Men’s Rights Convention of 1851


Independence Hall, site of Men’s Rights Conference in the year 1851.

In 1851 the following article was penned by Chericot in Godey’s Lady’s Book, a United States magazine for women published in Philadelphia. The article entitled Men’s Rights Convention was designed to mock proceedings of men’s rights conference held at Independence Hall. Did the conference really take place? It appears that it did, and the mocking article was an attempt to distort proceedings, engage in shaming, and dissuade men’s advocates from holding future conferences. – PW




Yesterday, at 10 o’clock in the forenoon, an immense mass meeting of gentlemen from all parts of the country was held at Independence Hall. It was convened upon notices to that effect, which were issued directly after the late extraordinary and treasonable Female Convention at Massachusetts, and which, being distributed among the principal cities in the Union, had resulted in the collection of an enthusiastic crowd of gentlemen of all grades, trades, and politics, one common danger uniting them, in the effort to repel the proposed feminine aggression of their rights.

On taking- a survey of the meeting, one thing struck us very forcibly—the uneasy and restless anxiety that characterized the demeanor of most of the men; the slightest noise caused a general sensation; and, in one instance, the shrill cry of a fishwoman threw a gentleman into hysterics, which he explained, on his recovery, to have resulted from his mistaking it for the voice of his wife.

When the excitement had, in some measure, subsided, the meeting was called to order by Mr. Wumenheyter, of New York, who said, the first business being the choice of a president, he moved that Mr. H. P. Husband, of Maryland, be appointed.

Brass Blackstone, of Philadelphia, seconded the motion, which was unanimously adopted.

After the vice presidents and secretaries were duly chosen, and a business committee appointed to draw up resolutions expressive of the sense-of tho meeting, the president addressed the convention as follows:—

“The object which has called this great assemblage together is one which not only concerns mankind in general, but Americans in particular. This is emphatically a land of liberty — liberty which, achieved by the exertions of our forefathers, has commanded the respect of the tyrannical governments of the Old World, and resisted all unhallowed attempts to subvert it. This liberty, gentlemen, is threatened with destruction: by the establishment, within the very bounds of this republic, of a despotism that has no parallel in ancient or modern history. Yes, there is a conspiracy afoot in the very midst of us, which, should it succeed in it aspiring aims, will annihilate us as men, and convert us into mere household appendages to that rebellious sex who, after having for years shown a disposition to encroach on some of our rights and privileges, now boldly assert a claim to all. Patience; gentlemen, is no longer a virtue; stem determination and resolute action alone can put down this ambitious usurpation and re-establish our authority on its legitimate basis.

“These firebrands on our domestic hearths must be extinguished, or the sparks, lighting into a flame, will consume us.”

Here the sensation produced by Mr. Husband’s fiery eloquence was so intense that groans and sobs resounded from all parts of the building, and the gentleman was so overcome by his own flights of fancy that it was some time before he could proceed.

“I have, in the relations of husband, son, and brother, stood aloof. I have borne, with dignity and Spartan fortitude, the assumption, by my female relatives, of those garments which, from time immemorial, have been our rightful badge, trusting that the breach into which they were throwing themselves would prove of such an ‘imminent and deadly’ nature as to deprive them of any desire to go further. But late events have opened my eyes to the treasonable nature of their designs, and to the danger of the mine on which we have been heedlessly treading; and, regardless alike of family ties and possible consequences, I have boldly sounded the alarm which has brought us together this day. This terrible danger I discovered by chance, having picked up —in my own room, gentlemen— a letter addressed to my wife by a female friend. I will, gentlemen, read a passage from this incendiary production, premising that the preceding paragraphs, after giving an account of the late meeting at Worcester, refer to the female millennium about to commence:—

“Now then, my dear,
We’ll smoke and cheer and drink our lager beer;
We’ll have our latch-keys, stay out late at nights;
And boldly we’ll assert our female rights;
While conquered men, our erewhile tyrant foes,
Shall stay at home and wear our cast-off clothes,
Nurse babies, scold the servants, get our dinners;
‘Tis all that they are fit for, wretched sinners!”

