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An essay by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Dangerous Voters

Title:     Dangerous Voters
Author: Thomas Wentworth Higginson [More Titles by Higginson]

One of the few plausible objections brought against women's voting is this: that it would demoralize the suffrage by letting in very dangerous voters; that virtuous women would not vote, and vicious women would. It is a very unfounded alarm.

For, in the first place, our institutions rest--if they have any basis at all--on this principle, that good is stronger than evil, that the majority of men really wish to vote rightly, and that only time and patience are needed to get the worst abuses righted. How any one can doubt this, who watches the course of our politics, I do not see. In spite of the great disadvantage of having masses of ignorant foreign voters to deal with,--and of native black voters, who have been purposely kept in ignorance,--we certainly see wrongs gradually righted, and the truth by degrees prevail. Even the one great, exceptional case of New York city has been reached at last; and the very extent of the evil has brought its own cure. Now, why should this triumph of good over evil be practicable among men, and not apply to women also?

It must be either because women, as a class, are worse than men,--which will hardly be asserted,--or because, for some special reason, bad women have an advantage over good women such as has no parallel in the other sex. But I do not see how this can be. Let us consider.

It is certain that good women are not less faithful and conscientious than good men. It is generally admitted that those most opposed to suffrage will very soon, on being fully enfranchised, feel it their duty to vote. They may at first misuse the right through ignorance, but they certainly will not shirk it. It is this conscientious habit on which I rely without fear. Never yet, when public duty required, have American women failed to meet the emergency; and I am not afraid of it now. Moreover, when they are once enfranchised and their votes are needed, all the men who now oppose or ridicule the demand for suffrage will begin to help them to exercise it. When the wives are once enfranchised, you may be sure that the husbands will not neglect those of their own household: they will provide them with ballots, vehicles, and policemen, and will contrive to make the voting-places pleasanter than many parlors, and quieter than some churches.

On the other hand, it seems altogether probable that the very worst women, so far from being ostentatious in their wickedness upon election day, will, on the contrary, so disguise and conceal themselves as to deceive the very elect, and, if it were possible, the very policemen. For whatever party they may vote, they will contribute to make the voting-places as orderly as railway stations. These covert ways are the very habit of their lives, at least by daylight; and the women who have of late done the most conspicuous and open mischief in our community have done it, not in their true character as evil, but, on the contrary, under a mask of elevated purpose.

That women, when they vote, will commit their full share of errors I have always maintained. But that they will collectively misuse their power seems to me out of the question; and that the good women are going to stay at home, and let bad women do the voting, appears quite as incredible. In fact, if they do thus, it is a fair question whether the epithets "good" and "bad" ought not, politically speaking, to change places. For it naturally occurs to every one, on election day, that the man who votes, even if he votes wrong, is really a better man, so far as political duties go, than the very loftiest saint who stays at home and prays that other people may vote right And it is hard to see why it should be otherwise with women.

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Thomas Wentworth Higginson's essay: Dangerous Voters