends itself to the minds of some people. The hon. Member has spoken of high qualities found in ladies distinguished in the history of this country. Well might he do so; but who amongst them will he find to advocate this ultra-democracy? Not one, no one lady whose name he has recited would have sanctioned the proposal now before the House. They were contented with their own influence and power to guide other voters; they knew their influence was greater as an adviser, because it was more natural and according to the character of woman. Well then, Sir, it may be suggested, but how can it be that woman should not be enfranchised when we have rejoiced in such a Sovereign as Elizabeth, and when we rejoice in being the subjects of Her most gracious Majesty Queen Victoria? The Roman civil law placed women, to a certain degree, in tutelage, and the Sovereign of this Constitutional State is, practically, in tutelage, for She cannot act without the advice and consent of the Lords, Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons in Parliament assembled. Therefore, I say that the position of Her Majesty and Her great Predecessors is a tribute to the wisdom of the Roman law, and to the Constitution of this country, which combines all that is best in the civil law, and tempers it with that great security for personal freedom which the civil law lacks. This Bill contains a most exaggerated principle— a principle which has not been admitted or adopted by any civilized country. The hon. Member has quoted, in support of his Resolution, the names of those who were Members of this House, and who, I admit should be regarded as high authorities; but when he quoted Lord Beaconsfield, I could not quite admit the force of the appeal, because I am under the impression that Lord Beaconsfield, in his reforms, was somewhat careless of the character, of the power, and of the position of this House. And I cannot forget that when he left this House, he left us without a word of farewell, and took his place above, leaving us the legacy of his Reform Bill. I am not one of those who fear to touch in any way the institutions of the country. I have been in hot water with the Tory Party in former days, because I would be a Reformer; but that never disturbed the confidence of my constituents. I am an old Whig and a Peelite, averse to personal government in all its forms; averse to the ultra-democratic theories being put into practice, because I look upon them as the parent of despotism. Read the history of France in your own time. Well, Sir, the hon. Member asserts in a Resolution, that it would be for these benefit of this country that this exaggerated democratic principle should be introduced into our political Constitution; and it is because I hold freedom to be a treasure which must be guarded by those who are competent to keep it that I always have opposed, and always shall oppose, the proposal which is now before the House.


I intend, Sir, to trespass upon the attention of the House for a very few minutes only; but I think it necessary, for reasons which perhaps I need not now enter into at length, to explain the the meaning of the Vote I am about to give. I confess it seems to me that the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) may have felt that there was some little difficulty on his part in reconciling entirely the speech he made a few nights ago with the speech he made to-night; but whether that is so or not, I, at all events, shall be under no such difficulty, because on the occasion referred to the noble Lord opposite (the Marquess of Hartington) took the opportunity of remarking that my speeches were rather too frequently, as my speech of the evening was intended to be, for the Previous Question. And it is my intention this evening to give a vote which will be also in the direction of the Previous Question. The fact is, that looking at the question from a narrow point of view, and considering the form of the proposal we are now asked to vote upon, it is difficult for a Member of the Government to do otherwise than give his vote for going into Committee of Supply, unless, indeed, he were prepared to adopt in its entirety the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, and to declare not only that in the opinion of this House it is injurious to the best interests of the country that women who are entitled to vote in certain elections should be disabled from voting in Parliamentary elections, but that it is expedient that the disability should be at once removed. To give such a vote as that would be, in effect, to pledge us to bring in or to support a measure for altering the law in that respect. Now I feel that to undertake to alter the law in that direction, though it may seem simple, would, in fact, land us in a very large and difficult undertaking, and upon the same principle on which I have on former occasions deprecated the House passing Resolutions pledging itself to re-open the Reform question, so upon the present occasion I deprecate the passing of such a Resolution as this. But while I say this, I wish to state my own opinion upon the abstract question. I cannot go so far as the hon. Member for Liskeard, and others, who hold out to us that it is a matter of the highest importance to the interests of the country and to the advancement of the female sex that this privilege of voting should be given to women. I think that that view, however eloquently it may be expressed, and however much we may approve of most of the sentiments of the hon. Gentleman, is decidedly a very exaggerated one. On the other hand, I think the view which has just been expressed, that this is an ultra-democratic proposal, is quite as exaggerated; and, for my own part, I incline rather to the belief expressed by my right hon. Friend the late Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), which has been so well referred to already, that women have shown by the manner in which they have exercised the functions permitted to them, that they are not unworthy and not incapable of exercising such functions, and at a fitting time, and under fitting circumstances, I should be prepared to assent to a proposal that the same rank should be given to them as to others. But, as I said before, it opens the door to a very large question. It opens the door not only to the admission of persons who hold a particular qualification, but to the whole question of the relations of the two sexes. I am bound to say that that is a question upon which I am not prepared to advise the House to enter. I altogether dissent from some of the views expressed by the hon. Member for Liskeard—similar to the views expressed by him a few months ago— that justice will not be done to women unless they are directly represented in Parliament. I believe that is as untrue, as I believe it was untrue, when we were told that justice could not be done to the agricultural labourers unless they were represented in Parliament. I think that argument is one that is entirely fallacious; and, similarly, I think that the other argument that the franchise is necessary for the proper eleva- tion of women is as fallacious as the argument that persons who are excluded from the franchise by our Constitution are thereby put outside the pale of the Constitution. That is an argument which I have never admitted. I have expressed this opinion in these few words for the purpose of making it clear that my vote for your leaving the Chair, Mr. Speaker, in order that we may go into Committee of Supply, will be given with the express reservation that I do not by that vote intend to pronounce an opinion upon this question, but rather to pronounce my opinion that this is not the time or the manner in which we ought to enter into the question.


The hon. Member who introduced this question has argued, that from the precedents of municipal and school board elections we should be justified in extending the Parliamentary electoral franchise to women. It seems to me, however, that there is a very great distinction between giving them the municipal vote and giving them the Parliamentary franchise, because nobody can disguise the fact that by a Resolution of this kind we are really asked to break down entirely the distinction which has hitherto represented public and private life—the distinction between men and women. There are two things to be most carefully taken into consideration—first, the very difficult question of the relations of sexes; and, secondly, whether you are to give people rights who are not able to carry out corresponding duties. We have to face this fact, that in the whole course of the history of the world immemorial usage has sanctioned the custom which prevails at the present time. Therefore, we have no mere sentiment— no mere vague idea of right to go upon; but we have to ask ourselves whether what is proposed is really for the interest of the State? It seems to me that this is just the very worst time at which such a question could be brought forward. Women hitherto have taken no part in public life, and you are proposing now that they should be introduced into public life at a time when the franchise is being extended, when all our institutions are being made more democratic, and when public life is becoming more public than it has hitherto been. If you enfranchise these women, who do not represent their sex at all—women with more masculine minds than womanly sympathies—you are casting a great slur upon the sex if you do not go on and enfranchise those who are the best of their sex; and you will be placing yourselves in an illogical position if you give them the privilege of voting and do not admit them to sit in this House. That being so, I say this is the worst time possible at which to admit them into public life, because, in the first place, public life is much more democratic and much more public in every sense of the word than it has hitherto been. You may cite instances where women have been great Rulers, you may go back to the history of our Queens, and find examples of women who have admirably fulfilled the duties of that station. You may quote cases of women who have been sheriffs, and who have performed other executive duties; but none of them have ever been engaged in public life, as women would have to be now if they were admitted to public life. They did not plunge into the turmoil of elections and mob assemblies, as any one must now who takes a prominent part in public life. The argument is, that because women have brains equal to men they ought to have their share of the duties of men. But this is a time above all others when brain is less than ever it was a qualification for the franchise. You are extending the franchise wider and wider without making education or intellect any qualification for its exercise. Even looking at the moral condition of society, I do not believe we have reached so high a pitch of civilization that we can treat men and women as if there were no longer any difference of sex, and as if the world were living in a sort of moral Utopia. On the contrary, as far as I can see, this is the very worst time at which such a change could take place. One great protection enjoyed by women at the present moment is the sense of chivalry which is, to a great extent, being broken down by those women who have lately taken an active part in public life. Those women, who have emerged from their homes to enter into those affairs of public life which have hitherto been entrusted to and discharged by men, have done much to weaken our respect for the sex. This may be said of many of our female novelists, and of those who have taken an active part in agitating this question, and have flooded us with papers, some of which are not such as we like to see. This again, therefore, I say is the very worst time that such a change could take place. But my chief point is that the rights and duties of public life ought to go together—that they are, as it were, convertible terms. It is no use to disguise the fact that women can in no sort of way contribute to the police of the country in the maintenance of order, and yet they are the people who, of all others, both for person and property, require the protection of the police force. I say nothing about this being a great Empire, and the duties involved in its defence, and in promoting its interests abroad, though of course in these duties women can take no part; but I wish to impress upon the House that those who most require the protection of the law are the least capable of giving anything in the way of protection. When we are told that women ought to be entitled to vote in respect of their property, I say that property does not in the present day claim any great share in the franchise. The vote of the landowner is swamped by the votes of his own tenants, and it is not sufficient, therefore, to say that because women have property they ought to have votes in the election of Members of Parliament. A man is liable to military duties in this country and abroad, and he may be called upon at any moment by the police to assist them in the discharge of their duties. A woman has no duties of the kind, and I fail to see why in her case, more than any other, rights and duties should be separated. It is useless for the hon. Member for Liskeard to argue from the franchises women at present possess—in school-board and parochial elections, for instance—that they ought to have the Parliamentary vote. There is a great distinction between the cases. In parochial elections property is the great qualification. A man with a large property has ten times the voting power of a man with a small property, and where women have votes now, their power is proportioned to their property. In the case of school boards, woman has her rights, but she has her duties too. She is capable not only of voting in the elections, but of taking the consequence of that vote and being herself elected on the Board. The hon. Member for Lis- keard would refuse to allow her to have any responsibilities of that kind. He would simply give her the vote, and not permit her to take upon herself the corresponding duties of election to this House. It is for these reasons, and because I believe this Resolution, if passed, would bind us to a very great extent to throw women into public life, and at a time when public life is less fitted for them than at any previous period in history, and because also that it would subvert the sound principle of the Constitution, based upon political economy, that rights and duties should go together, that I for one shall vote against it.


The hon. Member who spoke last (Mr. Hanbury), and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), both appear to think that there is some inconsistency between the speech which the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) delivered a few nights ago and that which he made this evening; but that is not the case. My hon. Friend told the House on the previous occasion that the reason why he took a certain course was his wish that the representation of the country should not be placed in the hands of one class, but that all classes, all opinions, and all parties in the country should be represented. The hon. Member comes forward to-night on exactly the same principle, and pleads for the admission of a class which is present unjustly excluded. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire seemed to think that the Resolution before us would have the effect of admitting married women to the franchise, entirely ignoring the express statement of the hon. Member for Liskeard that he did not intend to include married women, and appearing, also, not to have observed the wording of the Resolution that those women should enjoy the franchise who possess the statutory qualification. The hon. Member told us that he opposed this Motion, because it is of a most democratic character, and will lead to universal suffrage. It seems to me that this is a movement which, so far from being based on the rights of man, is based most distinctly on the rights of property and the established and recognized principles of our Constitution. In fact, no greater obstacle could be placed in the way of the advancement of ultra-democratic theories, tending towards universal suffrage, than by giving completeness to the principle you have already adopted, that those who possess a particular property qualification should have a certain influence in the government of the country. Of all the debates that ever take place in this House, the debates on this question of women's suffrage seem to me the most entirely unsatisfactory, not because there is any want of ability or of earnestness on the part of those who conduct them on the one side or the other, but because it is impossible to resist the conviction that they are debates which should never take place at all. When women were admitted to the municipal franchise, they were admitted without any divisions or discussions here. How much more dignified, how much more gracious would be the attitude of the House if the same course were adopted with regard to this plea for the Parliamentary franchise? It is a plea which once made, and urged with earnestness and sincerity by those who really wish to obtain the rights they are asking for, should be granted without discussion and without delay. Instead of that, we have had, for 11 years, debates—painful and humiliating debates I think they are—and we have been deprived of the opportunity of passing, quietly, simply, and graciously, a measure, not of a sensational or sentimental character, but a plain and simple act of justice. If hon. Members wish to find a way of bringing women into political life, leading them into political agitation, and introducing them to political platforms, they could not have hit upon a better plan than resisting this Motion. It has been pointed out by an eminent writer, and the statement has received the approbation of the highest authority in this House, that the great access of power and impetus of movement which the great Reform Act gave to the Liberal Party, was due not so much to the measure itself as to the energetic mood created by the arduous and long continued struggle to obtain it; and it is by leading women to see that they must fight, must agitate, must work this question for themselves—that they cannot rely upon the justice and generosity of men—that you will lead them to resort to forms of political action which none of us would like to see common in this country. There is one other possible result of these debates which I think would be very deplorable. Their general effect must be to remove some illusions that exist, and to weaken the respect women feel for the intelligence and common sense of men. The hon. Member who has just spoken told us that the effect of this moderate and reasonable proposal—which means nothing more than that some thousand women, for the most part quiet, virtuous, stay-at-home, industrious, pious people, should quietly, once in six or seven years, go in to a ballot-box and record a vote—would be to break down the distinction between man and woman. I shall not follow him in his allusion to women with more masculine minds than womanly sympathies. I can only say this, that I have followed for several years the working of this movement very carefully, and I cannot find words too strong to express my respect for the earnestness, the prudence, the self-sacrifice, and the remarkable ability by which it has been brought to its present position, mainly through the efforts of a number of ladies, who, animated by no selfish desire, looking for nothing for themselves, but working in the interests of those who are weaker and more in need than they are, have devoted themselves to a great and generous work. I do not know how long the opposition to the movement will be continued; but one thing I do know, it is a movement that will not lightly be abandoned. It has not been lightly taken up. It has been taken up from a feeling of duty and under a sense of responsibility, and it will not lightly be laid aside. Whatever the fate of this Motion to-night, whatever the fate of our Bills and Motions at any future time, the work will still go on, and women, who believe that in advocating this measure they are advocating that which will be a blessing to the weak and the oppressed among their own sex, will never relax their efforts till they have brought the question to a successful issue. There is one ground on which the advocates of this movement have reason to complain, and that is that their opponents show a strong desire not to meet us face to face and to discuss the proposal that we bring before them; but they endeavour to direct the attention of the House, not to our proposals, but to irrelevant issues and vague suspicions and consequences which they imagine may under certain circumstances ensue. Now, I think it may be fairly said that woman has shown that her sex has at all events some claim to the possession of intellectual faculties such as may qualify anyone for a vote. A woman who has placed herself in the front rank of literature—I refer to George Eliot—has said that this way of arguing against a question because it may be ridden down to an absurdity, would soon bring life to a standstill; it is not the logic of human life, but that of a roasting-jack, that must go on to the very last turn when once it has been wound up. Now, Sir, what I ask you to consider is the actual proposal before us, and not the consequences that may or may not follow in some remote future from the adoption of this proposal. Allusion has been made—allusion always is made in these debates—to the fact that the franchise ought not to be given to women, because they are inferior in physical force to men. I remember reading with interest the report of a debate which took place in this House on this subject last year, and one of the criticisms was that some foolish things had been said in the course of the discussion; but the most foolish remark that had been made was made by me. This remark was that I denied that the Government rested on physical force. Now, I never meant to use words conveying the impression of an opinion that physical force was not the ultimate recourse of a Government; but I did say, and I repeat it now, that as civilization advances the appeal to physical force becomes more and more remote. The Prime Minister himself has told us, in one of his most eloquent speeches, that as civilization progresses it equalizes the physical qualities of men; it is not the strong arm, but the strong head, that is now the moving principle of society; you have disenthroned Force, and placed in her high seat Intelligence; it is not muscular strength that will qualify either men or women to take a part in the government of the country, but those intellectual and moral influences which are being brought more and more to bear on the regulation of affairs. The hon. Member who has just spoken has said—or, at least, I so understood him—that woman ought not to have a vote because she cannot become a policeman. Well, I do not know a more apt illustration of the triumph of moral force than the very policeman who is here referred to. You will see a great crowd of people gathered together eager to do some particular act, and you will find that half-a-dozen policemen are sufficient to keep that crowd in order, and to prevent their taking the course which probably most of them are bent upon taking. This is simply because a policeman is the representative of law and order, and of moral force as opposed to the mere physical force of the rough and the savage. But, Sir, I do not think that women who are working on behalf of this movement desire the franchise so much for what it actually is as for what it is likely to bring them. As a justly eminent lady has said, they approach this question not so much from the point of view of abstract right as from the point of view of practical justice and necessity. My hon. Friend has pointed out that women, in one sense, are not a separate class. That is quite true. As he has said, this proposed extension of the franchise will be in a lateral and not in a vertical direction, and when you give the franchise to women, you do not do what you would be in danger of doing if you gave it to the agricultural labourer or the artizan, or any other class whom it is proposed to enfranchise. You do not, in the case of women, run the danger of placing the whole political power of the country in the hands of one particular class, and giving them the means of exercising an exclusive power, it may be, to the detriment of the nation. The women it is proposed to admit belong to different walks of life, and hold the most different opinions on the majority of the questions of the day. In this sense my hon. Friend is right in saying that women are not a class; but there is a sense in which women are a class. They are affected by the law in a manner different from the other sex. They have duties and responsibilities which are peculiar to them, and which necessarily mark them out as a class. If you wish that women should not be a class, are you prepared to say that the word "men" should always be read as including women, and that the word "women" should always be read as including men, in every Act of Parliament? If not, you must admit the distinct position in which women stand. Well, seeing how women are separately affected by the law, I say that they ought to have a voice in the making of the law, they ought to have the power of making their opinion felt on all questions relating to themselves. They have special experience and knowledge of their own wants and necessities, and they base their claim to the franchise on the fact that they bear equally with man their proportion of the burdens of the State. They pay rates and taxes, and contribute by their work to the wealth of the community. They are not free from any responsibility as regards the bearing of our national burthens, and they have the same interest as men in the good government of the country. They do not differ from men in the disposition and desire to judge rightly of public affairs, and on these grounds they ask you to accept their claim on the same condition as is observed in the case of men; since you do not ask in the case of men whether they are prudent, or educated, or wise, but simply do they possess the property qualification imposed by the law. We ask you, therefore, to accept the same kind of qualification for women, and no longer to keep them in the degrading position in which you place lunatics, imbeciles, and criminals. I think these are strong and weighty grounds for the admission of women to the franchise, and such as should cause us to reflect very seriously before we deny their claim. If there are any who look on the franchise as a right, I do not see how they can possibly resist this claim. But I do not put the question on this ground alone. I quite admit that there are other considerations. We have to consider, before we make this or any great change in our representative system, what will be its effect on those whom we enfranchise, and on the general government of the country. With regard to its effect on women themselves, I have no doubt that their admission to the suffrage would have a useful and beneficial influence on them. It would open to them a noble and ennobling field of duty, would bring them in contact with new ideas, would make them look at questions from a public as well as a private point of view. I do most heartily thank those women who are working this question for the freshness and vigour they are bringing into the thoughts of women; they are bringing a breath of fresh air and intelligence into the dreary and dismal round of life and thought which many of them are compelled to lead—a life of petty I cares and anxieties. Do not tell me that to give women practical reasons for interesting themselves in great public questions will not greatly improve them in intellect and character. At the present moment you admit women to the exercise of the vote on municipal questions; why, then, do you shut them out from the broader, nobler, and more elevating topics involved in considerations affecting the general government of the country? I have no doubt that the admission of women to the franchise would raise the moral and intellectual standard of the country. You cannot raise women without also raising men. The effect of the moral and intellectual improvement of women must be to improve the moral and intellectual standard of men. It is impossible for people to live together without being greatly influenced by each other. By giving to women the political status to which they are entitled, the effect would be raise the general tone of thought. While you would thus raise the intellectual character of both sexes—each in its own sphere—you would also widen the common ground on which they meet to exchange ideas and to share in intellectual intercourse. There is another argument, which, I think, is a strong one, not for the exclusion, but for the admission, of women to the franchise, and it is that women are different from men. It is because of this difference that it is specially desirable that they should be admitted. They are in many respects peculiar in their way of looking at things; they have special interests and special habits of thought, and why should not these special interests and ways of thinking receive consideration in the distribution of political power? Every new class admitted to political power has less political experience than the classes already admitted. It may have less education, and scantier means of obtaining information upon which to form sound judgment with regard to public affairs; but, nevertheless, the admission of the new class is a public gain, because it gives a clearer and profounder insight into their condition, and a keener sympathy with that which they require. Do not let us he deterred from rendering this great act of justice by old and feeble jokes and witticisms such as we are accustomed to hear in the course of these debates. There is no question which is more grave, important, and serious than that of the electoral franchise. Nothing is more serious than who are to be the repositories of the political power of the nation. This is a most serious question, and every class of our countrymen or countrywomen who claim to be admitted within the pale of the Constitution deserve to have that claim treated with respect and attention. How much more strong is this claim to serious and respectful attention on our part when it comes from those who are weaker than ourselves, and who have nothing to rely on but the justice and generosity of the House of Commons? Let us not be deterred from passing this measure of justice by vague suspicions, by false sentiment, and unkindly ridicule. The folly really lies in the supposition that we must rely upon mere legal restrictions to maintain great natural distinctions, and in thinking that if these legal cobwebs were swept away the condition of the country would be imperilled. I have more confidence in manhood than to suppose that the position of men is at all dependent on the exclusion of women from the suffrage. Let us, I say, be more manly, let us be more generous to those who are weak, relying not upon our generosity, but upon our justice. Let us lay aside those unmanly and ungenerous fears to which we should never have lent our ears. Let us give a favourable response to this appeal, which, though it be not urged upon our attention by a turbulent or dangerous agitation, is founded on right and justice, and is in harmony with those great principles of liberty by which the law and the practice of a just and generous people should be regulated.