“Imagine my feelings on finding treason a t work in my domestic sanctuary — at detecting the wife of my bosom in a plot against my peace!”

Here Mr. Husband was so overpowered by his emotions that he was compelled to pause for a few moments, ere he recovered his voice. Deep sympathy was manifested by the audience.

“I would now repeat the necessity of prompt action, for which I doubt not the wisdom and intelligence of this assembly will be found sufficient. Our business now is to find a remedy for the evil. Let us therefore, in a bold and uncompromising manner, address ourselves to the duties before us.”

While awaiting the action of the business committee, the following letters were read from distinguished gentlemen who had been invited to attend the meeting:—

Mr. Webster stated that the onerous nature of his diplomatic duties prevented his accepting the invitation extended to him. Had it, however, been in his power to do so, he should still have declined it, as the handsome manner in which the ladies had defended him in his native State obliged him to remain remain neuter in the conflict between the great contending parties. He would remark, in conclusion, that, devoted as he was to the Union, faithful as he had ever been in maintaining the Constitution, he had no sympathy with anything tending to infringe the conditions of the matrimonial compact, and therefore solemnly recommended that both parties should meet and conclude a treaty of peace.

Mr. Clay regretted his necessary attendance on Congress precluded his presence at this important meeting; for, faithful to his great principle, he should have endeavored to suggest such a compromise as should reconcile all parties. But he trusted that an amiable spirit would pervade their proceedings, and unity and concord be the result.

Mr. Horace Mann repeated Jus determination of not siding with either party. He referred again to the book he was writing, which he thought would satisfy both sides.

Mr. Buckeye, of Ohio, wrote to excuse his attendance, as the duties of the pork-killing season required his attention; and Mrs. Buckeye’s absence at a Socialist meeting, in the interior of the State, prevented his leaving home.

Mr. Wumenheyter, chairman of the committee, now rose to say that their report was ready. He
then read the following resolutions:—

Resolved, That a crisis has arrived in our domestic relations that admits of no temporizing measures, but requires us openly to insist on those rights so boldly and outrageously assailed by that weaker portion of humanity, whose duty it is to be satisfied with the inferior position assigned them by nature, and to yield in all things to man.

Resolved, That an unblushing claim has not only been made on our clothes, but on all our masculine privileges; and as this evil has resulted, in the first place, from the impunity with which the women have put their hands in our pockets, and as it will end only in the usurpation of our business, and of our sole right to the ballot-box, it becomes necessary for us to impress upon this rebellious sex our united determination to resist their aggressions.

Resolved, That this effort becomes imperatively necessary when we consider the treacherous nature of women, and remember that, should they succeed in their attempt, we shall meet no mercy at their hands. Universal decapitation of the men, and an Amazonian form of government will undoubtedly be
the result.

Resolved, That, while we shall use our lawful and united authority to put down this revolt, we will show clemency to the culprits, and, tempering justice with mercy, render their punishment as light as may be consistent with our own safety.

These resolutions were ordered to be laid on the table for discussion.

Mr. Wumenheyter said he wished particularly for the attention of the audience while he offered a few remarks on these resolutions. “ He was,” he said “proud to call himself a New Yorker. His city was the greatest in the world. It had a great canal, a great line, of steamships, a great many railroads, a great many bankB, and”——

Here a voice from the crowd exclaimed, “ And a great many other humbugs!” Mr. W. was, for a moment, disconcerted; but, resuming his remarks, he said—

“I do not regard this rude interruption. I shall still assert the superiority of my State to all others; and, at the same time, acknowledge that, with all our talents and business enterprise, we cannot manage the women. I confess that, in our great State, the attempt on our privileges was first made ; but I can also assure this convention that we shall be the first to defend those privileges. I have been so unhappy as to have had three wives, but, fortunately, have buried them all; and I can assert, from personal experience, that

‘Woman, woman, whether lean or fat, is
In face an angel, and in soul a cat!’

