Pressure For Suffrage

In late May 1919, “The political pilots of the movement now assert that they have converted a sufficient number of statesmen to assure a suffrage victory.” Indeed, the House would pass it that week, followed by the Senate two weeks later.

But many may have gone along unwillingly, because of extreme public pressure:

A Senator, who had been a leader in the fight against the suffrage movement, said just before the adjournment of the last Congress:

“Three-fourths of the Senators who have come out in favor of the amendment are against it in their hearts. They have been politically sandbagged.”

This was an extreme statement from a heated partisan, but it is probably no exaggeration to say that no fewer than one-third of the Senators were swung over when, if they had followed their own individual opinions, they would have remained in the column of the antis. Never before had they been brought into contact with such a political machine as was shoving them along. The impact of the three pressures gave them a push from behind and from each side.

How did this work in practice? Alice Paul, Chair of the National Woman’s Party, explained.

“Senator McCumber was opposed to suffrage, and, I understand, still is, but when, following our efforts in his home state, the Legislature passed a resolution in favor of it, he took that as a mandate, and we won his vote. Senator Culbertson is another instance; we got two-thirds of the members of the Legislature in his State to sign a petition in favor of the amendment, and that results in the addition of the Texas Senator to our list. We have a strong organization in South Carolina, and when Senator Pollock was elected we turned on him a body of opinion, and Senator Pollock is now for suffrage.”

One wonders if, in these politically polarized times of 2019, the same phenomenon could potentially occur for the most important issues of today, in which public opinion is against Congress’s opinion. For example, 90% of Americans support universal background checks on guns, yet the plan seems dead on arrival in the current Congress.

“Pressure” For Suffrage: Three Interlocking Systems of Political Machinery Used by Women in Converting the Members of Congress (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 25, 1919

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Written by Jesse

May 23rd, 2019 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Politics

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