Women And The Constitution!

Today I got a letter from NOW.  I’m interested in some of their beliefs, but I’m not a member.  In the letter they were asking for proposals for educational breakout sessions for their annual meeting in Baltimore this year.  The letter made me sad in a way, because, at least in my estimation, women have a long way to go till society and government  respects and accepts them as bonafide individuals with all the rights that are apportioned to men.

I’m dreaming aren’t I?  But sheesh, even though  I know we’ve come a long way as women, I’ve got to be frank and say that I can’t quite understand why so many women are satisfied with the way things are.  It’s almost as if women are hobbling themselves.   In so many areas women are still treated as if they are property.  They have to behave in a way that society admires. They have to dress according to other’s opinions.  They are expected to be men’s “helpmeets” but they aren’t given much of a voice in order to effectively accomplish that goal.  Afterall, if a woman annoys her husband in asking for him to improve her family’s lot- there is a good chance she’ll be a divorcee!  And women go along with this!  I can’t quite wrap my head around it.

So in an effort to begin to understand where women stand in the United  States, I thought it would be prudent to go to the Constitution of these United States!  There isn’t a lot about women in that document.  What I did find was a reference that a signer and co-writer  James Wilson made. Wilson was from Pennsylvania, actually he lived near Reading!  He wanted representatives for each state to be given according to how many women, minors, and 3/5 of slaves!  Now most of us have heard of the Three-Fifths Clause, but I never heard of the inclusion of women being included in any documentation connected directly to the Constitution!

I looked into who this James Wilson was.  It appears he was a genius, a smooth talker and yet he was a learned and judicious man.  He was actually appointed by George Washington to serve on the Supreme Court!  Anyhow, good old James left some written works that were actually used to start a law school at the University of Pennsylvania!  So I thought perhaps he said something about women in some  of those works that would tell me what he thought about women as equal partners with men in this “new experiment”.

I found  something and I’m afraid it isn’t good.  Here is a bit so you can read it if you like, then we’ll mourn together 🙂

I have been zealous–I hope I have not been altogether unsuccessful–in contributing the best of my endeavours towards forming a system of government; I shall rise in importance, if I can be equally successful–I will not be less zealous–in contributing the best of my endeavours towards forming a system of education likewise, in the United States. I shall rise in importance, because I shall rise in usefulness.

What are laws without manners? How can manners be formed, but by a proper education?

Methinks I hear one of the female part of my audience exclaim–What is all this to us? We have heard much of societies, of states, of governments, of laws, and of a law education. Is every thing made for your sex? Why should not we have a share? Is our sex less honest, or less virtuous, or less wise than yours?

Will any of my brethren be kind enough to furnish me with answers to these questions?–I must answer them, it seems, myself? and I mean to answer them most sincerely.

Your sex is neither less honest, nor less virtuous, nor less wise than ours. With regard to the two first of these qualities, a superiority, on our part, will not be pretended: with regard to the last, a pretension of superiority cannot be supported.

I will name three women; and I will then challenge any of my brethren to name three men superiour to them in vigour and extent of abilities. My female champions are, Semiramis of Nineveh; Zenobia, the queen of the East; and Elizabeth of England. I believe it will readily be owned, that three men of superiour active talents cannot be named.

You will please, however, to take notice, that the issue, upon which I put the characters of these three ladies, is not that they were accomplished; it is, that they were able women.

This distinction immediately reminds you, that a woman may be an able, without being an accomplished female character.

In this latter view, I did not produce the three female characters I have mentioned. I produced them as women, merely of distinguished abilities–of abilities equal to those displayed by the most able of our sex.

But would you wish to be tried by the qualities of our sex? I will refer you to a more proper standard–that of your own.

All the three able characters, I have mentioned, had, I think, too much of the masculine in them. Perhaps I can conjecture the reason. Might it not be owing, in a great measure–might it not be owing altogether to the masculine employments, to which they devoted themselves?

Two of them were able warriours: all of them were able queens; but in all of them, we feel and we regret the loss of the lovely and accomplished woman: and let me assure you, that, in the estimation of our sex, the loss of the love and accomplished woman is irreparable, even when she is lost in the queen.

For these reasons, I doubt much, whether it would be proper that you should undertake the management of publick affairs. You have, indeed, heard much of publick government and publick law: but these things were not made for themselves: they were made for something better; and of that something better, you form the better part–I mean society–I mean particularly domestick society: there the lovely and accomplished woman shines with superiour lustre.

By some politicians, society has been considered as only the scaffolding of government; very improperly, in my judgment. In the just order of things, government is the scaffolding of society: and if society could be built and kept entire without government, the scaffolding might be thrown down, without the least inconvenience or cause of regret.

Government is, indeed, highly necessary; but it is highly necessary to a fallen state. Had man continued innocent, society, without the aids of government, would have shed its benign influence even over the bowers of Paradise.