A spirit of philanthropy urges me to warn you against the female snares which my fatal destiny has inflicted on me, and from which I am therefore desirous to save others, as my several wives were so many different forms of evil, and I suffered intensely in consequence. I hope my misery will deter others from such experiments. If I rescue one wretch from the horrors of matrimony, my purpose will be answered, and my past sufferings forgotten.”

Mr. W. urged the adoption of immediate and relentless measures, and trusted that some available remedy might be suggested for the evil that was in their midst.

Cotte Bettie, Esq., from Delaware, said, “I fully agree with the gentleman from New York in his views on this terrible crisis. I am as proud of my State as he can be of his. I am not ashamed to call myself one of the Blue Hen’s Chickens.’ Delawarians are true blue — they always were, and always will be blue. They were the first to rally at freedom’s call, and would not now be found wanting. While he thus obeyed his instructions in proffering their aid, he must at the same time, assure this assembly that it was very advisable for them to keep their proceedings as secret as possible, lest a premature disclosure should put the women on their guard.”

C. Colesworth Pinokney, from South Carolina, remarked, “Had any one told him ft few months since that he should be meeting in amity with his northern brethren, he should have indignantly denied the possibility of such an act. He did not intend now, however, to allude to the difference of opinion that prevailed between the South and North; the several States of Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina, that had appointed him a delegate to this convention, having empowered him to bury all sectional causes of discord in oblivion, and to unite energetically with the representatives of other States in putting down, this terrible conspiracy. He had come prepared, then, to assure them of the cordial co-operation of the Southern States in any action that might be taken in the crusade against women. He would only remark that there should be no delay either in their resolves or execution—‘if ’twere done, ’twere well ’twere done quickly.’ With this end in view, he recommended bringing before the present Session of Congress a fugitive women bill, by which every man might be empowered to reclaim and punish a runaway or rebellious wife.”

Mr. Jonathan Whittle, from Massachusetts, “Guessed that there needn’t be much talk about the matter. Wimmen’s place was tu hum, and it was man’s business to keep em there. Pritty much all they was fit for was to dry innions, make squash pies, and get a fellow a good dinner on Thanks-givin’. He calkerlated that if each indiwiddiwel present had the spunk he orter havo, he could manage his wimmen himself, without anybody to help him. Yankees knew a leetle somethin’ besides makin’ wooden nutmegs, mushmellion, and cowcumber seeds, and they didn’t want anybody to come there and tell ’em how to do: they’d better stay tu hum, and take care of their own affairs;”

Here Mr. Whittle was called to order from all parts of the house, and sat down in a state of high indignation, wiping his face with a blue cotton handkerchief.

George Washington Patrick Henry John Randolph Powhatan, Esq., from Virginia, said, “I regret the irritable state of feeling which seems to sway the gentleman from New England. I wonder at his assertion of our Yankee brethren’s ability to manage their women, when the fact is notorious that Mr. Whittle*s native State was the scene chosen for the outbreak of the rebellion. Belonging, as I do, to one of the first families in Virginia, descended in a direct line from Pocahontas on one side, and Richard Coeur de Lion on tho other, collaterally related to the Virgin Queen and a far-off connection of the present British sovereign, I know nothing of those menial duties which Mr. Whittle thinks properly distinguish the female sphere. I cannot, nor can any one associated with me, be supposed to know anything of such menial avocations. In Virginia, nothing is required of the fair sex but to give orders to their servants, and that sufficiently occupies their time. I feel proud to assert my belief that no lady from that State is mixed up in this sad affair; but, knowing the danger of bad- example, I cannot answer for the future, and am therefore ready to give my counsel both a8 to prevention and cure. I know the female character well enough to assure this meeting that opposition will but add fuel to the flame. In short, my advice is—

‘Let them alone and they’ll come home,
And leave their whims behind them.’ ”

Dr. Singleman, a middle-aged gentleman, from Vermont, thought the gentleman from Virginia mistaken in his opinion that the let-alone system was the best treatment for the epidemic raging among them. Acute diseases required active remedies. When the pulse of tho domestic frame was disordered, every member of tho body suffered, and depiction should be freely resorted to, and the constitution restored to a healthy state, or he would not answer for tho consequences. His idea — which he advanced with some hesitation, for, being a bachelor, he knew little of the sex — was that every man should try the effect of the three popular systems of medicine on his female relatives, and he would venture to promise the revolt would noon be quelled. A course of bleeding, leeching, and cupping, with blisters to their heads, and sinapisms on their feet, aided by hydropathic douche and plunge baths, and accompanied with homoeopathic quantities of nourishment, would tame the greatest shrew that ever lived.”