The hon. Gentleman opposite has talked of the logic of a smoke-jack. Well, I own that I do not understand what that is. A smoke-jack is a most useful and practical invention. We owe the cooking of the meat which furnishes our dinners to the smoke-jack; but I think that probably the hon. Gentleman opposite would prefer the logic of the tea-kettle—steam and bubble. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not present; but, at any rate, although I thank him for the promise of his vote, I do not thank him for his speech. Great affairs of State must have so pre-occupied him that he has only awakened from the confusion in which this question stood some eight or nine years ago to find it like the state in which the House now is—a state of fog. The time is past for opportunism. If there be any good in the proposal to give women the suffrage it ought to be granted at once; but if it is, as I believe, a mistake, it is not to be opposed by arguments based on opportunism, such as protestations that "it is not the time to argue the matter now—the House should wait for a more convenient season." But that convenient time will never come to the advantage of those who are petitioners for this change in our Constitution. Happily the question can be argued to-night from original matter and on fresh ground. We have often and often been reproached in the organs of public opinion, and by the last speaker (Mr. Blennerhassett), for not appealing to those who parade themselves as most interested in this matter, in order to ascertain what real grievance exists as material upon which to discuss the question. Well, Sir, we have that material. The ladies have not been satisfied with the advocacy of the very philosophical champions who speak for them on the other side of the House, and they have put their own case in a brief of their own devising. They have published, not a Blue Book, but what is next door to it—a Green Book—and in that Green Book there are documents of the most authentic character. The book is entitled, The Opinions of Women on Women's Suffrage, issued by the "Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage." This book, I suppose, means what it says, and must be accepted on both sides of the House as representing that intended state of things which the hon. Members who will vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr Courtney) are now advancing. It authentically represents what we, on this side, dread in the future, and that which we trust will not be accomplished, at any rate, by a Vote of this House to-night. We are not voting against it because we care anything about going into Supply to-night; for with all due regard of the necessity of taking Supply, I must say that I do not care one halfpenny whether the House goes into Supply or not, as compared with the decision it may come to on this very important question. Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard has read this pamphlet; but I think it must have been a great disappointment to his fair clients that he has not made a single reference to it from the beginning to the end of his speech. However, I think that anyone who has read the pamphlet cannot fail to draw these conclusions from it—First, that the contention on which the ladies base their arguments negatives the idea that it is possible to set up a distinction between married and unmarried women. They throw away with ostentation this flimsy pretext. They argue the thing, a priori, and, more than that, they work well and evenly. They come square to the front, and march most manfully with the extension of the suffrage party. Their arguments, in short, lead straight up to universal suffrage, based as they are on the contemptuous denial that virtual or indirect representation is of the slightest value. As to the practical part of the question, the pamphlet involves two considerations. One is, that if these arguments be worth anything at all from the point of view taken by the ladies, we are now in for introducing a very large, certainly not a small, fresh element into the constituencies; and the next, that most irresistable, argument in favour of women's suffrage—must also lead to a claim for women Representatives. The hon. Member for Liskeard has pointed to the fact, that in the school boards "she" as well as "he" is found to sit, and among the women contributing their "opinions" are found members of school boards, ladies who are scientific, literary, philanthrophic, and ladies who have written novels. We all know there is a class of women who, very laudably, and I give them nothing but praise for it, have made themselves names, and who, therefore, have ambition. Being ambitious, they naturally want, each for herself, to have a vote; but they know very well that this House would not look to novel writing, or sitting upon a school board, or being a pharmaceutical chemist, or at being able to order her milliner to put "M.D." upon the bill as a qualification for the franchise. No doubt, it must be very mortifying to them, but they find they must float on the inflated bladders of their ignorantine sisters, and submit to claiming that all who may happen to pay rates and taxes shall have an equal advantage with themselves. But what does this prove? It proves that the hundred names might be those of women who would make very good voters. But that does not prove that the female sex generally, whether they pay rates or taxes or not, have a sound claim to the privilege they ask for. It reminds me of an event which happened in our political history about a quarter of a century ago, and which may not be known to hon. Members who have come into the House since that period. It was about the time of Lord Aberdeen's Government, when philosophical theorists were trying a good many experiments. A Memorial was sent into the then Prime Minister— I am not certain whether it was Lord Aberdeen or Lord Palmerston—by some of the most eminent men of the day, in favour of the creation of a higher class of constituencies. The project was to create a kind of territorial College overlapping the existing counties and boroughs, containing as constituents men with certain intellectual qualifications. This woman-plea really reproduces that action, and indicates a literary, scientific, and philosophic ambition to get such share in the Government as a vote gives. I honour the ladies for that feeling, but in their action they multiply themselves by a large multiple, and parade themselves so multiplied as womanhood in general, ignorant as well as learned. After these prefatory observations, the House will, I hope, allow me to read some brief extracts from the Green Book of the "Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage," so that we may see what it is that the hon. Member for Liskeard asks us to vote for. The first "opinion" is from a lady, whose name is very familiar in the annals of the London School Board as Miss Fenwick, now, however, Mrs. Fenwick Miller. She says— Laws regulating the existence of women where their daily life differs from that of man (as in the maternal relation for instance), cannot be properly made, and questions specially affecting the female half of mankind cannot be wisely decided without the opinion of the class to be affected being given, and without their knowledge of their own needs being admitted to counsel the legislators. By this, Mrs. Fenwick Miller means to say that by an infusion of ratepaying spinsters and widows into the constituencies, you will make hon. Members on either side of the House good authorities on the "maternal relations." The next authority is Miss Helen Taylor, also a member of the London School Board. She says— Domestic life can never have all the elements of the happiness it is capable of giving, while women are careless of one large branch of men's interests in the world. That means that no man is to be happy if the wife cannot, when he gets home, tell him how she is going to vote when she has put him under the ground; for, mind you, it is only spinsters and widows who they say are entitled to vote. Then we have Mrs. Arthur Arnold, translator of Senor Castelar's works, who says— If 'taxation without representation is tyranny,' it is also robbery. Under the form of taxes women are defrauded of vast sums of money, frequently for objects of which they wholly disapprove. This Afghan War, for instance, how many women are opposed to it! Yet they must help to pay for it, and try to fancy they are living in a free country. Mrs. Arthur Arnold says, in effect— Any woman who lives in a free country may refuse to pay taxes if she disagrees with the policy of the Government. There is another extract from an opinion of the same lady, namely— Every educated woman with whom I am acquainted desires a Parliamentary suffrage. Well, my lady acquaintances must be uneducated, for my experience is totally contrary to that of Mrs. Arnold's. We have from Miss Alice Bewicke, author of The Last of the Jerminghams and Lonely Carlotta, that— In the blackened ruins of Paris may be read the handwriting on the wall, telling how women, degraded even as those of Paris are degraded, yet cannot sink past feeling their degradation and resentment against the society that inflicts it. Is the hon. Member for Liskeard prepared to say that the ladies of England, whether they are ratepayers or not, who have not the franchise, have a right to burn Buckingham Palace, to destroy Westminster Hall, and to reduce the Mansion House to cinders? The next opinion is by Mrs. F. E. M. Notley, author of Olive Varcoe. I am sure, if we saw her a Member of this House, we should find her speeches original in construction, for her novel is a clever one, rather strong in its situations, but decidedly clever. She says— I am of opinion that to withhold the franchise from those women who are undertaking and suffering all the burdens and responsibilities of men is an injustice as senseless as it is illogical. I hold this opinion upon much wider grounds than the mere payment of rates and taxes. So here the cat is let out of the bag. The ground upon which they ask for the franchise is much wider than the mere payment of rates and taxes, and the hon. Member for Liskeard and his lady friends can no longer deny the impeachment. Miss Simcock, author of The Ethics of Law, also says— I can only give the same reasons for desiring the political enfranchisement of women that I should give for desiring the political enfranchisement of anyone else—e.g., of the agricultural labourers now, of the manufacturing towns before the first Reform Bill, and of male householders and lodgers before the last. Then comes Mrs. Villari; but I will not read through this extract. She admits that indirectly political influence is exercised by women, and says that that influence is sometimes mischievous for the reason that it is secret. She would make us believe that, with open influence, moreover, the secret one would disappear. Now comes a lady of great literary and political weight, Madame Belloc, who has interested herself considerably in Continental politics, and who was well known as Miss Bessie Parkes. She says— I think that in a time and country wherein the power of the vote is supreme, that power should be increasingly diffused. The will of the majority has a tendency to become all-powerful; and, therefore, that majority should be composed of every diverse element, or injustice in a thousand subtle forms will result. It is on this ground that I think women should ask for and obtain the suffrage. We are here asked to give women the suffrage, because the supreme power does not reside in the Estates of the Realm, but in the supreme vote. This is a confession of political principle not to be overlooked. There is another lady, Mrs. Crawshay, who says— The degradation of women will never cease until means of earning an honest livelihood are afforded to that large majority which cannot achieve marriage. On this I can only ask, how is a woman to earn an honest livelihood by the franchise now that bribery is so strictly forbidden? She adds— To this end, women must have a voice in modifying laws which impede their doing a fair day's work for a fair day's wage; and this will never be until the franchise is granted to women on the same conditions as those on which it is granted to men. I am sure, as she speaks of laws preventing a woman from doing a fair day's work for a fair day's wage, some hon. Member who supports the Resolution will explain what those laws are. I am not acquainted with them. Finally, comes a lady who is piteous—Mrs. S. A. Barnett, member of the Whitechapel Board of Guardians. She pleads— It was the slaveowner, not the slave, who suffered most from the institution of slavery. The women who agitate for the suffrage are now claiming the pity of the world because they are deprived of their rights. Might it not be that the men who refuse to others the right which they themselves possess are the more to be pitied? We are the slaveowners, I presume. I can accept the lady's pity, and I trust the House will. I beg to point out that in taking these extracts I did not pick and choose. I took the extracts as they came, and did not attempt to classify them. I read them in the order in which they were printed in the pamphlet—a pamphlet, I must repeat, authoritatively published by the Society, and sent round within the last week, of course, in order to influence the vote of to-night. The demand which is made is that women should have the suffrage as a right, and that is advanced on purely philosophic principles. It is the woman that they want to have enfranchised, not the taxpaying person, and it is because the woman claims it as a woman, and it is because her advocates lay down that she is so distinctly a different—I will not like the hon. Member for Liskeard, say "animal," but quoting Moliere—character to the man that I oppose the Resolution. The hon. Member has referred to the State of Wyoming, as the only place in which women have had their own way. I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. There was another instance in which the female appeared in the Senate. The Roman Emperor Heliogabalus — the House will remember—did set up a Senate of women, and put that respected lady, his mother, in the Chair. But, except in Wyoming and in the case of Heliogabalus, the wisdom of the world and the experience of the world has gone one way, and the Society for Women's Suffrage, the hon. Member for Liskeard, and one or two other people, have gone the other. They may be right; we may be wrong. But, let us see what they ask for? Do not let these miserable pretensions, this claim as to rights of property, this talk about rates and taxes, influence you. It is mere birdlime to catch the sparrows. We know what they want. They have been sapping and mining; but they have made a mistake at last, and have published a pamphlet that is a little too straightforward, too earnest, too ambitious. These politicians have shown after all that they are women. They have written as women. They have told us what they want, and we ought to be guided by that confession; and when we vote for it, let us know that it is not for the rights of property, but for real universal suffrage, to be established for the first time in the history of any country—not for manhood suffrage, but manhood suffrage and womanhood suffrage, for the franchise to be given to every creature of the human race whose limbs are sufficiently strong to carry him or her to the ballot-box.


