"No Taxation without Representation" in the American Woman Suffrage Movement

Article excerpt

   A. Calls to Action
   B. Action
   C. Compliance
      1. Reluctance
      2. Alternatives
      3. Discouragement
   A. Premise 1: Taxation Without Representation Is Tyranny
   B. Premise 2: Women Are Taxed
   C. Premise 3: Women Are Not Represented
   D. Conclusion and Corollary
   A. Antis Against Taxpayer Suffrage
   B. Suffragists for Taxpayer Suffrage
   C. Antis for Taxpayer Suffrage
   D. Suffragists Against Taxpayer Suffrage


A recent resurgence of "no taxation without representation" rhetoric has brought the motto to the forefront of American consciousness. The debate over voting rights continues for residents of Washington, D.C., where license plates bear the phrase "Taxation Without Representation." (1) Recent tax day protests employed Boston Tea Party symbolism, predictably sparking debate over the applicability of the "no taxation without representation" argument. (2) In a similar vein, a "Tea Party" was recently registered in Florida to compete against the more traditional political parties. (3)

These modern applications of the "no taxation without representation" argument inspire curiosity about past applications. How much impact has the argument historically had on broad social and political movements? This Note examines one such movement--American woman suffrage.

Given the continuing popularity of the "no taxation without representation" catchphrase, one might expect American woman suffragists to have pounced on every opportunity to deploy it. But although many suffragists occasionally mentioned taxation, it was certainly not a focal point of the movement as a whole. Extended discussion of taxation was relatively rare. Most "no taxation without representation" arguments were buried within laundry lists or reduced to simply those four words (or some simple variation) with no further explanation. And only a handful of suffragists leveraged "no taxation without representation" into tax resistance.

On the other hand, American suffragists had a long time to discuss and debate every aspect of their campaign--it was seventy-two years from the 1848 Seneca Falls convention to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Suffragists produced such a massive amount of printed material during this time that even a secondary argument resulted in a huge array of source material. Taxation was a minor aspect of the suffrage movement only relative to other arguments.

Consequently, it is somewhat surprising that taxation in the American woman suffrage movement has been treated at length in the literature only twice before: in Carolyn C. Jones's article Dollars and Selves: Women's Tax Criticism and Resistance in the 1870s, (4) and in a chapter of Linda K. Kerber's book No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship. (5) The former concentrates on the ways suffragists reformulated "dollars" arguments into "selves" arguments by metaphorically referring to pay inequity and household work, to take two examples, as "taxation." The latter is an insightful descriptive history of the taxation argument in the suffrage movement, using as its main example the Smith sisters' tax resistance. (6)

In this Note, I expand on this prior literature, focusing on why the taxation argument, which at first blush seems so promising, played such a (relatively) minor role in the American suffrage debate. (7) In addition to exploring this question, my research is important for several other reasons. First, the American woman suffrage movement provides a rich historical case study in the use of this rhetoric. The stories and arguments arising at the intersection of tax and woman suffrage are intelligent and entertaining, well worth study in their own right. These stories also provide a unique lens through which to view other important issues of the time, such as class, race, federalism, and, of course, tax and gender. …