Mr. Easyled, of Tennessee, said, “ There is an old provorb about bachelors’ wives being well managed—

‘As for my wife,
I would you had her spirit in such another:
Were the third of the world yours, with a snaffle
You may pace easy, bu t not such a wife.’

The measures that the learned physician proposes are easily suggested; but, I would ask, where is the man in this assembly who would have tho nerve to try them ? There is another old proverb that says, when you sup with a certain personage you should use a long apron; and, in this case, that precaution is very necessary. It was best to let the ladies have their own way. To quote the immortal bard again—

‘Should all despair
That have revolted wives, tho tenth of mankind
Would hang themselves.’

He would inform all present, from his own sad experience, that

‘He’s a fool who thinks, by force or skill,
To turn the current of a woman’s will;
For when she will, she will, you may depend on’t,
And when she won’t, she won’t, and there’s an end on’t.’”

Mr. Hoosier, from Indiana, u Didn’t want to ‘front nobody, but he.reckoned Mr. Whittle had said about the only sensible things he’d heerd that day, and them was his sentiments exactly. There was plenty for wimmen to do in the cabin, with mindin’ the children and keepin’ the pot a bilin’, and out of it with takin care of the cattle and the farm, while the men was hard at work shootin’ and fishin’. Corn-dodgers and cracklins was wimmen’s business, and just about as much, he reckoned, as they’d sense for. He, for one, didn’t feel afeerd of any of ’em.”

General Boanerges Bluster, from Kentucky, said, “He disagreed very much with Mr. Hoosier. He once heerd a Methodist minister tell what Heaven was like, and, after talkin’ a great deal about it, he said, ‘In short, brethren, it’s a Kentucky of a place!’ He reckoned, when he said that, he forgot the wimmen. In their State, where females was three-quarters bacon, and t’other quarter hominy, they was dangerous critters. General, as he was, of the milishy, and holdin’ a great many offices under government, he had to mind his wife, who was big enough to lick three of him. Last ‘lection he was candidate for Congress; and, just as he was makin’ a stump speech to his constichents, and was tollin’ ’em what a great soldier he was, and how he’d fou’t the Ingins under Harrison, and would be sure to stand up for their rights, ’cause he wa’n’t afeerd of nothin’, his woman walked up to him right cool, and, takin’ him off the platform, said to the people, This man’s a fool. I know it, ’cause I’m his wife. Ho an’t fit for nothin’ but to mind the house and take care of the children, while I go visitin’. I can’t spare him; and you must ‘lect the other candidate.’ He expected he felt about as mean as dog-pie, and sneaked off as soon as ho could; and everybody hurrahed for Mrs. Bluster, and said she should go to Congress. And, ever since, she’d done nothin’ but snub him, and had gone off to the wimmen’s meetin’ in spite of him; and ’twas her that said woman was better than man, ’cause he was made out of the raw materi’l, and she was made out of the manerfected;’ and he only hoped she wouldn’t find out where he was, or there’d be an orful time of it.”

Mr. Sucker, from Illinois, remarked, “ That it wa’n’t with his own will he was at this here meetin’; but, bein” lected, he had to come; and, as it was the season for shootin’ prairie hens, he wanted to be off agin. He didn’t want to make words himself, and hoped that other people would be short and sweet in what they had to say. As to Mrs. Sucker, she hadn’t the spirit of a mouse now, and, if she ever had, which he didn’t know, the fever and ager had shuck it all out of her. He reckoned about the best way he could tell ’em of, was to send all the wimmen where they’d catch it, and, if it didn’t end ’em, it would mend ’em.”