I have always been quite unable to approach this question with any of those feelings of excitement or enthusiasm which appear to be felt by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House when they advocate or oppose it from time to time. I have neither been able to indulge in any of those sanguine hopes or gloomy apprehensions which appear to be entertained on one side and the other. On the contrary, I have treated the question from the first in a very matter-of-fact, prosaic way, and have been curious to see what would be the outcome of the agitation. I refrained from voting on one side or the other for two or three years, because, showing as I do that conservative spirit which distinguishes those who sit on this side of the House, especially on questions connected with the representation of the people, I have viewed with some suspicion and dislike any new attempt at a general enfranchisement which did not at once commend itself to my mind. But, having listened from year to year to the arguments advanced in favour of this proposal, it seemed to me there was positively nothing against the proposal—which has hitherto been brought in as a Bill, but which is now the Motion put forward so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney)—except prejudice and sentiment. There have been feelings of a sentimental dislike to the idea of giving a vote to a woman, because she is a woman; and, on the other hand, we have had hon. Members showing, year after year, that a woman who occupied a position at the head of a household, paying rates and taxes, and discharging every function which a husband would discharge, ought not to be deprived of the right which attached to her, by reason of her not being a man. We have already the advantage of an experiment. The experiment has been made in the elections of school boards and guardians and municipal elections, and the result has been "beneficial," as was freely declared by an old Member of this House, who is always considered one of the first authorities on this subject—namely, Mr. Henley. I have listened in vain to hear from those who attack this proposal anything to the contrary. It has not been suggested by any hon. Member who is opposed to this proposal that the experiment, so far as it has gone, has not been entirely successful. One of my hon. Friends, the Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Hanbury), tries to draw a distinction between municipal franchises—what are called rate paying franchises, or parochial franchises—and the Parliamentary franchise; but I fail to see any very great distinction such as he desired to draw. In the one case, that of municipal government, there are something like £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 to be dealt with annually, and in the other case, that of Imperial government, there are something like £70,000,000 or £80,000,000; and are we to be told that a person, who is considered capable of electing representatives who have to vote away £40,000,000, is incapable of electing representatives who have to vote away £70,000,000? Can anyone say that there is such a distinction, or that it could be logically maintained? And then, as regards the question of fitness, I understand that is never contested either—in fact, it is impossible to contest it. We all know that there is in any constituency a class of persons, a residuum, who are unfit to be electors, in respect of their want of intelligence and moral character, and otherwise unfitted to assist to pass laws and govern the country. And there is no one who would maintain that there is not a class of women who should not be enfranchised; but as against the claim of the fair average class of women householders there is nothing to be said. I most distinctly and emphatically deny the intention at any time of supporting anything further than the removal of the disability with regard to widows and unmarried women (householders), placing them in the same position as men. I cannot for one moment see the possibility of admitting married women into the franchise. I was very sorry to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard drop the words, which were adroitly taken advantage of—"not at present"—in reference to married women; because I believe he damaged his cause thereby. Speaking for myself, and supporting this Resolution, as I do, as a matter of logic and justice, I do not and shall not ever see my way to the enfranchisement of married women, and I do not consider that is a question of practical politics. I also look upon the present proposal as an enfranchisement of property. We all, as Conservatives, must approve of that. I do not mean that it is because they are likely to give Conservative votes; I do not ask in what direction their votes will be given; but I say it is a representation of property, and therefore it is Conservative in the best sense. We all know that when a farmer dies the widow is often left in a position of great discomfort—at least, that was specially the case some time ago—because the landlord used to think that he had lost a vote by the disqualification of a particular farm, and therefore he would often take it from the widow, and re-let it to a new tenant capable of voting in right of the occupation; but I cannot see why, if a woman is considered fit to follow her husband in ordinary matters, and to perform the same duties as her husband used to perform, she should not have the franchise. I have said I do not share the extraordinary fears or hopes which have been indulged in upon this question. I do not imagine that all women are going to be improved by being enfranchised, nor do I imagine that legisla- tion in this country is going to be supported or improved by their admission. I simply look upon it as a plain, matter-of-fact, logical, common sense matter of justice. Here are certain people performing certain duties, and I think they have a right to ask for the same consideration which is given to men in their position. The hon. Member for North Staffordshire said he should like to see rights and duties represented. I was surprised to hear him refer to that, because it does seem to me that at present it is so. The only hindrance which has been pointed out is that women are unable to serve on juries or to act as soldiers or policemen. Well, there are other classes of society who are not called upon to perform those duties. A clergyman, for instance, is not called upon to serve as a policeman or a soldier, nor can he sit in Parliament; and I think those are nearly the only duties which women are unable to perform. Something has been said of the supposed inconsistency of my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard in proposing this, which is regarded by some as so sweeping and democratic a change, and in opposing the Motion of the hon. Member for the Border Boroughs (Mr. Trevelyan) to enfranchise the agricultural labourers in the counties. For my own part, I do not think there is any necessity for apology on behalf of the hon. Member; I think the two positions are entirely consistent. I must say I think the apology is rather due from hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are able and willing enthusiastically to support a measure which would be a most disturbing measure with reference to the representation of the people, and who are yet unwilling to see passed this very small modicum of justice to a very worthy class which would entail very little alteration of our electoral system. How is it possible that they can support a proposal like that of the hon. Member for the Border Boroughs, which would enfranchise nearly 1,000,000 of people, all of them of the lowest class, who live by daily wages, and which would virtually disfranchise 60 or 70 boroughs and towns, and yet shrink with timidity from the proposal to give enfranchisement to some thousands of women, who would be equally distributed throughout all the constituencies, and therefore would not cause the slightest disturbance in the general arrangement of the representation? I do not support the Motion with the idea that it will confer upon women any great and extraordinary advantage, nor do I think that they are now suffering under any very great disadvantage or injustice which it is necessary to remove; but I do say there is one injustice to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard might worthily direct his attention. I do say that the marriage laws of this country, as they stand now, are not fair between man and woman. What is more, if some of the propositions which are made in the House were to be carried into law, the thing would be made so much worse. A proposal has been brought forward and rejected time after time, which, if carried, would leave it all in favour of the man, and nothing in favour of the woman. I mean the proposal to do away with the prohibition of marriage with a deceased wife's sister. Time after time I have heard it argued that the husband should be free to marry his deceased wife's sister, or even his deceased wife's niece; but I never heard anything of the wife marrying her deceased husband's brother or nephew. There is a practical injustice, which would be prevented at once if we were to legislate in reference to the marriage law in a fair and equal manner. To alter the law entirely in favour of the man and not the woman is, I think, quite indefensible. With that single exception, I am not prepared to say that women are damaged or aggrieved by the laws of this country, or that they are going to be specially benefited by this change. But looking at it all round, seeing that they are performing the duties which their husbands performed before them, and that they are very often the most respectable persons in the position they occupy, looking at it also as a representation of property in its best sense, and that it will not disturb the present general electoral arrangements by disfranchising any particular towns or places, I say it is a very reasonable and just proposition, and I have much pleasure in supporting it.


Sir, I have had the honour of a seat in this House for nine years, and I have always hitherto contented myself with giving a silent vote. That vote has always been against the Motion of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney), and, so far as I can see into the future, that will always be my view of the matter as long as I have a seat in this House. I have listened to the speeches year after year upon this subject, and it appears to me that very little that is new has been advanced by those who have come forward in support of the measure. Now, the hon. Member who moved it to-night made an elaborate speech on a similar occasion last year. He tells us, and he tells us truly, I think, that there is no change in the form or substance of the Resolution as compared with the Bill which he had the honour of introducing on a former occasion. I believe that, and it is because I gave my entire opposition to the Bill last Session that I shall follow the same course this evening in opposing the Resolution. The hon. Member told us that he always had intended, and that he still intended—and my hon. Friend who has just sat down (Mr. Heygate) tells us he always intended, and he still intended—to exclude married women from the benefit of this proposed change. Well, I cannot comprehend for the life of me how it is that those who are in favour of this Resolution tell us they will do all they can to oppose the extension of this privilege to married women. It seems to me to be a most inconsistent proposition. "Oh," they say, "we want property represented." Well, then, how about the case of married women living apart from their husbands with property to their separate use? In many cases that occur property is not represented, and yet it is in the hands of a married woman. "Oh," they say, "I will never sanction anything which, by any possibility, can give the right to vote to a married woman." I want to know whether a married woman has not as great an interest in the matter as an unmarried woman? Of course she has. She has the interests of her property, of her husband, and of her children. As far as the interest of the country is concerned, the married woman has a far greater interest at stake than any single woman. Then we are told this is a matter in which the greatest interests are involved. That sounds a very fine phrase; but really is it not carrying the matter too far to try and make us believe that the greatest interests of the country are involved in a question whether women are or are not to have the right of voting? That is the way the hon. Member for Liskeard put it to-night; and he then gave us an illustration of the experience which he and other people have acquired of the advantage of the extension of the suffrage to women. He told us of some remote district in Wyoming. Really, I do not think any experience derived from that locality is to be brought into this House as a thing of great weight and importance for us to decide upon. The hon. Member also spoke of some borough which was unnamed, in which there was a ward inhabited by the lower class, and some energetic women introduced the question of bringing in a better representative. Well, I suppose all will admit that you cannot get a more useful canvasser, whether in town or in country, than an energetic woman; I believe she is the most useful canvasser you can possibly have. But because she is a most admirable canvasser I am not prepared to go to the length of saying that that is a reason why she should have the right of voting. That is quite a different thing. Then we were also told that this was very much wanted, and the reasons why were assigned. The hon. Member told us that he did not claim it as a right; but if I understood him properly, every word of his practically amounted to saying that he claimed it as a right, and in no other sense. It is quite true he said "I do not," but then every word of his speech did; and it is quite true that he said he claimed it on utilitarian grounds; but in his speech every word was devoted to the right, and the utilitarian grounds were utterly neglected and disappeared. We are told also that this will have a great weight on the character of women generally. I am sure the hon. Member for Liskeard would not have enunciated that proposition if he had not thoroughly believed it; but permit me to say that the fact of his being convinced of it does not convince me the least in the world, and unless he adduces arguments far beyond his own convictions, I shall be left quite in darkness on the subject. Well, Sir, some kindly individual, having regard to the ignorance in which I am, and desirous of enlightening me a little, has been kind enough to forward me a little work called Opinions of Women on Women's Suffrage, and which has been printed by "The Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage." I believe that work has been alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope), who referred to certain extracts. All I can say is, if this book was forwarded to an unenlightened person, it would be considered as a curiously unsatisfactory document. Some of these extracts are very curious indeed. Here is one lady who tells us— There is among women collectively much intellect, much conscientiousness, and much energy, which might he employed in public affairs to the benefit of the whole community. And further, men and women in our complex social state, of necessity act and re-act upon each other to so great an extent that men cannot progress far alone; civilization and good government must needs be hampered and delayed so long as women are excluded from sympathy and participation in the thought, the devotion to public causes, and the active patriotism by which improvements in legislation and society are effected. If that means anything at all, it appears to me it goes the whole length to which the advocates of this system must go. This Resolution really means that women are not only eligible to elect, but must be eligible to be elected; it is impossible to stop there and say they have only a right to the suffrage; you must go further and say they are not only fit to sit in the House of Commons, but they are fit to occupy the Chair you occupy, Sir. If hon. Gentlemen put it on the question of right, you must concede that, for it is absurd to think you can stop there. Here is an extract from another lady, which is really very curious— If 'taxation without representation is tyranny,' it is also robbery. Tinder the form of taxes, women are defrauded of vast sums of money, frequently for objects of which they wholly disapprove. Consequently, if a woman is to pay money for taxes of which she disapproves, that is an act of robbery. Some of us on this side of the House disapproved on a recent occasion of the policy of the Government; but on that ground are we to charge the Government with robbery for taking taxes of which we did not approve? And yet that was adduced as an argument why we should give women the right of voting. Here is another delightful little piece— So far from the truth is the reiterated statement of certain honourable M. P.'s, that women do not desire the franchise, that in my large experience I have scarcely ever known a woman possessed of ordinary common sense, and who had lived some years alone in the world, who did not earnestly wish for it. The women who gratify these Gentlemen by smilingly deprecating any such responsibilities are those who have dwelt since they were born in well-feathered nests, and have never needed to do anything but open their soft beaks for the choicest little grubs to be dropped into them. So curious is that passage as illustrative of the importance of giving the right of election to ladies that it rather struck mo; but there is a little more of the same style behind it— It is utterly absurd—and I am afraid the M. P.'s in question are quite aware they are talking nonsense—to argue from the contented squawks of a brood of these callow creatures that full-grown swallows and larks have no need of wings, and are always happiest when their pinions are broken. It does appear to me that extract would be as well not printed in this little book. I suppose that extract would really have no influence on the opinion of this House, or any single Member, as I think it a somewhat exaggerated view of the National Society for Promoting the Suffrage of Women. Here is another lady who is giving us a good reason why they should have a vote. I want the House to see this, as this is an opinion that the women should have it as a matter of right. Hear what the lady says— If women are too weak and too foolish to be trusted with votes, they ought in common fairness to be spared the burden of taxpaying. The latest arguments I have heard of—all the others having really been worn to death—against the manifest injustice of departing, in the case of unmarried women, from the Constitutional maxim about taxation and representation being joined together is that which is based on the ground that all Governments rest ultimately on physical force; and, therefore, it would not be well for the State to have a large class of voters who could vote, but could not—or, it is to be hoped, would not—be able to take part in the rough work of politics. I want to know the meaning of that, though I suppose it means that they should be admitted to the suffrage, and nothing else. I will not give the House any more extracts from this valuable book. I hope it will get the circulation it deserves, and that, in my opinion, will not be very extensive. I cannot help thinking that the active, energetic, and very industrious ladies who were on, I presume, the acting committee of this society, are rather eccentric in the way in which they trust their interests to Members of this House. We must all recollect, in the first Parliament this matter was introduced, with all the earnestness and energy which, if we could not agree with, we might praise, by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright). Everyone must admit it was managed by him in a way that was admirable; for a short time after he was no longer amongst us; but when he did return to this place, and was welcomed by all of us, I believe, one would have thought that the interest of this question would have been submitted to so tried an advocate as himself. But no—["It was!"]—Well, before that, the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth) undertook this duty, and discharged it for some time; and then, for some reason or other, he was put on one side, and now it is undertaken by the hon. Member for Liskeard. I quite admit the energy and ability with which he has undertaken the duty; but I fancy his success in this matter will not be any greater. The House must have observed there is one little matter that ought to be relied upon by hon. Members more than has been the case, and that is, as a certain hon. Member has been insisting upon—namely, that it is a matter of right for all women to exercise the privilege of voting. Well, then, one would naturally have supposed, in addition to that, he would have gone on a little further, and would have endeavoured to satisfy the House that those for whom he was anxious to get it wished for it. Certainly, he did touch upon that matter in the slightest manner at the end of his speech; but I ask the House if he argued that question? I admit he touched upon it. He spoke a great deal on the arts, and educational advantages, and so on; but he did not say hardly a word about the all-important question, whether those whom he was seeking to enfranchise wished for it at all. Surely, a Member of this House who introduces a measure of this kind should do something to show that those he was seeking to enfranchise were desirous of exercising the franchise. He gave extracts from the writings of a number of ladies who are zealous for the exercise of the franchise; but let me ask the House if they think those are repre- tentative women in the sense in which they ought to be considered as such when dealing with a large number of persons to be enfranchised, as in this case? This, I think, is clear—if the hon. Member wishes to enforce this matter strongly upon the House, he is certainly bound to give us some idea of the views of the majority of those whom he says wish to be enfranchised. I say he has done nothing of the kind; he has told us a great deal about their proficiency in the arts, but nothing at all about the wants or the wishes of those proposed to be enfranchised. On former occasions, the hon. Member has said—and the House was astonished at the view he put forth—that those who resisted the proposal should show grounds why women should not be enfranchised. I say the burden lies on those who wish to alter the law, and not on us. I say this change ought not to be made. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Marylebone on former occasions never said a single word as to appealing to the women themselves. It is true the hon. Member for Manchester illustrated the great desire there was for the enfranchisement of women, by referring to a great number of cases where women had got on the register and had come to the Court of Common Pleas, where their claims to votes were ignored. From illustrations of that sort I appeal to the experience of hon. Members themselves. I ask every Member of this House, and I ask it fearlessly, amongst the whole range of their acquaintances how many women they know who desire to possess this franchise? How many do the' know who protest strongly against it, and say they do not desire it? It is all very well to tell us of Petitions presented in favour of it; but I want to know how many of those petitioners are of the class it is proposed to enfranchise? Those who do not wish for it are the very persons who want it, some think; but the very persons now proposed to be enfranchised are clearly entitled to have opinions on this subject as well as my hon. Friend. Among my own acquaintance—I will not say to every "man," because here every "educated woman" is, I think, a better term—every educated woman, with one exception, deprecates the idea of being enfranchised under this Bill. I can, therefore, see no sufficient evidence in favour of this pro- posed extension of the franchise, or, at all events, only of the slightest possible character. In the history of civilized States there is no instance of governing powers enforcing the right of voting upon an unwilling class, and I contend that the persons who are proposed to be enfranchised are an unwilling class. I have heard that in Switzerland, many years ago, persons were subjected to a fine if they did not exercise certain functions, that of voting amongst others; and I cannot help thinking, even if this class of persons were enfranchised, there would be a large proportion who would not exercise the right he proposes to give. And on those grounds, believing it is an injury to force it on a class unwilling to accept this boon, as my hon. Friend thinks it is, and believing also that this House ought not to force it upon those who are unwilling, I oppose it, and hope this House will not pass it.


