ADVANCING WOMEN’S CAUSES
CHANGES TO THE RACIAL STATUS QUO OCCURRED ALONGSIDE AN evolving understanding of women’s rights. As they had from the inception of the women’s rights movement, during the early decades of the nineteenth century activists of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era of en looked to the Declaration of Independence to buttress their political message. Although the Reconstruction Amendments provided the national government with added power to make the Declaration’s promise of self-government a reality, after the Civil War women’s political rights trailed far behind men’s.
The Fifteenth Amendment failed to address the central issue of the women’s rights movement. Writing during the tumult of the Civil War, Harriot K. Hunt openly described the hypocrisy of bat ling for a representative government while excluding taxpayers from the voting roles. Had the principle of the Declaration of Independence been “recognized in its essence,” she wrote in a letter to the Boston tax assessor, “sex alone could not have monopolized the right of suffrage.” Hunt denounced the “shams, cheats, [and] falsities” that embedded the word male into the statute books. The “latent principles of the Declaration of Independence,” she continued, the “moral and intellectual growth” of the American people required the hugely important subject of suffrage to be understood without the trappings of sex.1