Captain Salt, of Nantucket, a veteran tar in a blue roundabout and glazed hat, rose, coolly took his quid out of his month, and, depositing it in his pocket, made the following short and pithy remarks: I an’t a reg’lar delergate to this here meetin’, soe-in’ as I’m pretty nearly all the time afloat; but, bein’ as I’m ashore just now, I thought I’d come and see how things was a purceedin’. I know all about whales, and have a pretty good notion of a vessel, but I don’t know nothin’ about a woman. Hows’ever, I’ve heerd them as did say she was like a ship, ’cause her riggin’ cost more than her hull. If so be that’s the case, why she’s easy manoovered. Keep a tight lookout for squalls, and, when you soe’em cornin’, reef your sails, scud before the storm, and, if she ‘s bent on goin’ down, take to the boats and leave her.”

Captain Salt sat down amid shouts of applause, with a very red face after his unwonted exertions, and an earnest request for a glass of grog; but, none being At hand, he contented himself with his quid.

Patrick O’Dougherty, of St. Louis, got up and said, “Jontlemen, this is my first appearance before the public since I left off being an Irishman, and became a native of this country, and I hope yees will excuse all blunders. I needn’t tell this enlightened meetin’ that, both as an Irishman and ‘Merikin, I love the purty cratures of wimmen, and, faith, I’m sorry they’ve got themselves in such a mess. St. Pathrick knows that, ‘with my friend and pitcher,’ my little Cruiskeen Lawn, and my Molly Astore, I could live all alone in a desert by myself, without any trouble; and sure never a one of me knows why ye can’t manage yeer wives. Trate ’em like an Irish pig : drive ’em the way you don’t want ’em to go, and they’ll take the right track in spite of you.”

Here Mr. O’Dougherty was interrupted by a considerable bustle in the hall. There was a great disturbance, and many gentlemen looked pale and anxious; but the excitement was allayed by the appearance of an Indian chief in his war paint, who stalked solemnly up to the platform, and spoke as follows:—

“My nation was once a great nation in the lands near the setting sun. It is now a poor, small tribe, that has sold its hunting-grounds to the Great Father, at Washington, for blankets and corn, and have sent me to have a talk with him. Waw-tu-nobow-te-ma-tu is a brave; his white brothers call him Big Bulldog, and know that he has many wives. While he smoked the calumet of peace with his Father, in the Grand Lodge at Washington, a little bird sung in his ear that bis white brothers had trouble in the wigwam with their squaws, and he has come to help them, for his heart feels heavy for them. Let my white brothers keep their women at work, hoeing corn, pounding hominy, drying venison, and minding papooses, and let them have but little to eat, and they will give them no more trouble. If they do, let my brothers take their scalps. I have said.” And, whirling his tomahawk over his head, Waw-tu-no-bow-te-ma-tu gave a shrill war-whoop, and, bounding off the platform, disappeared in the crowd.

Brass Blackstone, from the city of Brotherly Love, remarked, that he had listened with attention to the proceedings, and had heard with delight the eloquent speeches delivered on this interesting occasion. It was with the modest timidity so characteristic of a Philadelphia lawyer, that he should offer a few remarks on the subject that occupied them; and he hoped it would not be considered presumptuous in him if his views should differ from those hitherto advanced in the assemblage of talent and influence, with whom it was his high privilege this day to be associated. He had deeply sympathized with all the orators it had been his good fortune to hear on this exciting subject: he had, in turn, been thrilled with the surpassing eloquence of Mr. Husband, the resolute determination of Mr. Wumenheyter, the patriotism of Pinckney, the easy indifference of Mr. Whittle, the dignified hautour of Mr. Powhatan, the professional talent of Dr. Single-man, the commendable meekness of Mr. Easyled, the heroic submission of General Bluster, the laconic sense of Mr. Sucker, the maritime beauty of Captain Salt’s similes, the enthusiasm of Mr. O’Dougherty, and the sententious wisdom of Big Bulldog. For himself, he had always been, and should ever continue to be, an ardent admirer of the fair sex. He was proud to say that his mother was a woman—that his native city was distinguished for its devotion to the fairer part of creation. Now York might boast of its canals, its railroads, its banks, and its steamships, but Philadelphia gloried in its women. He could lay his band on his heart, and proudly assert that even this rebellion had not estranged his feelings—

‘Woman, with all thy faults, I love thee still!’

lie could even say, with the Irish bard—

‘Sweet book, unlike the books of art,
Whose errors are thy fairest part:
In thee, the dear errata column
Is the best page in all the volume.’