Mr. Speaker, I think the great majority of the community it is proposed to enfranchise, if canvassed from one end of England to the other, and from the drawing-room to the kitchen, would most undoubtedly object to have this privilege thrust upon them, according to the views of some of the most energetic, but not the most retiring, of their sex. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Courtney) has evidently come here under extreme pressure, if we may judge from those journals which we have had extracts from. One great objection to this measure is that the character of this House might deteriorate if this was carried into law, for in future the House would not consist of the most aged, and, perhaps, not of the most experienced men, as many would be selected on account of their good looks and their activity in canvassing. The hon. Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Hanbury) has well said that the duties of the State ought to go with the privilege of voting, and I ask—Are these ladies prepared to fulfil those duties of the State which should go with the privilege? Are they prepared to serve on juries, as special constables, and, in cases of emergency, to defend their country in the tented field? Perhaps they would not object to defend their country by performing the duties of Volunteers, when the weather was fine, and if the uniform was a pretty one of their own choice; but I think very few would like to go further than that. There have been Amazons—and there may be still—as one lady I have heard of in particular went through the whole of the Peninsular War and was not discovered to be a woman until the end of the war; and I also have heard of that lady who is remembered in song as the celebrated Billy Taylor, who performed such heroic actions, that at the end she was presented to the Admiral, and "very much complimented for what she had done, and was appointed First Lieutenant to the gallant Thunder bomb." Let us be logical, and I hope the ladies and the supporters of the Resolution will reflect that the majority of ladies are perfectly satisfied with the domestic sphere in which they find themselves, and in which many of them are such bright examples. If by accident or choice this is denied them, then science, art, and literature—in which so many of them excel so greatly—are open to them; and even if they are not satisfied with those, they have the hospital, they have district visiting, they may become, as many are, the honoured agents of that charity which distinguishes them, not only in this country, but in all foreign countries, in which they have shone so ably and so conspicuously of late, and with which their names are so nobly associated; I hope they will be satisfied with the high position they already occupy. Above all, let them avoid the difficult task of competing with the sterner sex in the dusty and soiled arena of political warfare.


In listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bristowe), I had hoped I should have heard some solid argument, some substantial reason, which he would have been able to adduce for voting as he has stated he will on this question. In what he has told us, I confess I have been greatly disappointed, for he has not advanced any argument. He has quoted from the pamphlet issued by those active and accomplished ladies, and has cited extracts suited to his purpose; but he has not given us any substantial argument of his own—as far as my judgment goes, no substantial argument has fallen from him to support the line he has taken. He told us he agreed with those who stated that married women had the greatest interest in this question. I perfectly agree with him in that proposition; but, Sir, owing to the circumstances under which this case is considered, the unmarried ladies have more interest in this question than the great bulk of those who are married, and to them it would be doing a great wrong. That word "wrong" may be taken exception to; but the great wrong that is done to ladies is in not removing abuses. Now, Sir, with regard to the next case that is supplied, it is this—that logically, if women claim the right of a vote, they ought to claim the right to sit in this House. That is a threadbare argument. But then there is another class to whom reference has been made. Clergymen possess votes, but they never possessed the right of a seat in this House. One of the most important points that he has endeavoured to establish—although I cannot see much in it, at all events, it is one that can be easily controverted—is that women do not desire a vote—that is, a vote of electoral representation. Well, Sir, that can be very easily met, for there is evidence enough on this subject; we have this strong fact staring us in the face—that this is a question that has been making progress from year to year, from the time it was first introduced into this House 10 or 12 years ago. At that time, when the subject was brought into this House, Mr. John Stuart Mill challenged a division, and then the number who voted in support of it did not exceed 70; but now the number is something like 140 or 150. Is not that evidence that it is making progress? It does not look exactly as if the agitation were dying out. I will now address myself to the main question. Like the hon. Member for Newark, up to the present time I have taken no part in the discussions that have taken place in this House on the subject of women's disabilities, and not alone in this House, but out of the House, I have not allied myself with any of these agitations; I have never attended meetings; I have never taken an active personal interest in the proceedings, but nevertheless I have always taken a great interest in the question; I have contented myself up to the present time with giving a silent vote in support of the proposal; but as the opportunity presents itself I think it right I should record some of the reasons why I advocate this measure. Sir, my reasons will not be of the philosophic character, or upon the philosophic principles, that the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) contended that this question was based by its advocates. I am not influenced in my views, which I have entertained for a considerable time, by any sentimental or speculative considerations as regards the difference between the sexes, as to whether the moral and intellectual organizations of the one are superior to the other. That, to my mind, is altogether beside the question. Nor do I care to contend, though so much stress has been laid upon it from time to time, that this is an electoral right to vote for the Parliamentary franchise or representation. I shall not contend it is a right or a privilege; but I go on the broad basis that it is a necessity, in a sense, in order to enable those who feel aggrieved by the condition of the law as it stands at present to put pressure on candidates as their representatives. For a considerable time past I have noticed the injustice of the laws in reference to the treatment of women; those laws, to my mind, do not deal equal justice to women and to men. Sir, before the question was seriously considered I had my own opinions on this subject, and I felt sure that the state of the law in reference to women was not in harmony with the just requirements of a civilized community. I have felt that the law regarding the custody and guardianship of children was strained to the prejudice of women. I have felt that in the matter of education the laws affecting education were not in a healthy condition; and I have felt also very strongly that women in the humbler classes were entitled to a greater degree of protection than the existing laws provided. Well, Sir, it was for the purpose of remitting abuses, and not for conferring political rights, that I have been able to support the proposal introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney). At the same time, I cannot shut out from my mind the important matters of well-being to the State, such as the matters of municipal elections, school boards, vestries, and Poor Law Guardians, for the election of whom women are entitled to vote—and in some cases, such as school boards and Poor Law Guardians, have a right to a seat In the matter of the municipal franchise there is this broad fact which shows the interest women take in these things—that the votes given by women at municipal elections compare very favourably—are in reasonable proportion—to those given by men. Now, that is an evidence, to my mind, that women do take an interest in these subjects, and that if the franchise were extended to them they would use their votes. But this Parliamentary franchise seems to be altogether too precious, and too much prized by its manly possessors, to allow women to share it. What is the argument that justifies that action? It is so ridiculous and absurd that, after reading it over and over again, and considering the separate points, I had a difficulty in understanding it. No doubt, my power of dissection was not very great; but eventually I did arrive at what I may call the main point of the argument. It was this—that those who are unable to rest their claim to the Parliamentary franchise on physical force are not entitled to it. How is that physical force to be evidenced? Why, it is to be evidenced by their ability to maintain peace and order at home, and to fight the battles of the country abroad. I confess I am altogether unable to understand an argument of this description. As to the employment of force, I take it that it was intended as a practical joke. At all events, I have not been able to understand it. But what is the state of the law? Can it be denied that inequalities exist which are most unjust and injurious in the administration of the law as affecting the condition and the position of women? Why, Sir, what do we find? A point in the question has struck me with great force, and for a considerable time past, and it is this—that it is one of the strangest and most anomalous positions in a free and liberal Constitution such as ours, that the fact of a woman's marrying is made by the laws of this country absolutely penal. Absolutely, by the marriage laws of this country, a woman cannot contract marriage without sacrificing her rights over her personal property. By the fact of the marriage, the woman's property reverts to and vests absolutely in the husband. Is that a state of things that married women would elect to have for themselves, or in the interests of their children? Is that the posi- tion which they would choose if they were not forced into it by the state of the law? As to the property of married women under these circumstances, I have had some experience of the world, and have seen sufficient of it—and every hon. Member of this House must have seen sufficient of it from time to time—to know and to feel that at times very serious and grievous results have come from the state of the law as it stands at present on this matter. Before a woman marries, in order to obviate the difficulty that exists with regard to the inheritance of property, a sort of legal fiction called a trust is created. Friends are appointed in the first instance; it may be that reliable friends are got as trustees. In a short time, or at some time or other, the husband dies. He leaves provision for his wife and her young children. Well, in the course of time, it may take place that the trustees, who were kindly and who took an interest in the widow and children, die too. What comes next? Why this—that other trustees are appointed in their place, and it may turn out that from want of association, want of acquaintance, or, at all events, want of proper feeling towards the wife and children, it may happen, and it often does happen, that they turn out to be bad or unscrupulous men, and they alienate or dispose of, for their own purposes, the property that has been left—they take it from the children and reduce them to want. Does that not prove to practical men in this House that the law, as it stands, is wrong, is unjust? Most of the Members of this House must be aware that such things do occur—nay, most of them must have had such cases under their own personal cognizance. Well, if the law were altered, and women had a right—as they have elsewhere, and this is a point which I shall deal with presently—if they had the power to exercise a right over their own personal property in their married state, do you suppose a state of things like this could possibly occur? My hon. Friend the Member for Newark told us, to my surprise, that the condition of things we contend for does not exist in any country in Europe. Why, Sir, I am perfectly and personally acquainted with a condition of things which proves altogether the inaccuracy of my hon. Friend's statement. I happen to have a somewhat intimate acquaintance with a country that it has been the fashion to abuse in England more than I should have cared to abuse it—a country that has been charged with barbarism, want of civilization, and I do not know how many things of that kind. I allude to Russia. With the laws and social arrangements of Russia I have a tolerably good acquaintance. What is the state of things in that country? Why it is this—that in the Assembly of Nobles—that is, proprietors of property—women have aright to vote; and to show the equity of the principles upon which the laws in respect of property are based, if a woman of the proper rank should not have the required qualification to enable her to vote, she may associate herself with others in the same position, so that the cumulative or accumulated property of those who associate themselves together gives her a right to vote. To go to a humbler class, there is another instance. There is a certain class of Communards in Russia, representatives of a system where democracy exists in its brightest form side by side with the most aristocratic personal government in the world. What is the position of the women in these Communards? Why it is this—that every woman who is the head of a family—that is, a woman who possesses a share in the communal property that has not been divided amongst her children—has a right not alone to vote at their meetings or take a part in their proceedings, but she has a right to speak in the Assembly, and express any opinions she may consider it in the interests of herself and her family to express. And there is again—I hope I do not bore the House by going into these matters, but there is a great deal of stress laid upon this subject, and this, together with the fact that there are probably few in this House so well acquainted with the country of which I am speaking as I am myself—there is again a system of local government at which women are represented. I refer to the provincial councils or zemptzvos, for the members of which women have a right to vote, whether they are married or unmarried, provided they have attained the age of 21. All this I have stated in answer to the argument that no civilized country in Europe has given women what is alleged to be so exceptional and strange a right as that which we contend for—for the intelligent and educated women of the country. I will go one step further, and tell the House that not alone in the matter of votes, but in the matter of property—and this I should like to impress upon the House—every woman in Russia who is possessed of personal estate or personal property, whether she marries or remains unmarried, has for the whole of her life an absolute right over that property. Her husband has no power whatever to deal with it in any way, or to interfere with her in the management of it. If she wishes to give up the control of it to him, she has to do so as she would yield it to a stranger. Well, I have no doubt whatever that the zealous and intelligent opponents of this Resolution will tell me that the condition of things to which I have been referring, as regards the right of voting and the right of possessing property, results from the condition of Russia, from the fact that it is semi-barbarous and uncivilized. Well, if that be the case with regard to Russia, let us take the converse side of the picture. I will take, for the purpose of supporting my view, a country that we are in the habit of referring to, and upon which our attention has every day and every hour been concentrated recently—namely, Zululand. What is the condition of things there? As regards the position of women it is this—that every man who wishes to marry or to possess a wife, buys her with a certain number of cattle. That is the difference between the two countries. Will it be contended that Russia has given these privileges to women from the fact of her not being civilized? If so, what will be said of Zululand?—one is civilized, and the other is barbarous. How does England compare with these two countries? It is like neither one nor the other. We do neither the one nor the other—neither give these privileges to our women, nor buy our wives. As I have pointed out in my argument, in dealing with the property of women who are about to marry, we are obliged to have recourse to stratagem for the purpose of preserving that property to them—and, in fact, adopting a course of proceeding which, if it were not sanctioned by law, we should say was neither just nor honest. Well, Sir, I will not weary the House by going into the other points that have been raised during the course of this debate. I will only touch on one matter—namely, that of education. I contend, as I have always done, that, with regard to the matter of education, the laws are not in the condition that most of us would desire to see them in. I will not enter fully into the question, and I think I can better support my view by reading a few lines extracted from this pamphlet which the hon. Member for Cambridge University has reminded my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard he did not make a single reference to throughout the course of his speech. I will make a reference to it, however, in support of this view that dangers are going on in our social system affecting the condition of women. The question of female education is making great progress, I am glad to say. The condition of this discussion is very different from what it was a few years ago. I will not refer to it at greater length, but I will read an extract from a letter from one of these ladies dealing with this subject. I hope the House will excuse me for troubling it, but I will not occupy it long. The writer says— As the social position of women in the civilized world is very different from what it was in primitive times, it is only reasonable to believe that what has altered and improved so much in the past must be capable of alteration and improvement in the present and in the future. There are changes which the generations of to-day are witnessing in the education of women and their employment in professions and trades hitherto closed to them. It appears to me that the extension of the franchise to women is only a natural concession to a just demand made in conformity to the advancement of civilization and the changes effected by the acquirement of new privileges and responsibilities. Well, Sir, one word before I conclude. Most fortunately for us in the discussion of this matter, it is no Party question. No individual nor Party can claim a monopoly of respect and consideration for women. Sir, the supporters of this Resolution, as well as its opponents, are influenced alike, I am sure, by feelings of affection and devotion towards those who must be affected by it. But I will not continue on this point, for I know there are others who will follow me who will deal more exhaustively with it. All I can say is, that I am so convinced of the desirability, expediency, and justice of dealing with this question for the purpose of removing the disabilities of women which I have been referring to, and so conscious am I that before long a sense of justice and right feeling in this country will recognize the claim of women for redress for what we all—some in the abstract, and some as practical men—admit to be wrongs, that the country, if not this House on the present occasion, I believe, will see there are inequalities which, as I stated before, are unjust and ungenerous. I am conscious that a change is approaching, and I have the utmost possible pleasure and gratification in being afforded this opportunity of stating to the House and putting on record my adherence to the principle of this Resolution. I have the greatest possible pleasure in supporting the Motion.


I am very much obliged to the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Collins) for admitting that those who oppose this Motion are actuated by no improper motives—that no argument of that kind can be employed against them. I must say, however, that from the tone of the language used by some other hon. Members, it would seem that we who are opposed to this extension of the suffrage to women are guilty of great injustice, and have no feelings of sympathy for the other sex, and cannot understand the motives which actuate them. The hon. Member who brought forward this Resolution (Mr. Courtney) has assured us there is no change in the principle, or in the "definition" I think he said, of what he and his Friends have in view, and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down says they think great progress is being made in this affair. I should rather argue that the hon. Member for Liskeard is advocating a failing cause. I would argue so for this reason—that I observe the hon. Member, after repeated attempts, Session after Session, to pass a Bill, is at last forced to take refuge in a Resolution. If this Resolution simply embodies, without going further than, or in any way retreating from, the original grounds of the measure which he has so frequently endeavoured to induce the House to accept, it is because it is felt that the measure itself is not receiving that acceptance which the hon. Member thinks it ought to receive. Perhaps we have a Resolution now, because the hon. Gentleman believes the lateness of the hour to which a discussion of this kind can be carried will enable some hon. Members to vote who have not voted before on the Bills brought forward on Wednesdays, when the House adjourns at 6 o'clock. I cannot congratulate the hon. Member for Liskeard on his position tonight, because I find he has estranged the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has, I think, on other occasions supported the Bills. I am greatly struck also by a change of front, or, at any rate, a change in the method of treatment or handling of this question. I had not the advantage of being present last Session when the Bill was discussed; but I have referred to the record of the debate on that occasion, and I am struck by this fact—that the hon. Member for Liskeard treated the question then far more from an argumentative point of view than he has done today. To-day he has chiefly confined himself to quoting instances where this suffrage has been tried, and pointing to the success it has met with. He pointed also to instances in which he thinks great injustice is done to women because this privilege is not accorded to them. He quoted one instance that I must confess staggered me a great deal, apparently much more than it did any other hon. Member. He quoted the case of the State of Wyoming, but I was very much relieved when I discovered that the people of Wyoming are—at any rate, in one respect—different from the people in this country. He told us what influence the women wielded, and he spoke of the effect of that influence in some respects; but he failed to tells us what the effect was on the women themselves, or the general population. He said no inconvenience was occasioned by women going to the poll, for the extraordinary reason that the men never forgot that their mothers were women. I must say—and I regret to say it—that as far as experience goes that reflection in this country has not prevented men, on occasions of great public excitement, from treating women in a manner in which, if this Bill passed, I should be very sorry to see them treated. It appears to me that the real difference between those who vote for this measure and those who oppose it is rather one of principle than of expediency. I am quite a ware that the hon. Member for Liskeard has told us, or, at any rate, that he has implied, that he does not so much argue this question as a matter of right—


Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to explain, as I appear to have been misunderstood by other hon. Members. I said I did not argue the claim of women as a matter of abstract right. I put the claim on the ground of expediency, holding that expediency is the basis of right.