For those bowers, how finely was your sex adapted! But let it be observed, that every thing else was finished, before Heaven’s “last best gift” was introduced: let it be also observed, that, in the pure and perfect commencement of society, there was a striking difference between the only two persons, who composed it. . . .

Her accomplishments indicated her destination. Female beauty is the expression of female virtue. The purest complexion, the finest features, the most elegant shape are uninteresting and insipid, unless we can discover, by them, the emotions of the mind. How beautiful and engaging, on the other hand, are the features, the looks, and the gestures, while they disclose modesty, sensibility, and every sweet and tender affection! When these appear, there is a “Soul upon the countenance.” . . .

How many purposes may be served at once, if things are done in the proper way! I have been giving a recipe for the improvement and preservation of female beauty; but I find that I have, at the same time, been delivering instructions for the culture and refinement of female virtue; and have been pointing at the important purposes, which female virtue is fittedf and intended to accomplish.

If nature evinces her designs by her works; you were destined to embellish, to refine, and to exalt the pleasures and virtues of social life.

To protect and to improve social life, is, as we have seen, the end of government and law. If, therefore, you have no share in the formation, you have a most intimate connexion with the effects, of a good system of law and government.

That plan of education, which will produce, or promote, or preserve such a system, is, consequently, an object to you peculiarly important.

But if you would see such a plan carried into complete effect, you must, my amiable hearers, give it your powerful assistance. The pleasing task of forming your daughters is almost solely yours. In my plan of education for your sons, I must solicit you to cooperate. Their virtues, in a certain proportion–the refinement of their virtues, in a much greater proportion, must be moulded on your example.

In your sex, too, there is a natural, an easy, and, often, a pure flow of diction, which lays the best foundation for that eloquence, which, in a free country, is so important to ours.

The style of some of the finest orators of antiquity was originally formed on that of their mothers, or of other ladies, to whose acquaintance they had the honour of being introduced.

I have already mentioned the two Scevolæ among the illustrious Roman characters. One of them was married to Lælia, a lady, whose virtues and accomplishments rendered her one of the principal ornaments of Rome. She possessed the elegance of language in so eminent a degree, that the first speakers of the age were ambitious of her company. The graces of her unstudied elocution were the purest model, by which they could refine their own.

Cicero was in the number of those, who improved by the privilege of her conversation. In his writing, he speaks in terms of the warmest praise concerning her singular talents. He mentions also the conversation of her daughters and grand daughters, as deserving particular notice.

The province of early education by the female sex, was deemed, in Rome, an employment of so much dignity, that ladies of the first rank did not disdain it. We find the names of Aurelia and Attia, the mothers of Julius Cæsar and of Augustus, enumerated in the list of these honourable patronesses of education.

The example of the highly accomplished Cornelia, the daughter of the great Africanus, and the mother of the Gracchi, deserves uncommon attention. She shone, with singular lustre, in all these endowments and virtues that can dignify the female character.

She was, one day, visited by a lady of Campania, who was extremely fond of dress and ornament. This lady, after having displayed some very rich jewels of her own, expressed a wish to be favoured with the view of those which Cornelia had; expected to see some very superb ones, in the toilet of a lady of such distinguished birth and character. Cornelia diverted the conversation, till her sons came into the room: “These are my jewels,” said she, presenting them to the Campanian lady.

Cicero had seen her letters: his expressions concerning them are very remarkable. “I have read,” says he, “the letters of Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi; and it appears, that her sons were not so much nourished by the milk, as formed by the style of their mother.”

You see now, my fair and amiable hearers, how deeply and nearly interested you are in a proper plan for law education. By some of you, whom I know to be well qualified for taking in it the share, which I have described, that share will be taken. By the younger part of you, the good effects of such a plan will, I hope, be participated: for those of my pupils, who themselves shall become most estimable, will treat you with the highest degree of estimation.

Ugh.  He had a way with words alright!  He built women up with one hand while tearing them down with the other!  Pretty handy fella.  Oh, I bet you don’t see where he was tearing women down do you?   Well, there was a quote he referred to.  I looked up the quote because I’m not quite as learned as he was.  It turns out that most probably he was quoting from Isaiah Chapter 3.  And if you look, you’ll find a nice story about how Jerusalem wasn’t going to be doing all that well since it hadn’t followed God’s plan.  As a matter of fact, it was doing so poorly that it was going to have babes, or children as leaders, and women or “creditors” (nashim) as rulers!

Just great.  So the guy I was holding out a lot of hope for turned out not so helpful.  I do have to give the man props, he did actually speak to women directly.  He did hold them up as potential shining figures.  But he saw women strictly as “rulers” in the Domestick realm.

The toughest part for me about finding this stuff out is that women won’t care!




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