With these feelings, he was present on this occasion to interpose his humble abilities between them and danger. He acknowledged that his clients bad not evinced their usual sagacity in risking their quiet, but powerful influence over man, by endeavoring to grasp ‘what would not enrich themselves, but make us poor indeed. Why they had done so, was a question more easily asked than answered, and he should therefore not attempt to solve the enigma. It was his business to implore that nothing should be rashly attempted on this delicate occasion which might result in wounding the feelings of his fair clients. He would assure them a little skillful management would be more effectual than open demonstrations of hostility; and, should the suggestion he was about to offer prove successful, he asked no better reward, as a man and a lawyer, than the friendship of the sex. In his opinion,

‘Fee simple and a simple fee,
And all the fees in tall,
Are nothing when compared to the«v
Thou best of fees-—fe-male.’

Not to detain them longer in suspense, he advised that the gentlemen should fill their houses with looking-glasses, and give the ladies time for reflection

Mr. Blackstone received much applause for his suggestion; and Mr. Bowieknife, of Texas, who succeeded him, said, “I so fully agree with the gentleman from Philadelphia in his love for the sex, and in all the sentiments he has advanced, that I will only add, should the measure he has recommended fail to make peace, I hope all the ladies will come to Texas. We have hearts and arms for all of them.

‘If all other States reject ’em,
Ours will freely, gladly take ’em.’ ”

Mr. Placer, from California, remarked, “That ho was for no half-way measures. It was his opinion that all tho women ought to be seized and sent to California; it was a new country, and tho minors wanted wives. When they were once there, he thought they could be managed. Judge Lynch was an active man. Show them that there was only the difference of a letter between altar and halter, and, if they would not marry, why let them hang!”

Mr. J. P. Husband said, “lie had listened with astonishment to the proceedings of the day. He really thought that, for all tho good that had been done or suggested, gentlemen might as well have staid at home. He had a few words still to offer on the subject, which he hoped they would hear with patience. Among other things, he had prepared a list of all tho bad women who had ever existed.” Hero Mr. Wumenheyter remarked, “That he must remind the gentleman time was precious; and, as all women who had ever existed were bad, Mr. Husband had better mention only the worst of them, among whom he must not forget his (Mr. W.’s) throe wives.”

Mr. Husband was so disconcerted at this interruption, that he forgot what he had to say, and could only remember that bis list begun with Eve, and ended with the present generation. “I see clearly, gentlemen,” continued he, that no one enters so warmly into this subject as myself. Well, be it so. I am ready to fall a martyr in such a cause; find I here solemnly declare that no obstacle shall induce me to swerve from the path that duty marks out for me to follow. I will make every endeavor to extirpate this vile heresy among tho women. I will immolate myself on tho altar of my country. I will sacrifice my domestic affections on its shrine —Mrs. Husband herself”——

“Here I am, my dear 1” said a sharp voice, and a small, thin, vinegar-faced lady entered the room, and walked up to the platform, at the head of a numerous procession of females. “My love,” continued she, “it is late; I am afraid you will take cold. Hadn’t you better come home?”

“If you think so, my dear, certainly,” replied Mr. Husband, turning pale, and trembling so he could scarcely stand, perceiving which, his wife affectionately offered him her arm. Mr. Easyled meekly obeyed an imperative gesture from Mrs. Easyled, and Mrs. Bluster picked up the general, who had fainted, and carried him out in her arms.

Exeunt omnes, in wild confusion.


Feature image of Independence Hall from Wikipedia Commons.