I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for his explanation; but on referring to his speech last year, I found that he used different language then. He said that in proposing the Bill, as in bringing forward any question before the House, the first thing to be done was to appreciate and point out the necessity of arriving at some common ground and base. Then he went on to make a number of assumptions, which, I believe, may have misled many hon. Members when they voted for his Bill, and it is because I cannot accept his assumptions that I cannot vote for his Resolution. One of his assumptions is this—"Every Member of this House is of opinion that representative government is one of the best forms of government, and that it would be to the interests of the House to make ourselves as representative as possible." Well, we are all agreed in one sense, that the representative is the best form of government. But to say that we must make ourselves as representative as possible, and extend the suffrage to all those who require in every way to be represented, is an argument that I, for one, cannot agree to. Where will such an argument stop, I should like to know? It seems to be assumed that the vote is a remedy for "All the ills that flesh is heir to," and I know no instance in which that assumption is more apparent than in the advocacy of the admission of women to the franchise. We hear from hon. Members who support this Motion of the inconveniences and wrongs to which women are subjected in the present state of things, and the inference must be that they will be remedied through this measure. Now, if as is argued, women have the same rights and interests as men, surely men will protect those rights and interests which are their own; and if they have rights and interests which are different from those of men, I should like some- one to point out how their position will be improved by the possession of the franchise? The chief evils which women are subjected to, if we are to believe the statements we constantly find in that journal which I believe has been circulated among all the Members of this House, are evils which arise from the abuse of power by men, and chiefly by the abuse of power of husbands over their wives. I confess that the details given on that subject, in the journal to which I have referred, are so harrowing that it is often almost impossible to read them; and I cannot conceive with what object those details are constantly brought forward, except it be for the purpose of arguing that if a measure of this kind passed into law those evils would not continue. But I cannot conceive how the admission of women to the franchise could have that effect. I do not believe there is a single Member of this House who, if he could diminish the suffering of women at the hands of those who have power over them, would hesitate for a moment to support a measure which he thought would have that result; but before we are asked on that account to pass a measure of this kind, it should be distinctly pointed out how it will accomplish the object in view. I fear that the worst evils suffered by women are suffered by married women, and though the hon. Member who spoke last considers that married women might safely trust their interests to be represented by the unmarried, I confess that when I read the pamphlet which has been so much quoted this evening, and see what is written by those who make themselves most prominent in this cause, I cannot say that I feel disposed to commit the interests of the married to the unmarried. I do not think that the interests of married women would be very well represented by those who are capable of using the argument with which the hon. Member for Liskeard concluded his speech. He told us that although it was often said that women did not want the franchise, he was prepared, though it was a paradox, to affirm that those who did not want it wanted it most, and he went on to explain his meaning by saying that those who did not want the franchise were wanting in intelligence, in culture, and in education. I appeal to the House whether that is a justifiable description of those women who do not want the franchise. I am sorry that such an opinion of their sex should be put forward by those women who come forward as the advocates of this measure. The hon. Member for Liskeard reminded us that the clergy were permitted votes, but were not allowed to sit in this House, and he drew a parallel between their case and the case of women, whom he wished to see in possession of the franchise, but not in a position to be elected as Members. There is a Bill before the House at present to remove the disability of the clergy, thereby showing that a portion of their number, at all events, feel the restriction to be irksome and unjust. How that is I am not here to argue; but the argument of the position of the clergy cannot apply to the question before us. No one would suppose that a clergyman is by his nature incapacitated or unfitted for the exercise of the franchise; but what was supposed was that he had other duties incompatible and incongruous with the duties he would have to discharge in his calling, and the duties of Membership of this House, though not with the exercise of the franchise. But our objection to the exercise of the franchise by women stands upon the ground that we consider women unfitted by nature for the discharge of that duty. I do not say that there are not certain women who would duly and properly exercise the franchise; but our argument is that there is a barrier, by nature and by society, against it, and that is precisely the order of things which the hon. Gentleman wishes to upset. He told us so. He told us that his object was to make women independent of men. I venture, on the contrary, to think that it is better for their interests that they should remain in their present position. I admit that men have in this, as in every other relation of life, abused their power; but I do not believe the remedy for that is to be found in upsetting the existing order of things, in revolutionizing society, and putting women in a position in which they would be independent of men.


I must say—if I may say it without irreverence—that Divine Providence has been unduly invoked on several occasions in this House to settle these questions of county franchise and woman's suffrage, and we have just heard it authoritatively delivered that it is ordained that the present state of things, as regards women, shall continue. And we are referred to Revelation as the best evidence that it is so ordained. If we are to go to Revelation to settle the matter, we have abundance of choice of the institutions under which to put women, varying from a state of slavery to polygamy, the willing slave, and the Royal sharer of a Throne. I do not think, therefore, that that will help us; and when I turn to the cumulative wisdom of this House to settle the question, what do I find? We are sitting here with a certain smug complacency dealing with women as a class, settling to our enormous satisfaction what they think of us, what we think of them, how far they are entitled to our confidence—indeed, we have been distributing in a lavish manner, with the historic grace of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope), by turns, rewards, praises, and criticism; and we have settled, infinitely to our own satisfaction, that we are right, beyond cavil. I laughed at some of the jokes of the hon. Member; but when I did so, I was not quite sure that I should have laughed at them if a woman had been sitting here among us. I am not sure that the hon. Member would have evoked woman's laughter, and it is woman's laughter, or the laughter of an approving audience, that we seek on this occasion Why cannot we be serious upon it? It is a moderate thing to ask. Many of you say that you know women of ripe intelligence and rare ability, capable to advise, to console, and to cherish. We ask you but to give them power to vote. Nothing very extra-ordinary, and perhaps a little commonplace. And this is all we ask for women. You say it is too much. It is wonderful to hear the arguments put forward. Consider the danger of deterioration of the character of women—the destruction of all the charms of woman. You say, we should no longer find it necessary to approach them upon the terms of ordinary drawing-room courtesy, but they would be persons to be cajoled or flattered after the manner of some male electors. The vote, I apprehend, is a small matter to grant. I do not say that it is a small matter considered as a privilege. It is one of those matters small in itself, but which, the moment it is denied, becomes a great grievance; and in that sense, when it is sought for by women, it is desirable that this small matter should be conceded. It is only to elect Members like ourselves that they desire the franchise. There is no man in this House at the present moment, if I may say so respectfully, who is not quite competent to consider and deal with any one of the affairs that come before it. Is that true or not? Every man in this House feels himself capable of dealing with any question that arises here to whatever part of the world it relates, and even to enter upon a discussion about the State of Wyoming if complications should arise between it and us. But let us compare ourselves with women we know. Cannot we parallel those paragons of men we know with some women as capable as they are? What, then, is the reason for the refusal of this request? We have only to argue this on one of two grounds. Either it will benefit the race of women and not hurt the country, or it will benefit the country and not hurt the race of women. If we make out either of these propositions, we are entitled to this measure, because to raise the status, to improve the minds of women, must be admitted to be a rare enterprize, worthy of the most earnest endeavours of a House of Legislature; and to raise the country, to improve the country, is a duty to which our best efforts are always directed. Will this improve the status of women? When I ask for information upon the grounds for assuming that it will not have that effect, I am answered with references and extracts, taken haphazard from a book, and these interlarded with comments, though always in a kindly and good-humoured spirit, by the hon. Member for Cambridge University. Nothing unworthy ever escapes his lips in these discussions, but still he is prejudiced on the subject, and it is quite possible that if he were in another place, and in presence of one or other of those ladies he is criticizing, he might stand more in awe of them, and feel his liberty of speech a little coerced. I felt at first a little terrified by the opposition of an hon. Gentleman of his talent and long experience, and I trembled as I heard his extracts, for I felt that even a cause like this might be prejudiced by some injudicious or imprudent advocate. I listened, therefore, attentively; but what did I find? Really nothing but what was exceedingly innocent; nothing in the world that anybody could say was false reasoning. The style was perhaps a little florid in one or two passages; but who of us does not occasionally resort to a trifle of exaggeration, and it is not always that a florid style is exaggeration. If you are talking to stupid or unwilling minds, you must colour the picture a little stronger to enforce conviction. Then the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bristowe), who poured forth an abundance of words, read some of the same extracts, but for the life of me I could not see what they proved in support of his view. It is said that women do not desire this, and my hon. Friend near me (Mr. Courtney) has been taken to task by the noble Lord opposite (Earl Percy) for having said, while advocating this measure, that women are uneducated. But I think the noble Lord misunderstood my hon. Friend. What I understood him to say was that they were not educated quoad hoc, and to illustrate what I mean, I would refer to the use made of the word "educated" by the present Prime Minister with regard to his Party. That, I think, is a very apt illustration of what is meant when we speak of women not asking for the vote because they are not educated. Education in that sense means the opening up of the mind to the importance of questions to be encountered, though not, I hope, as in that memorable instance, making the educated unsay all they had said before, or bringing them to some belief politically which they had bound themselves by the strongest ties never to look upon with favour. It is said that women do not ask for this; but that argument has been already disposed of. Apply the same test to education. In the beginning, how many women asked for higher education? Remarkably few. Until the small band of those to whom this idea came, and who were so greatly strengthened in their enter prize by Mr. Mill's thoughtful advocacy, were able to get the question raised in Parliament, the question of the higher education of women had made very small progress indeed. The education of women up to that time may be said to have been in a state of disgraceful neglect. Only accomplishments of the prettiest sort were indulged in, but of higher education there was none. And the promoters of this movement may claim that, in advo- cating that the suffrage should be given to women, they are endeavouring further to set free the enter prize of the sex to acquire that education which they have shown themselves capable of indulging in, which they have by their own personal vigour so forcibly and so effectually won. I was sorry to hear the noble Lord describe this as a failing cause, and I think he will find to his surprise that it is not. The very instance he gives of the change from Bill to Resolution does not always hold good, as he will find in the case of the Burials Question. I ask anyone if a cause can be described as failing, when it has received the support of prominent Members of a Government, men of a ripe age long before they determined in its favour, men of acknowledged sagacity like the Postmaster General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Are they going to desert us to-night? Will either of them have the courage to support us; or will they wait till this is a question upon which "Aye" or "No" must be said? I suppose that is so. The Conservative mind, having arrived at the conclusion that this would be a dangerous move, after having been deluded for some time into the belief that if it were conceded it would bring perennial power and influence to that side, may, when enlightened again by some of their Party, be disposed to give up their opposition, and then we shall have the question taken up as one of expediency; but the Party opposite seems to have made up its mind to wait till a great move is made on this side. I remember when, on a former occasion, a strong appeal was made on the score of Party, an hon. and learned Friend of mine (Sir Henry James) in doleful tones prophesied the downfall of the Liberal Party if it indulged in such feelings, for women would be so Conservative; but, if that were so, we ought not in these questions to be bound by Party considerations in the course we pursue. I trust a few of us, and probably the hon. Member for Liskeard, after his speech of the other night against the extension of the county franchise, will be prominent among the number, will be ready to do even unpopular things in this House to prove that its character has not deteriorated.


The hon. and learned Member who has just addressed himself to this question (Mr. Hopwood) has not contributed very much to our store of information on the subject, although he has done his best to rid himself and the House of the impression that the friends of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) are not greatly in love with his proposal. Women regard this question with indifference, and the main reason why women acutely alive to all matters involving injustice to themselves fight shy of this idea is that they regard the proposal as very hollow and insincere. It leaves out of consideration the great body of the women of this country who certainly possess that experience of life which should qualify them, before all others of their sex, for the exercise of the franchise. We are always told that woman is the equal of man; but, at the same time, it is proposed that a married woman shall not be treated as the equal of her single sister. I cannot for the life of me understand, and I have listened to these debates for many years, how any practical man can come before this House and propose a change to this House so vast as to its theoretical importance, and so extremely limited, so trumpery, if I may be allowed to use that expression, in its practical effect. We are told that all these great movements are going on which are to restore to woman the great place which she occupied as the equal of man in some antediluvian, or, as I believe, pre-Adamite day. We are required to re-construct the very basis of society to introduce a change only warranted by principles which must affect the life and habits of every man and woman in this country; and this is proposed to be done simply and solely to enable a few estimable widows and acidulated spinsters to possess a privilege which will be almost imperceptible in the body of electors of these Kingdoms. I ask the House to consider, if it is not almost impertinence to ask them to consider that which is so obvious, what are the qualifications of which the existing Parliamentary franchise is the test. A man is endowed with the franchise in this country not because he is a householder, but because his position as a householder affords a test of certain qualities which are likely to make him a valuable citizen and a useful elector. His position of householder is supposed to argue that he has had some of the experience of life, that he has been brought in contact with some of those great problems and common-place diffi- culties which go so far to sober the judgment and to produce something like political, or, at all events, practical sagacity. But what we are now asked to do is to exclude from the franchise the whole body of the women of this country who are in the same position, or rather some 95 per cent of them. All the married women of the country are to be excluded from the franchise, and those very qualities of household management and the daily experience of the difficulties of life which at present are tested, as far as men are concerned, by that household qualification, are to go for nothing in the case of a woman, except she enjoys the advantage of single blessedness, or of having seen her husband go out of the world before her. Anything more unpractical I have never seen brought before the House, and I have never been able to believe that any of the Members on this side or the other side, who have advocated this cause, have been serious in proposing to deal with it in this particular form. But it is not this question in this particular form that is sought to be brought before the House. It is a very much larger question, and that question has been discussed to-night almost to the exclusion of the Resolution. We have had all sorts of lofty sentiments and aspirations from the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) and the hon. Member for Kin sale (Mr. Collins); but very little has been said in the course of the debate as to the real question involved in the extension of the franchise, such as must necessarily follow if the Resolution of the hon. Member for Liskeard is adopted, and an Act of Parliament passed upon the basis it presents. The debate has rather been distinguished by that vague kind of declamation which always prevails when the real matter in the thoughts of the speakers is rather one of first principles than of practical legislation. I am quite willing, for the sake of argument, to admit that women, as a rule, are as worthy of the franchise as men, if by worth we are to mean the possession of moral principle; and I would also, for the same purpose, admit that women, as a rule, would exercise the franchise as well as men. As far as I can judge from the Acts by which we have given them other franchises, they have exercised them well. But this is not the question to which we have to restrict ourselves. The real question is not whether women can exercise the franchise, or whether they exercise it well, but what would be the effect of giving them the Parliamentary franchise? And this question ought to be considered from three points of view—First, the interests of women; second, the interests of the other sex; and, third, the interests of society at large. With regard to the first of these points of view, I think it would be very difficult to prove by any advocate of woman's cause, however enthusiastic he might be, that the higher interests of women have been served in any way by the agitation which has disturbed the country in regard to this question. The hon. and learned Member for Stockport has told us that the agitation has stimulated the appetite of women for higher knowledge. I should be inclined to say that the sort of crusade that has been preached throughout the length and breadth of the land, to the great annoyance of mankind and to the great disgust of the majority of womankind, has tended in a great degree to prejudice the mind of the country against these attempts to give to women what the world might perhaps have otherwise deemed a better position in the work of public life. Speaking for myself only, I confess that when I see on the programme of any particular movement some of those names with which in the history of this question we have become so well acquainted, I am inclined to regard them with something more than suspicion. Suppose for a moment that we regard this question from the point of view of the results of this agitation—and as an agitation I look upon it as one of unmixed evil—suppose the proposal of the hon. Member for Liskeard were crystallized into law, does anyone believe that the additional 3 or 4 per cent of voters would trouble themselves much about questions really important to women—questions relating to divorce, the custody of children, the protection of women's earnings, and matters of that kind? I am bound to say that, as far as I have been able to see the interest they take in politics, these are the last questions on which they would be found to express their opinions. I rather think that their opinions would be much more likely to be exercised on questions affecting the liberty of men, on some pet idea for the endowment of this or that religious body, or on the question of the sale of intoxicating liquors. These are the questions that would be most likely to affect deeply the mind of the voters who would thus be added to the constituency. The new elector would be more likely to give a vote for the endowment of some particular sect, or for the shutting up of some particular public-house, than to interest herself on the other questions to which I have referred, which more truly concern women, and with which Parliament, as at present constituted, has dealt more or less wisely on different occasions. If the franchise were to be given to women, the legislative power of this House would not be strengthened in any material degree, and women, as a class, would suffer by asserting their equality with men and becoming their avowed antagonists in the race of life. In that contest you may depend upon it that women would get very much the worst of it. What, I ask, is the position in which women must be regarded if this claim be acceded to? Are they in future to be regarded simply as other men, to receive the same education and develop the same faculties, and to challenge us to constant rivalry in every walk of life? You may depend upon it that in this conflict women can gain nothing, but they would be likely to lose a great deal. Now, as to the results of such a change to men. Will men be happier by the removal of that diversity of tastes and training which now is the true cause of concord? Fancy a Member returning home, tired even of the eloquence of the hon. and learned Member for Stockport, and finding there a politician in petticoats ready to continue the debate! Yet if women are to perform the same duties, who can blame them if they cultivate the same faculties and follow the same models as men? The hon. and learned Member for Stockport may wish to bring women as nearly as may be to his own level. I think that most of us entertain an ideal of women as unlike as possible to the hon. and learned Member for Stockport. But perhaps the most important question for us to consider is as to the effect which the proposal would have upon the interests of society at large. What would be its effect regarded not from the sexual point of view as a matter of individual convenience, but upon the fabric of a great organization developed through a long course of years. The plan suggested by the hon. Member for Liskeard is simply the pilot balloon of a system that would eventually destroy the home and cover London with institutions of a sexless and epicene character, in which men and women, young and old alike, would meet, without any of the controlling influences, without any of those checks and safeguards which, at the present time, tend to soften and temper the relations between the two. I, for one, have regarded with some amount of anxiety the attempts recently made to introduce female students into Universities, because I do not approve of the suggestion that there should be uncontrolled communication between young persons of both sexes at the time when women are passing through the most defenceless period of their lives. On the broad ground, then, of men and women setting out on an equality in the race of life, I do not think it can be suggested that the two sexes are equally endowed by nature with those faculties that could make the contest an equal one. I would ask the House—Is this proposal to be submitted to it year after year, not only with a diminishing support here, but with an absence of interest in its favour throughout the country? Are we to listen time after time to the same speeches, composed of the same arguments, made by the same hon. Members, and always with the same result? The country cannot be moved upon this matter, even by the drawing-room meetings and speeches of the hon. Member for Liskeard. The hon. Member must alter the profound convictions which animate society in every class of both sexes on this subject before he can bring about the change which, under a paltry and flimsy pretext, he has tried to introduce. I trust that the House will pronounce against a change against which the hon. Member must know the great majority of his fellow-countrymen, and, still more, the large majority of his fellow-countrywomen, are arrayed.


Sir, I speak tonight for the first time on this question, and I wish to add my voice in favour of the Resolution brought forward by the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney), although I am not able to go the whole length to which many of the advocates of women's rights would lead us. I have never been able to see, although I feel the force of much that is said by hon. Members who oppose the Motion, why the House should refuse a trial to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman. It is one which is admitted to be of a limited nature; indeed, the hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Raikes) has just told us that the Motion before the House is of such a character that it would be infinitesimal in its results. All that is asked is to give the franchise to unmarried women and widows, and we are told that the number would be reduced by those who would not avail themselves of the privilege if it were given to them. If it can be shown that the result would not be to injure anyone or hurt any particular interest, I do not see what harm could be done by acceding to this proposal. I think also a number of hon. Members, who pursue a particular line of argument on this question, ought to vote in favour of the Motion of the hon. Member for Liskeard, in order that they might ascertain by experience whether women are really indifferent to the franchise or not. I imagine that if we were to put the question to most women—"What do you think of the franchise?" they would answer—"I know nothing about politics." Young ladies are sometimes not very particular as to the amount of humbug they adopt in order to carry their aims and objects. They do not tell their minds to every man, and they may attempt a subterfuge when people attempt to get at their opinions, especially on political questions; still it seems to be a sort of social law that women should not say anything to men that is not pleasing. With regard to the form in which this question has been brought forward, I have always understood that it was purely a matter of convenience whether the question should be approached in this House by a Resolution or by a Bill, and I think it is perhaps more convenient that it should be discussed in its present shape. The hon. Member for Liskeard has been taunted with having at first treated the question from a merely philosophical point of view, and with treating it now from a more practical point of view, thus indicating that he is conscious of the advocacy of a failing case; but I do not see that there is any real ground for that assumption; indeed, it is in accordance with my experience that we usually endeavour to treat questions arising in this House in the first instance from a philosophical point of view, and when, by that means, we have been enabled to bring these questions into prominence, and public opinion has become ripe for their solution, we give to them the practical form which eventually results in legislation. This is what has been done by the hon. Member for Liskeard. With regard to what has been said on the other side of this House, it has been admitted both by the noble Earl the Member for North Northumberland (Earl Percy), and by other speakers, that women have the same rights and interests as we have; but I think it has been practically proved that men have neglected those rights and interests. I suppose that there is no question that has arisen in the history of Parliament which has made a more real and solid progress than this, and of late years laws have been passed which have rendered it possible for women to exercise a control over their own property, which they were not formerly allowed to exercise. But much remains to be done in this direction. Men have power to enact for the protection of women; therefore, I think that the case has been proved, so far as expediency goes, for, having that power, you have neglected to use it. Consequently, women are justly entitled to say—"Since you have neglected to protect us, at least let us try to protect ourselves." We have, as an instance, the school board and municipal elections to show us that women can, without profit, take part in political matters. You know that municipal elections and school board elections are fought out on Party lines—municipal elections almost so, and school board elections very frequently so—and we see that no baneful evil to society has resulted by allowing women to vote. We see, on the contrary, that they have proved, as members of the school boards, that they are not only well qualified to be members, but absolutely indispensable. There are many men who will admit that they can point to female members of school boards, whose presence at the board is almost indispensable. School board elections and municipal elections take place once a-year, but Parliamentary elections take place only about once every five years. If social life has not been disturbed, if the sanctity of the heart has not been invaded, if all those finer feelings which women ought to be possessed of have not been destroyed or vitiated by the participation of women in municipal and school board elections, surely we should not fear that all these finer feelings will be destroyed by the participation of women, once every five years, in Parliamentary Elections. Elections are not what they formerly were. We have not the riot and turmoil such as we had in former contested elections; but now a woman can go in the polling-booth and register her vote just as quietly as if she were in her drawing-room. There is none of that violence and contest which characterized elections under the old system. You will, therefore, have a guarantee that women would not be brought in contact with conditions which are in their nature unsuited to the sex; and I should think, from that point of view, there is really no argument why we should not assent to the Motion of the hon. Member for Liskeard. Then we have the further consideration as to whether the mind of woman can be so perverted by reading newspapers, and by considering political questions during the intervals when she is called upon to exercise her vote, as to upset the foundations of society, and disturb any of the laws which now regulate the condition of our social existence. It seems in this way also there would be no such disturbance, because many women now are just as much interested in politics as many men, and we have seen that women can turn their attention to politics and can express their opinion upon political matters without losing those finer attractions which are the special attributes of the sex. Therefore, Sir, although, as I said previously, my mind is not made up as to the necessity of going further than the Motion of the hon. Member for Liskeard, I think we might very fairly grant the very small trial which he asks us to make—that we might give a very limited class of women the right to vote once every four or five years at the elections for Members of Parliament.


Sir, it is some years ago that I formed the opinion that very little that was novel could be added to any debate on this subject, and I certainly have come to the conclusion that I cannot say anything that is new. Whilst there is nothing that has occurred this evening to cause me to change that opinion, and certainly nothing passing through my mind to induce me to alter the decision I had arrived at, there are one or two circumstances connected with the change of the form of the Resolution now submitted to the House, and connected also with the peculiar nature of the advocacy of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney), which makes me desirous of occupying the attention of the House for a brief period. Now, the hon. Member for Liskeard made a declaration to us this evening: as to what were his personal intentions in relation to the effect of this Resolution; and he also, at the same time, paid a compliment—which I am sure everyone felt was a well-deserved compliment—to the courage of a late respected Member of this House, who had always no fear of stating the opinions he entertained on any subject. Sir, I wish I could return the compliment with full effect to my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard. The hon. Member, though certainly not lacking in courage, has failed, as it appears to me, to look the logical effect of his Motion in the face. He tells us that he is desirous to include within the terms of his Motion the right of voting only to widows and unmarried women. That declaration on his part I am sure is sincere, and yet, at the same time, it is of very little value. We must look not only at the mere wording of this Motion, but we must look also at the natural effect and result of it. We must look at the declaration of those who are far more powerful than my hon. Friend in the agitation on this subject. Now, first of all, the direct effect of this Resolution would go farther than the hon. Member apparently desires; for, by virtue of it, if passed in the shape of a Bill, certain classes of married women would have the right to vote. My hon. Friend said that, whilst the subject is now presented in the shape of a Resolution, still he intends to include within it the provisions of the Bill of 1878; and I venture to suggest to him that he must then see that a certain class of married women under that Bill would have the right to vote. Every married woman who is a lodger, under the lodger clause of the Act of 1867—and there can, in fact, be such—is entitled to record her vote, and every married woman who holds leasehold property, under the Act of 1870, will be entitled to vote. Therefore, if we stop, and only carry into effect this Resolution, you will admit a certain number of married women upon the electoral roll. The number of married women thus entitled to vote would be limited, no doubt; but we must look at the effect of establishing such a principle and making such a concession; and we must look at the natural consequence, not only of this measure, but we must look at the effect of the Resolution in relation to further measures. Why, Sir, I am certain that the hon. Member for Liskeard, and those with whom he is acting, are at this moment the very strongest supporters of a Bill, which many opponents of this Resolution also support—namely, a Bill to give married women equal rights of property with their husbands. There is also another class of politicians who are hoping—and I join with them in the hope—that the time is coming when all property qualification to enable persons to vote will cease and not be required—when, on account of the advanced education and increased knowledge of the people, we shall not require that property qualification that exists now. Why at this moment we have reduced the qualification to a nullity. A person is allowed now a borough vote, although he is not liable to pay rates, and who pays no rent, but has only promised to pay it. Well, Sir, if we have now reduced the property qualification to almost a nullity, and if we are striving—as many are striving—to give to married women equal rights of property with their husbands, will hon. Members bear this in mind—that if this Resolution were put in the form of a Bill, and if either one of those two measures to which I have referred—namely, that married women shall have equal right of property with their husbands, or that no property qualification shall exist, every married woman in this country might vote. That will be the result of our accepting this measure. It is said, make this concession, and we ask no more. You have taught us several severe lessons in that respect—your whole Resolution is founded upon the concessions we have already made to you. Look at the municipal vote. When the right for women to vote in the municipal elections was asked, it was said it had nothing to do with the Parliamentary elections, and the same was said about the school board vote, and yet the whole Resolution now before the House is founded upon the theory of these very concessions. Of course, I accept the full effect of the statement of the hon. Member for Liskeard, and I am certain of his sincerity; but it is not his statements or his declarations which must guide us, but what we know is the feeling of those who are his supporters in this matter. In 1874, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth), who was then in charge of this Bill, fatal to his own existence as custodian of the Bill, inserted a provision that no married woman under that Bill should be entitled to vote, and thereupon there was a demonstration made against him. A lady, whose name I wish to mention, Sir—only, I assure the House, with feelings of respect and honour due to that name—a lady immediately made a strong declaration against my hon. and learned Friend, and the form of the declaration was made in these words— Some of us would be glad to know on what grounds Mr. Forsyth proposes to exclude those married women who have freehold property, or other qualification, from the exercise of the right we wish to confer on unmarried women in the same position? The various societies for women's suffrage are formed with one object, which is to obtain for women the right to vote for Members of Parliament on the same conditions which entitle men to vote. Mr. Forsyth's Bill, therefore, does not meet their case, and unless suitable Amendments would be agreed to in Committee, the agitation will go on after the Bill is passed to enable the societies to congratulate each other on their partial success. That letter was signed "Ursula M. Bright." The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone was put on one side. He did not accept those views, and, therefore, ceased to have charge of the Bill. The hon. Member for Liskeard reigns for the moment in his stead; but what will be his fate after to-night? The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone was denounced by the supporters of the Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard that he is likely to meet the same fate after his declaration of to-night. The Bill will be handed over to one of its true supporters, who will accept the real consequences resulting from the measure as now proposed to us. What is the natural result which then will happen? Will the House for one moment recognize what the result will be if married women are allowed to vote? At this moment there are 900,000 adult women in excess of the number of adult men in this country; therefore, if women are enfranchised, we shall have them more or less exercising this preponderating weight. If property qualification ceases, or if you give equal rights of property to women, you will have a great proportion more women on the register than men. I ask the House, is there any man who can wish to see that result? Let us think of the consequences that would ensue when we have to consider questions of peace or war, or enter on some grave deliberation where both sides of the question have to be discussed, and where enthusiasm would only lead us astray. Why, where we ought to listen only to reason and calm deliberation, we should be governed by the enthusiasm and sympathy of a woman's mind. Alone amongst the nations of the world our councils would be the councils of women. A word or two in reference to the position which the hon. Member for Liskeard has taken in relation to this subject. I well understand that the supporters of this measure may be drawn from two distinct and well-known classes of politicians. I can understand that the advanced Liberal and also the most sincere Conservative may both find reasons—though I much differ from them—for supporting this Resolution. There are two schools—or, perhaps, one school with two classes in it—of politicians from which I should have thought there would ever be found recruits to strengthen the array of those who are opposed to these principles. It is the school of which my right hon. Friend the Member for the London University (Mr. Lowe) and my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) are the two chief masters. This school entertains the opinion that you should enfranchise no other class than those already enfranchised; that enfranchisement has gone far enough; that we are now subject to so many dangerous influences of a democratic nature that we do not say unpleasant things enough in this House or to each other; that we ought not to enfranchise anyone beyond those already enfranchised, lest we should be subjected to influences that we ought not to give way to. I think I have reason to believe that the hon. Member for Liskeard is an apt pupil of that school, because if on next Tuesday night the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Border Boroughs (Mr. Trevelyan) came down to the House and proposed to establish household suffrage in counties, I think we should be told by the hon. Member for Liskeard "you are doing wrong in adding to the number of enfranchised persons," because you will be enfranchising those who are unfit to exercise political power if they are enfranchised—you will be subjected to influences against which you cannot contend, and you will be saying pleasant things instead of the unpleasant things you ought to say. There is a Bill before the House, brought in by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Mellor), to remedy a defect in the Poor Law Amendment Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard would assume it was a wrong Bill; he would assume that the House of Lords was right in rejecting it, and he would say this is a proof that we have yielded to influences we ought not to have yielded to. What do we think of the Member who entertains such opinions now asking this House to extend the franchise to a possible 900,000 persons, and thus add to influences we ought not to be subjected to? Does he mean that unmarried women form an uninfluential class? I should have thought that he would have regarded them as a class who would be likely to have an influence above all others most difficult to contend against. I am not quite sure that my hon. Friend is himself armour-proof against such influences. He has been travelling about a great deal with these ladies lately. He has been with them in the country, and he has seen a great deal of them in the afternoons, and the result of their influence over him has been so great that they have prevailed upon him, between a Tuesday night and the following Friday, to sacrifice every shred of consistency. It is said, too, that it is representation for the misrepresented that is required, rather than enfranchisement for the unenfranchised; and yet those who entertain that view— and my hon. Friend is one of them—are willing to refuse enfranchisement to a man who, living beyond, but within a stone's throw of a borough boundary, pays £11 19s. for rent, and who also pays rates, and yet are willing to enfranchise the woman who lives in the borough and does not pay rent or rates. This is what the hon. Member terms a consistent course. He says, enfranchise no more; and then he asks us, at the same time, to enfranchise hundreds of thousands of persons. I confess I look strangely upon these things, and had I not heard the speech of the hon. Member the other night, I could not have believed that he could have made that speech and now bring forward this Motion. Anyone who so argues shows so much inconsistency that one can only laugh if such a man there be. And, although I am not myself about to show any emotion to-night, there must be some ardent admirers of my hon. Friend —and I know no one who deserves such admirers more—who must be disposed to weep if Attacus he be. The hon. Member has said to-night that he gives up the whole question of abstract right in favour of women voting. He has thrown that to the wind, and he says he makes this Motion simply on the ground of utility to the country. "I look at it," says the hon. Member, "from an utilitarian point of view, and I am only supporting my Motion from that standpoint." This argument appears to me to come strangely from one who wants to add to the electoral roll only those he thinks shall be competent and fit to give a vote. He does not ask us, surely, to add persons to the register who he thinks unfit to occupy that position; for if he did, the agricultural labourer would go on at once. Assuming that the hon. Gentleman is desirous of adding only those to the register who are fit to give a vote, I should like to quote the opinion of a Member of this House—an opinion which I am sure will have great weight with the House, and which the hon. Member himself will respect. In the course of a previous debate, an hon. Member said— The narrowness of women's range of ideas is absolutely deleterious in its effects. Our earliest lessons are received from them. Are they not often lessons that we have afterwards to unlearn with great difficulty and pain; and do we not often find a difficulty in freeing ourselves from them, and in emancipating ourselves from the errors of our earliest education? Again, to those who enter into the marriage relations of life, how constantly does it happen that the man's freedom of intellect is a thing-kept to himself, that he is incapable of imparting to the woman with whom so much of his life is spent any conception of the range of his thoughts. He does not find in her any com- panionship; but, on the contrary, he finds her a drag upon his aspirations, and a drawback upon his advance. I hope the House does not agree with that statement; but that, at all events, is the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard; for what I have just read is a portion of a speech made by him when proposing the second reading of his Bill last year. The hon. Member tells us of the lessons we have received from women; he tells us of men who have received those lessons of error and injury, and who have had to unlearn the teaching of the mother.


Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will notice I use the words "How often?"