A Word for Men’s Rights (1856)

The following long article from 1856 discusses the sexist laws that oppressed men and benefited women, including the practice of frivolous, unjustified lawsuits for supposed breach of marriage promise (or implied promise, or imagined promise). Such suits came, by the late part of the nineteenth century to be a standard operating procedure for women who either felt genuinely spurned or, just as frequently, women who saw an opportunity to misuse laws to control men. By the late 1920s, the practice had become a widespread criminal enterprise, highly profitable for both weeping bogus sweetheart and racketeering lawyer that it gained the appellation, “The Heart Balm Racket.”


Putnam's 1856

— A Word for Men’s Rights —

FULL TEXT: The notions which rule inside of men’s heads, and the phrases in vogue to represent them are hardly less liable to fluctuation than is the fashion of the outward adornment, whether by hats, caps, bonnets, periwigs, or powder. Sixty or seventy years ago, scarcely anything was so much talked of as the rights of man. Where this phrase came from, we cannot tell. It is not to be met with in any writer of prior date to the middle of the last century. James Otis used it in his famous tract on the Rights of the American Colonies, nor are we aware of any earlier appearance of it in print. Sudden, however, and obscure as its first appearance was, it took, and soon became one of the most fashionable of phrases. It played a great part in the American Revolution. It found its way into our Declaration of Independence, and into the fundamental laws of most of our states. It played a still greater part in the French revolution. Ten or a dozen French constitutions, more or less, were founded upon it. Thomas Paine wrote a famous book, with this title. For a while, nothing was so much talked of as the rights of man—talked of, we say—for, as happened in the case of the thirsty Indian, so with respect to these rights, it was pretty much all talk, with very little cider.

In sixty years, however, fashions have changed. The rights of man —once in everybody’s mouth—are seldom heard of now-a-days—unless it be in an abolition convention—or, if mentioned at all, in Congress and other respectable places, these rights, once the hope of humanity, are referred to, only to be sneered at, as a flourish of rhetoric—a chimera of the imagination.

Still, we are not left speechless nor hopeless. Hope still remains at the bottom of the box, with a fine sounding phrase to back it. Let the men go to the deuce. What of that? Does not lovely woman still remain to us? Today, the fashionable phrase is—woman’s rights. The women have discovered, or think they have, that they are, and long have been tyrannized over, in the most brutal manner, by society, the laws, and their husbands. Woman’s rights is now the watch-word of a new movement for social reform, and even for political revolution—the women, among other things, claiming to vote.

It must be confessed that such general outcries are not commonly raised, without some reason. They are the natural expressions of pain and unsatisfied desire. It was not without reason that America and Europe, towards the close of the last century, raised the cry of the rights of man; and so, we dare say, it is not without reason that the rights of woman are now dinged into our ears. Nor is this cry without a marked effect, not merely upon manners and society, but also upon laws. Almost all our state legislatures are at work, with more or less diligence and enthusiasm, modifying their statute books, under the influence of this new zeal. To that we do not object. Putnam is for reform. Putnam is for progress. Putnam is for woman’s rights; but also for man’s rights—for everybody’s rights; and, in that spirit, we are going to offer a few hints to our legislators, whose vaulting zeal, on behalf of the ladies, seems a little in danger of overleaping itself, and jolting on t’other side. It is well to stand straight, but not well to tumble over backward, in attempting to do so.

Those who go about to modify our existing laws, as to the relation of husband and wife, will do well to reflect that the old English common law on this subject, if it be a rude and barbarous system, little suited to our advanced and refined state of society—which we do not deny—is also a consistent and logical system, of which the different parts mutually rest upon and sustain each other. In the repair, or modification of such a system, it is material that every part of it should be taken into account. Changes in one part will involve and require changes in other parts; otherwise, alterations, made with a view only to relieve the wife from tyranny and oppression, may work a corresponding injustice to the husband. Nor are the changes already made in our laws, partly by legislation and partly by usage, free from glaring instances of this sort.