He says "how often?" Yes, he speaks to us as having often to unlearn a mother's lessons. Perhaps it is better not to speak of one's own experience; but surely the majority of Members in this House will be disposed to think how much better it would have been if they had learnt those mother's lessons more and forgotten them less. Again, of those who enter into the married relations of life, my hon. Friend, in the same speech, said — How constantly does it happen that the man's freedom of intellect is a thing kept to himself, that he is incapable of imparting to the woman with whom so much of his life is spent any conception of the range of his thoughts? Sir, on that subject I can offer no information. I have had no experience on that subject; but if this so constantly occurs, and if the results of a mother's lessons are such as my hon. Friend represents them, and if the wife is of such a nature that the husband is incapable of imparting to her any conception of the range of his thoughts, is it not strange that that mother who teaches wrongly, and that the wife who has such a degraded intellect should be the very persons to whom the hon. Member is now asking us to give the franchise? He has asked us to give the franchise to the mother who teaches wrongly, and to the wife who drags down her husband's intellect. The hon. Member, in effect, says—" I would give it to them because they are unfit, and the more unfit they are, the more they want the franchise." Why—and I appeal especially to hon. Members opposite—if you are to give the franchise to people because they are un- fit to exercise it, to whom are you to refuse the franchise? Are you to refuse it to the agricultural labourer? You tell us he is so unfit that he cannot be enfranchised; and to-night we have heard the argument which was substantially used last year—that the more unfit the person is, the more it is your duty to give the franchise, in order to remedy that unfitness. But what is to become of the country if that doctrine is accepted? What is to become of the government whilst this unfitness is being cured? It will not be remedied by the fact of women being registered. Time must roll on; years must pass by; generations must go and come, before the nature of the thoughts and minds of a sex can be changed. What, I ask, is to become of the government of this country in the meantime? Why, the whole country, the entire community, must suffer grievously—I think almost to their destruction—whilst this vain combat with nature is being carried on. My hon. Friend spoke but lightly of some subjects, which I should have thought would have been more pertinent and relevant to the matter than this attempt to alter a woman's nature and condition. Did it ever occur to him that after women had been enfranchised— and then, of course, by natural consequence, they must come to this House— that that unfitness must still continue? It is not only a question of the franchise. It is a question of the habits of life, of knowledge, and of practical study. When men go forth for the work of their daily life, they gain knowledge on practical subjects; in their different callings they gain knowledge, which they bring into this House, and which they use at the polling booths. They form judgments not only from mere study, but from practical knowledge, resulting from their different occupations in life. Well, Sir, can a woman ever learn practical subjects as we have learnt them? What is her profession? I say it with some diffidence, but I fancy that a woman's profession, perhaps her only profession, is marriage. ["Oh!"] Sir, I hear dissent behind me. I knew the danger of making that assertion without having an authority to support it. I can foresee that, in some of these itinerant lectures we hear so much of, I shall be figuratively pulled to pieces for making that statement, and I shall have dissent more loudly expressed than that of the hon. Member for Liskeard. I am anxious, therefore, to support my statement, almost for my safety, as well as for any weight that is to be given to what I say, by what I find in the records of this House. The hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell) introduced last year a Bill which proposed to abolish any action founded on the breach of a promise to marry. A Petition was presented to this House against that measure. It was the "humble Petition" of certain persons undersigned, and it showed that— Marriage is the natural and honourable profession in which the majority of women maintained themselves by the discharge of conjugal, social, and domestic duties which appertain to the condition of a wife. That profession comes to a woman by an offer or promise of marriage. That men do not usually marry for a maintenance, whilst marriage is regarded as the proper means through which a woman may obtain a maintenance. That, therefore, a breach of promise of marriage causes pecuniary loss to a woman which is not usually suffered by a breach of promise of marriage to a man. Sir, that Petition is signed "Lydia Becker." My hon. Friend has contradicted me. Will he let me give him a little very sincere advice? I earnestly advise him not to contradict Miss Becker.


I may be permitted for one moment to explain the misconception. My hon. and learned Friend said that marriage was the only profession for a woman. The statement of the Petition is that marriage is the profession of the majority of women.


I am glad to relieve my hon. Friend from the difficulty, because I thought he contradicted the statement that marriage was the profession of women. But let me point out to my hon. Friend the effect of his declaration this evening. He will not give the vote to married women, but only to widows and spinsters. Well, that is very hard upon married ladies. As we men become successful in our profession, and, like my hon. Friend, are called to the great honour of occupying a seat in this House, we date our rise from the beginning of our professional success, when we began our political career by placing our names upon the electoral register. But now, if my hon. Friend's views be carried into effect, directly a lady becomes successful in her profession, you not only will not give her a vote, but you take away a vote from her, and you have to tell her—"If you will only be unsuccessful, if you will only fail in your profession, if you will refuse its honours, its happiness, and its rewards, you will be able to maintain your vote, and you will have that position which is always the only happy position for a woman to occupy— namely, a position of equal electoral rights with men. But if once you attain that which is the true and honourable profession of a woman, if the crown of success be yours, you will lose your vote, because you will become so changed that you will not be fit to exercise it." Sir, is not this an illogical conclusion to bring us to? Is it not a pretence of argument to say you are afraid to give the vote to the woman who has had the advantage of the society of her husband, learning politics from him, hearing his views, and becoming successful in her profession; whilst you would give the vote to the woman who has not had those advantages? Sir, I purposely do not dwell longer on this argument; but there is one argument that is often used in support of this measure to which I should like to call the attention of the House. I believe it is almost the most popular argument that can be used in support of this Resolution. It is not, I think, a very logical one; but it is still popular, very popular, for it appeals to the best feelings of every class of persons—it appeals to the loyalty of the people of this country; and I believe that in the meetings which are held throughout the country—where itinerant lecturers have it all their own way— it is an argument that is much cheered, for it seems for the moment to be unanswerable. That argument is that the Sovereign of this country is now a woman, and as, of course, everybody feels that hers has been the happiest rule for the last 40 years, that it is illogical to suppose that the women of this county are not fit to vote, when a woman has proved herself more than fit to rule. But I have once before in this House, when I first took part in a debate on this question, ventured to point out that this argument was not a sound one, and that it was met by this fact, of which we are all aware—that although the Queen had had the advantage of the advice of wise statesmen in Her Council, and had imbued her mind with the great principles of the Constitution of this country, yet when beneath her roof her husband came—a foreigner, and one of only equal years with herself—upon him she always leant for guidance and support, for this one simple reason, that she was a woman, and he was a man. Since then, we have had a statement of Her Majesty's own views upon that subject. It has pleased Her Majesty to place before her subjects a history almost of her inner life, and there in that book, which I am sure everyone who has read it will have closed with a feeling that it has done him good to read, Her Majesty makes this statement. In her diary, she refers to a letter which she wrote in February, 1852. In that letter she says— Albert grows daily fonder and fonder of politics and business, and he is wonderfully fit for both; whilst I grow daily to dislike them more and more. "We women"—and I beg the attention of hon. Members to this— are not made for government, and if we are good women we must dislike these masculine occupations. ["Order!"]


Sir, I rise to Order. I should like, with the greatest deference, to ask your opinion on this point. I know I am about to appeal against one of the most eminent lawyers in the House; but as one of the lowliest in the Profession, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, if it is in Order to quote the language of the Sovereign on the floor of this House, in order to weigh down and overawe the arguments of Members?


It is irregular to introduce the name of the Sovereign for the purpose of influencing the judgment of the House; but in this case I understand that the hon. and learned Member is merely quoting from a book published with the sanction of Her Majesty, and, therefore, he is not out of Order.


Sir, I had borne in mind the necessity of being prepared for that objection. Of course, the name of the Sovereign ought not to be used in this House to influence it for or against any particular measure; but this is written in a book which does not affect any measure, and which has been widely read and noticed in public journals, and if the hon. and learned Member will allow me, he will see that these words do not apply to this or any other political subject before the House. They form only a general statement, that We women are not made for government, and if we are good women we must dislike these masculine occupations. The House will recollect that these words were written by one who for 15 years had borne the heavy responsibility of her position; and when Her Majesty tells the women of this country that if they are good women they must dislike these masculine operations, what she means to tell them, I presume, is not that it is a question between a good woman and a bad woman in the sense in which we sometimes use those words, but that if women devote themselves to the highest object and aim of a woman—to be a helpmeet to man, to guide and cheer him in times of success, to soothe and console him in moments of difficulty, to share with him the reward of his triumphs—they would find the masculine occupation of government was the last to which they would wish to devote themselves. Sir, I have little more to say. One word I wish to address to those who are Liberal Members of this House, and who are supporters of the Bill. I would ask them to consider what it is they would do in giving support to this measure. What is it they are looking forward to? In every struggle of our political life we are seeking for the independent action of every elector in this country. We are asking for free action and independent judgment for the y ear-by-year increasing-number of electors. We are endeavouring to give them safeguards that they shall be uninfluenced by any power, and that they shall bring to bear upon every subject their own thought and determination and judgment. Do you think, then, to do good at this time by the enfranchisement of women who are unfit for political life, and by giving to them the power of voting? Why, you will send your country back year by year, instead of advancing it. You would give to a class who are utterly, and, from their very nature, subject to influence, a power as great as you give to men. Can that be your object here, from a once hastily formed opinion, that you desire to see extensions of the franchise, whatever they might be, to give power to a class who are influenced by clergymen, by friends, by husbands, by anyone, whose will is stronger than their own. I cannot believe that that will be your deliberate policy. I am sure it will not be the policy of hon. Members opposite; but whatever view they or you may take, there is a power still greater than that of any Party— a power still greater even than the innate power of the Constitutional institutions of the country—it springs from that great body of men who stand apart and neutral between the two great conflicting Parties of the State—they are the men who value and cherish the work of these English homes of ours, and who will do nothing to destroy the happiness of those who live within them.


Since I have had the honour of a seat in this Assembly, I have never opened my lips upon this question before. I have voted upon this and similar propositions in the direction of the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney); but I have declined to speak, although I have been frequently asked to speak in support of the measure. When I was first elected to a seat in Parliament, I was solicited by some friends of the woman's suffrage movement to take a part in the agitation, and my answer was just this—that I could not be an advocate of the measure; that I had much to learn and much to hear upon the subject; that I wished to hold myself perfectly independent; but that, so far as I had any conviction at all, it went in the direction of supporting the proposition, mainly because of the nature of the arguments which I had heard used against it; and I undertook to give my vote on the floor of this House in favour of the measure, unless I should hear some better argument against it than I had heard up to that time. But now the speech to which we have just listened at this moment has pushed me somewhat further towards the women's suffrage movement, and the result of that speech upon me has been this—that that which I have hitherto refused to do I feel bound to do, having been converted into a speaker by the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James). And why? Because in his eloquence and in his supreme ability, marked and signalized in many an arena beside this, I knew I might look for the very best that could be said against woman's suffrage; and if the best that his eloquence and his genius can afford to the House is the mere argumentum ad hominem, is the mere attack upon the hon. Member behind him, and upon his (Mr. Courtney's) consistency, why I say this is Nisi Prius—it is not Parliamentary argument. Eloquent, and, no doubt, sharp in its taunts upon the hon. Member for Liskeard, I complain that he has not projected this speech this evening from the high level I should have expected of him. I deny that this is a mere question as to whether the hon. Member for Liskeard was right in his speech and in his vote the other evening, as judged by his speech and vote this evening. I, for my part, have listened to all that has been said on the question, and I would fain ask the House — even though I know how powerless my voice may be, following upon that of one so able and influential —I would ask the House to come back —to disenchant itself for a moment— and to study what is really the issue before it at the present time. And it is this—Are we ready to do justice—are we prepared to say that mischief and danger will follow from the demand that is made upon us to-night? Now, there has never been a proposition made for the emancipation of any class, for the extension of any suffrage, in this country or in any other, that the advocates of restriction did not take their refuge in the arguments that have been used tonight, and the fears which have been expressed. For my part, I think that in these arguments there is an ancient and fish-like smell. I know very well that when in this House men rose and asked that the millions of Irish Catholics should be emancipated, did not the hon. Members who, like the hon. and learned Member who has just sat down, were eloquent and able, reply? They said—"If you admit the Irish Catholics the Constitution will be overthrown, the balance of political power will be gone, the Sovereign will not be safe, the whole edifice of public liberties will be insecure." Nay, more, very like what we have heard here to-night, hon. Members said—We protect the Catholics, we feel for the Catholics, and we can manage for the Catholics better than they could manage for themselves, if they were ever admitted to the floor of this House." What is this but the argument, in all ages and in all climes, of those who seek dominion for themselves and would keep others in subjection? For my own part, I freely admit that harm has been done to whatever there is of merit in this question by the extravagance with which its advocacy has been surrounded. I say emphatically that I deny the doctrines which are sometimes linked with this question of women's suffrage. I deny the doctrine of what is called the equality of woman and man. Woman has her sphere, in which she is man's superior, and man has his sphere, in which he is woman's superior. In the economy of Providence they have their several spheres, which do not conflict, and in many respects they are conjoined. I deny entirely the assumption, moreover, that the marriage life is not a unity; and I, for one, repudiate the idea that when a woman enters into the marriage state she does not become one with her husband in the eye of the State for all purposes. I will not enfranchise married women. But are we to be deterred from conceding as much of this claim as may be found just and expedient, because of the extravagance of the demand? If we are, we shall never do justice in this House. Do what is just, be bold, be wise, be not extravagant, and deny what is unjust or cannot be conceded with safety to the State. Then there is the argument that it is new to us that women should have a share in public life. Yes, it is quite new, and, Mr. Speaker, why is it new? Because the arguments in this matter, such as they are, are derived from a barbaric time, in which women were a cypher in public life. We are to-night, consciously or unconsciously, perpetuating by those arguments against this Motion the barbaric barriers of 600 and 700 years ago. Why were women of no account in the political system from which those arguments are derived? Because, under the feudal system, the State took no account of any but lances in the field. The greater Baron or the lesser Baron was a constituent part of the State, because he brought armed men into the field, a sword or lance, or a knight equipped; and the feudal system ignored woman, and banished her as far as it could from public life. It gave her no pathways to public honour; it relegated her entirely to the parlour and the dining-room, and made her, as it were, a mere nonentity, because she could take no part in the warfare of the time. From that hour to this the public system so created has survived; but have we not lived into a nobler, better, and a purer age? I admit it is very much an argument against this proposition that not even in the Republic of America, not even in the French Republic, not even in the most democratic and progressive countries in the world, has woman been admitted equally with man to the suffrage. I admit it. I am not here to conceal any argument that tells with myself either one way or the other on this question; but I do say that if England will but put herself in the van of this true civilization, she has no right—nor has any country any right—to allow mere want of precedent to stand in the way of any Act that would tend to the civilization of the world. And what would be the influence of women upon our public life? Sir, I listened with pain and indignation to some of the language which fell from my hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down. He told us of the narrow-mindedness of women, and how unfit they were to take part in public life. Yes, indeed, as the Chinese ladies are said to have small feet, so it is that we have dwarfed the mind of woman as regards public life. We who have narrowed her mind as regards the public issues in which she has responsibilities, and in which she does bear her burdens, are we to taunt her with that very incapacity which is the creation of the system we are asked to perpetuate hereto-night? And he says—"Think what would be the fate of this country if women's suffrage prevailed, and if we were called upon to decide a question of peace or war? "Why, if there were no other argument to call me upon my feet to-night, for the first time upon this subject, the thought is amply sufficient which was awakened by that question. I do deplore that we have not had hitherto some counterbalancing and creditable influence upon our too quick impulses towards war. He tells us, indeed, that our "councils would be the councils of women." What does he mean by that, if not a sneer—a sneer and an insult? Women can be brave as well as weak; women can be wise as well as frivolous. Women can play the statesman—if I may use the phrase in connection with women; they can exhibit statesmanship greater than that which has elevated men to the Attorney Generalship of England. There was a Marie Theresa once known to the world, and her councils were the councils of a woman. He tells us that the women would be craven-hearted, yet we did once hear of a Joan of Arc who led the armed battalions of her country to resist an invader. He tells us our councils would be the councils of women, yet surely there was a Queen Elizabeth in this country at one time, and her councils were the councils of a woman, and she directed the English nation in an hour of peril. I need not run through the list of names that will occur to every hon. Member, from Isabella of Spain to Catherine of Russia. For my part, I do not view with terror the day when women's influence will be felt in the creation—in the formation— of public opinion in this House; I have no such mean conception of women's intellect, of women's influence, of women's ability, and of women's education. I am not ashamed to avow here to-night that in the most serious issues of my own career, in public or in private, the best and the wisest counsels I have ever received have been from women. I say I have found in women on those occasions an unselfishness that is not so prevalent, perhaps, among men; I have found a greater purity of motive in women in judging public matters than I have found in the average of men. Whether it be in imparting a greater gentleness into the course of public life, or whether it be in imparting a greater unselfishness into the public actions of public men, I, for one, view with no terror or apprehension the admission to the franchise of the women who are proposed to be enfranchised. For my part, I leave consequences to One who is higher than we are. I dare to be just; I will not say, having the franchise myself, no one else shall have it, because I can manage for them; I would like them to speak for themselves. The experience of my own country warns me of the errors that men have been led into on issues like this—that is to say, on questions of enfranchisement or emancipation; and therefore, to the class that bear their share of the public burdens, who pay their taxes, who have sent into the war-camp a Florence Nightingale, and on the throne a Victoria, I cannot deny admission to political privilege.


Mr. Speaker, like the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Sullivan), I have never taken part in the debate of this much discussed question; but I should be glad, with the permission of the House, to say a few words, and I can promise the House they shall be but a few words. I am aware how impossible it is to say anything new on this matter. My first objection to my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard's (Mr. Courtney's) Motion is that I dislike the form in which it is brought before us. The hon. Gentleman said it would, or might, include a very large number of married women; but I understood the Motion meant to be somewhat similar to the Bill brought before us on former occasions. Now, I object to that, Sir, and I object to it upon the ground upon which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard also ought to object to it—I object to it because it appears to acknowledge and establish the inferiority of the wife to the husband in a way I do not admit. If it be true, as my hon. Friend says, that for political matters, for political affairs, and administering political affairs, the unmarried woman is as good as the unmarried man, he must also think that for that purpose any woman must be as good as any man; therefore, if he says the married woman is not to be included, it is as good as an admission she is not equal to the married man. The wife must be inferior to the man. I do not admit that. If I thought voting was as much the woman's business as the man's, I should admit at once that in thousands of instances, and I dare say in hundreds of households in England, the women would be more fitted to give an opinion than men. My objection is much deeper than that; I do not think it to be women's work, and I do think it to be man's work. There is another ground on which I object, perhaps not so important as others; but I do not like in these matters of the franchise to give a vote to persons to whom I do not at the same time give the right to be elected. I do not think this is a good precedent which my hon. Friend introduces. An hon. Member has referred to municipal elections and school-board elections. I very much doubt, as far as regards the municipal elections, whether there has been any remarkable success. As regards school-board elections, I think it has been successful; for I think educational work, especially for young children, more than half of whom are girls, requires the assistance of women; there you do want the work of women. As I was responsible for the Bill that made women liable to be elected, and also gave them the power of voting, I may say I should never have thought for a moment of giving the vote, if I had not at the same time given them the right to be elected as members of school boards. So much for the form of the Motion, but I am well aware that my hon. Friend would say—"I am obliged to introduce it in that form to meet the present state of public opinion; if those are all your objections, you may go with me, for I am prepared to give a vote to every woman, married or unmarried, who is in the same position as the man who has a vote." There is one thing, however, I want to say, and that is that my hon. Friend has to contend with this difficulty—it is not a difficulty that applies to the agricultural labourer; we think we can prove that the agricultural labourers wish for the vote—but if he was to poll the women through England, he would find they do not wish for it. My hon. Friend I do not think will deny that; I do not think he will deny that if he was able to take the vote of the women of England they would not do-sire to have the vote with all its burdens, with all its responsibilities, with everything that would follow from it. But I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) who said that is all the more reason why you should give it, for here you have a class so degraded—that was the line of his argument—so degraded that they are not aware of what ought to be their rights; give them their rights, and then they will show how well they can exercise the franchise. I want to say if you take the great body of women through, if you take the more intellectual, if you take the more philanthropical, if you take the more high-spirited women, the women who take the greatest interest in political and public affairs, I believe the majority of each one of those classes is at the present moment against my hon. Friend. I do not say there are not many eminent and most public-spirited women who are doing great good to the country who agree with my hon. Friend; but I say that all my hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down said did not go to prove that women were desirous for the franchise. He said that men had gained influence from the advice of women. I expect it would be a great misfortune to any Member of this House who was not able to say the same; I heartily agree with my hon. and learned Friend. I have found those women from whom I have had advice have been of great help to me. You think on the whole it would be better a vote should be given to women, and they say no. Well, now, why do they say so? Here I do not entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James). I do not think the best of women think with him that marriage is specially woman's vocation; I do not admit that. I do not think it is more a woman's vocation than it is a man's vocation. My hon. and learned Friend does not like to look at it in that light, and I did not wish that we should deal with the question on the notion that nature specially intended that women should look after marriage more than men; and I perfectly admit—and I think we must all admit—that the country, that England at present, England in past times, has gained good and had done good by no class more than single women, from Queen Elizabeth to Florence Nightingale; but what we find women saying and thinking is, not that marriage is specially the vocation of women, but that when there is marriage the husband has one thing to do and the wife has another thing to do. My hon. and learned Friend says what a great advantage it would be to bring women in to the vote, because they would always give a vote in favour of peace. I do not admit it.


If the right hon. Gentleman would allow me, I am sure they would often deter us from unnecessary wars.


I think just the contrary. I think if the women had to vote, it would be a vote in favour of war rather than peace. I remember when I was travelling in the Southern States of America, I asked how they were getting over the Civil War, and they told me the men who fought wished to be at peace with the North; they had had quite enough of it; and they had had quite enough of it long before, if it had not been for the women. And why? Because the women did not do the fighting, and the men did. And we must, when we come to the different duties, and the different walks of life— we must consider what it is, what Government depends upon, and what the administration of public affairs depends on. It depends on the force and power of getting the verdict of the Government of the country carried out, and that must be done by men, for my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard surely does not wish women to be subjected to the conscription. We have no conscription here; but if we had, surely he would not wish them to be subjected to the conscription. I do not wish to detain the House; but I want simply to say that I believe the enormous majority of women, and the best of women, do not wish to have the vote, on the ground on which I agree with them, and which can be simply expressed in three words —that women are not men, and that the business of public affairs belongs to men rather than women. And, remember, that it is not a question merely of giving them a thing which they do not wish for; but it is a question of forcing on them difficulties and responsibilities and duties which they do not desire, and that the women who do not wish for the vote, if my hon. Friend's Motion was carried out, and they were thus forced to have the vote, would be actually injured by having a vote given them they would rather be without—they would not like the duty imposed upon them, or the difficulties and dangers in connection with it. I have only one further remark to make. It is not very desirable, for many reasons, for any man to prophesy upon any sort of public question. But I do venture to say this—that I feel certain that, although we shall probably have this Motion year by year, that it never will be carried. I ask my hon. Friend to look at America. I recollect, many years ago, in England and Wales, almost before many of you were born, that this question was so much talked of that it looked as if it might be passed; but then it suddenly stopped. That happened in America which is happening here, and will happen every- where, according to my opinion. People will play with it, men will play with it, they will seldom deal with it seriously; but the moment they find there is any possibility of the question being carried, that will happen that happened in the United States—the large majority of men, backed by a larger majority of women, will say that this hard work of government, this law-making, belongs to men; it is their duty to do it, and we women would rather not have the franchise.


(who spoke amid great interruption) said: Mr. Speaker, I promise not to detain the House more than a few minutes. I wish it were possible to bring down the level of this debate from the high platform it has reached, and just before we divide to recall attention to the actual Motion before the House. It seems as if, during the whole discussion, it had been almost impossible for hon. Members to confine their remarks to the proposition my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) makes to them. My hon. Friend says, in the plainest of terms, that he merely desires to extend the franchise, already given for municipal elections, to those women who, were they men, would have the Parliamentary franchise. We are met, first, by the statement that we do not mean that; secondly, by the statement, if we do mean that, more will come upon us to our own despite. In vain we protest our sincerity. We are assured that we know not what we ask. What are we going to divide upon? Is it not the abstract question of the position of women in society? Upon this I believe that both sides of the House are nearly unanimous. I am sure hon. Members who support the Motion have as great, if not a greater, respect for all that is estimable and good in women than those who oppose it. We take a more practical line. We base our argument on that experience which we have, of which no one has said that it has worked badly. Even the right hon. Gentleman has not produced one scrap of evidence in support of his assertion. We ask this because we conscientiously believe that justice requires it, and more, we conscientiously believe that those for whom we ask it really desire it. How is that to be ascertained? Every hon. Gentleman who has spoken against us has declared that he does not believe women want it. Every single Member who has opposed us has said that. I, for my part, venture to say that those women whose judgments I rely upon, as a rule, do want it—that is to say, those women who have considered the subject and have mastered it. What do we do to ascertain public opinion? We take the opinion expressed by the Constitutional method of Petitions; we take the opinions of those who are foremost in their day and generation. A large number of Petitions have been presented to this House in favour of the Motion. I call to witness hon. Members near me who know that amongst that class which would be affected, if this Resolution were passed, there is a very great consensus of opinion in favour of it. If I were asked for evidence of the thoughtful opinion of women upon this question, I should take the pamphlet with which the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope) has made merry as an authentic statement of what the views of the most eminent women in the country are. This is a document in which the deliberate opinion of 108 living women is clearly expressed, and the opinion of eight or nine of the most illustrious women who have passed away is left for us. This is no production of what is known as the screaming sisterhood, or of those societies to whom objection is so often taken. I have here the opinion of almost every woman who is conspicuous in this generation, whether in her endeavours to do public work or in art or literature. The class of ladies who have given their evidence are women engaged in literature, and women following scientific or professional pursuits, women engaged in philanthrophic work; and as allusion is always made to the name of Florence Nightingale, I am glad to say that her name is not the least conspicuous among my witnesses. Of those who have passed away, we find such names as Mrs. Grote, Mrs. Jameson, Mrs. Nassau Senior, Mrs. Somerville, and Miss Martineau. Are we not entitled to say that the opinion and evidence of these ladies far outweigh those of the ladies whom hon. Gentlemen adverse to this measure continually bring forward as objecting to the measure, but who, as they refer to them, they admit to know little and to care less about it.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 217; Noes 103: Majority 114.

Agnew, R. V. Emlyn, Viscount
Allsopp, C. Evans, T. W.
Arbuthnot, Lt.-Col. G. Finch, G. H.
Arkwright, A. P. Floyer, J.
Astley, Sir J. D. Folkestone, Viscount
Bagge, Sir W. Forster, rt. hon. W. E.
Baring, T. C. Fremantle, hon. T. F.
Barrington, Viscount Garnier, J. C.
Barttelot, Sir W. B. Gathorne-Hardy, hn. A.
Bass, A. Gibson, rt. hon. E.
Bass, H. Giles, A.
Bates, E. Gladstone, W. H.
Baxter, rt. hon. W. E. Goldney, G.
Beach, rt. hn. Sir M.H. Goldsmid, Sir J.
Beaumont, W. B. Gordon, Lord D.
Bentinck, rt. hn. G. C. Gordon, Sir A.
Bentinck, G. W. P. Gordon, W.
Beresford, Lord C. Goschen, rt. hon. G. J.
Blackburne, Col. J. I. Gower, hon. E. F. L.
Bourke, hon. R. Grantham, W.
Bowyer, Sir G. Gregory, G. B.
Brady, J. Grosvenor, Lord R.
Bright, rt. hon. J. Hall, A. W.
Bristowe, S. B. Hamilton, Lord C. J.
Bruce, Lord C. Hamilton, I. T.
Bruen, H. Hamilton, rt. hn. Lord G.
Bulwer, J. R.
Campbell, Lord C. Hamilton, Marquess of
Campbell-Bannerman, H. Hanbury, R. W.
Hankey, T.
Cartwright, F. Harcourt, Sir W. V.
Cartwright, W. C. Hardcastle, E.
Castlereagh, Viscount Havelock, Sir H.
Cavendish, Lord F. C. Hay, rt. hn. Sir J. C.D.
Cecil, Lord E. H. B. G. Hayter, Sir A. D.
Chaplin, Colonel E. Helmsley, Viscount
Chaplin, H. Herbert, hon. S.
Childers, rt. hn. H.C.E. Herschell, F.
Clive, Col. hon. G. W. Hicks, E.
Close, M. C. Holland, Sir H. T.
Clowes, S. W. Holland, S.
Cochrane, A.D.W.R.B. Holms, J.
Cole, Col. hon. H. A. Home, Captain
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Hood, Capt. hn. A. W. A. N.
Colthurst, Colonel
Cordes, T. Hope, A. J. B. B.
Corry, hon. H. W. L. Howard, E. S.
Corry, J. P. Hubbard, E.
Cotes, C. C. James, Sir H.
Cross, rt. hon. R. A. James, W. H.
Dalkeith, Earl of Johnstone, Sir F.
Dalrymple, C. Jolliffe, hon. S.
Davenport, W. B. Kavanagh, A. MacM.
Davies, R. Kay-Shuttleworth, Sir U.
Deedes, W.
Denison, W. E. Kennard, Col. E. H.
Digby, Col. hon. E. Knowles, T.
Dodson, rt. hon. J. G. Lacon, Sir E. H. K.
Duff, M. E. G. Learmonth, A.
Eaton, H. W. Leatham, E. A.
Edmonstone, Admiral Sir W. Lefevre, G. J. S.
Legh, W. J.
Edwards, H. Leighton, Sir B.
Egerton, hon. A. F. Leighton, S.
Egerton, Adm. hon. F. Leslie, Sir J.
Elcho, Lord Lewis, C. E,
Lewis, O. Russell, Sir C.
Lewisham, Viscount St. Aubyn, Sir J.
Lindsay, Colonel R. L. Salt, T.
Lindsay, Lord Sclater-Booth, rt. hn. G.
Lloyd, S. Scott, M. D.
Lloyd, T. E. Selwin-Ibbetson, Sir H. J.
Locke, J.
Lopes, Sir M. Severne, J. E.
Lowe, rt. hon. R. Simonds, W. B.
Macartney, J. W. E. Smith, A.
Macduff, Viscount Smith, F. C.
Mac Iver, D. Smith, S. G.
M'Garel-Hogg, Sir J. Smith, rt. hon. W. H.
Maitland, W. F. Smollett, P. B.
Making, Colonel Somerset, Lord H.R.C.
Marjoribanks, Sir D. C. Stanhope, hon. E.
Massey, rt. hon. W. N. Starkie, J. P. C.
Master, T. W. C. Steere, L.
Meldon, C. H. Stevenson, J. C.
Merewether, C. G. Stewart, J.
Miles, Sir P. J. W. Storer, G.
Mills, Sir C. H. Swanston, A.
Monk, C. J. Sykes, C.
Montgomerie, R. Talbot, J. G.
Morgan, G. Osborne Tavistock, Marq. of
Mowbray, rt. hon. J. R. Taylor, rt. hn. Col. T.E.
Mure, Colonel W. Thornhill, T.
Naghten, Lt.-Col. A.R. Thynne, Lord H. F.
Newdegate, C. N. Torr, J.
Newport, Viscount Tracy, hon. F. S. A. Hanbury-
Noel, rt. hon. G. J.
Northcote, rt. hn. Sir S. H. Tremayne, A.
Tremayne, J.
O'Donnell, F. H. Vivian, A. P.
Paget, R. H. Vivian, H. H.
Peel, A. W. Walker, O. O.
Pell, A. Wallace, Sir R.
Pemberton, E. L. Watney, J.
Peploe, Major Watson, rt. hon. W.
Percy, Earl Whitbread, S.
Philips, R. N. Wilmot, Sir H.
Plunket, hon. D. R. Wilson, W.
Praed, C. T. Woodd, B. T.
Raikes, H. C. Yarmouth, Earl of
Rashleigh, Sir C.
Ridley, E. TELLERS.
Ridley, Sir M. W. Crichton, Viscount Winn, R.
Rothschild, Sir N. M. de
Russell, Lord A.
Allen, W. S. Dilke, Sir C. W.
Anderson, G. Dillwyn, L. L.
Barran, J. Dundas, hon. J. C.
Bateson, Sir T. Edge, S. R.
Biggar, J. G. Ewart, W.
Birley, H. Ewing, A. O.
Blake, T. Fawcett, H.
Blennerhassett, R. P. Fletcher, I.
Boord, T. W. Forster, Sir C.
Bowen, J. B. Forsyth, W.
Bright, Jacob Fry, L.
Brooks, M. Gardner, J. T. Agg-
Burt, T. Gorst, J. E.
Cameron, C. Gourley, E. T.
Charley, W. T. Hamond, C. F.
Clifford, C. C. Harrison, C.
Collins, E. Hervey, Lord F.
Courtauld, G. Heygate, W. U.
Cowan, J. Hibbert, J. T.
Cowen, J. Hick, J.
Delahunty, J. Hill, T. R,
Holms, W. Phipps, P.
Hopwood, C. H. Polhill-Turner, Capt. F. C.
Hutchinson, J. D.
Ingram, W. J. Potter, T. B.
Jackson, Sir H. M. Price, W. E.
Jenkins, D. J. Puleston, J. H.
Jenkins, E. Richard, H.
Johnson, J. G. Ripley, H. W.
Johnstone, Sir H. Round, J.
Jones, J. Rylands, P.
Laverton, A. Samuelson, H.
Lawson, Sir W. Sanderson, T. K.
Leith, J. F. Shute, General C. C.
Lloyd, M. Simon, Serjeant J.
Lusk, Sir A. Smith, E.
Mackintosh, C. F. Spinks, Serjeant F. L.
M'Arthur, A. Stansfeld, rt. hon. J.
M'Clure, Sir T. Stewart, M. J.
M'Kenna, Sir J. N. Sullivan, A. M.
M'Lagan, P. Taylor, D.
M'Laren, D. Torrens, W. T. M'C.
Marten, A. G. Trevelyan, G. O.
Mellor, T. W. Wedderburn, Sir D.
Milbank, F. A. Wheelhouse, W. S. J.
Nolan, Major Whitworth, B.
O'Beirne, Major F. Williams, B. T.
O'Byrne, W. R. Wilson, I.
O'Gorman, P. Yeaman, J.
Palmer, G. Yorke, J. R.
Parnell, C. S.
Pender, J. TELLERS.
Pennington, F. Courtney, L. H.
Perkins, Sir F. Legard, Sir C.

Resolutions 14 to 16 agreed to.

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.