The English common law makes the husband the guardian and master of the wife, who stands to him in the relation of a child and a servant. In virtue of this relation, the husband is legally responsible for the acts of the wife. If she slanders or assaults her neighbors, he is joined with the wife in the action to recover damages, and he alone is legally responsible for the amount of damages recovered, even to the extent of being sent to jail in default of payment. He is likewise responsible for debts contracted by the wife to the same extent that a father is responsible for the debts of his minor children. Even in criminal proceedings, it is he who must pay, or go to jail for not paying the fines imposed on his wife; and there are many cases, even cases of felony, in which the wife, acting in concert with her husband, is excused from all punishment, on the presumption that she acts by his compulsion, though in fact she may, as in the noted case of Macbeth’s wife, have been the instigator. Public opinion goes even further than the law, and holds the husband accountable, to a certain extent, for all misbehaviors and indiscretions on the part of his wife. Not only is he to watch that she does not steal, he is to watch that she does not flirt, and every species of infidelity, or even of levity on her part, inflicts no less disgrace upon him than upon her—disgrace which the received code of honor requires him to revenge upon the male delinquent not only in defiance of the law which forbids all breaches of the peace, but even at the risk of his own life.

The law and public opinion having anciently imposed all these heavy obligations on the husband, very logically and reasonably proceeded to invest him with corresponding powers and authority. Standing to the wife, as he was made to stand, in the relation of father and master, the law very reasonably invested him with all the rights and authority of a father and a master. How, indeed, was he to exercise the authority and to fulfill the obligations which the law and public opinion imposed upon him, of regulating the conduct of his wife, unless invested at the same time with means both of awe and coercion? Accordingly, the law and usage of England authorized the husband to chastise his wife—in a moderate manner—employing for that purpose a rod not thicker than his finger. The husband was also entitled to the personal custody of his wife, and was authorized in proper cases—if, for instance, she seemed disposed to run off with another man—to lock her up, and, if need were, to keep her on bread and water.

Now these, it must be confessed, were extensive powers—harsh and barbarous powers, if you please—though the law always contemplated that, in his exercise of them, the husband would .be checked by the same tenderness towards the wife of his bosom which tempers the exercise by the father of a similar authority over his children. But however extensive, however harsh or barbarous the powers of the husband may be, we appeal even to our female readers — if, indeed, a single female has had patience and temper to follow us thus far—we appeal even to that single female (or married one, as the case may be), to say how, in the name of common sense, is the husband to keep the wife in order, to the extent which the law and public opinion demands of him, except by the exercise of these powers, or at least by the awe which the known possession and possible exercise of them is fitted to inspire? If the fractious child is neither to be spanked nor shut up in the closet, how is domestic discipline to be preserved? What more effectual sedative to an excited and ungovernable temper, which might provoke both suits for assault and actions for slander, than retirement in one’s closet with the door locked and a glass of cold water to cool one’s burning tongue?

And so of another great topic of complaint on the part of the advocates of woman’s rights—the power which the husband has by the common law over the wife’s property. He being responsible for her debts and her acts, and being bound to provide for the support of the children, has, as a corollary thereto, the custody and disposition of the wife’s property, if she chances to inherit or to acquire any—which, unfortunately, in the middle ranks of life, where these notions of woman’s rights most extensively prevail, is, we are sorry to say, but too seldom the case.

Such are the relative rights and duties of the husband under the old English common law. Under this law a husband is not a mere chimera, a surd and impossible quantity. There is a logical consistency about him. He is, as Horace says of the stoic philosopher, terei ef rotundus, round and whole, armed at all points, provided with powers adequate to the duties expected of him.

In America we have no such husbands. Long before the cry of woman’s rights was openly raised, the powers and prerogatives of the American husband had been gradually undermined. Usage superseded law, and trampled it under foot. Sentiment put logical consistency at defiance, and the American husband has thus become a legal monster, a logical impossibility, required to fly without wings, and to run without feet.

Women care nothing for logic, but they have a sense of justice and tender hearts, and to their sense of justice we confidently appeal. Who can wonder that the men are so shy in taking upon them the responsibilities of the married state? Those responsibilities all remain exactly as in old times, while the means of adequately meeting them are either entirely taken away, or are in a fair way to be so. By the law as it now is, we believe in every state of the Union, the husband cannot lay his finger on his wife in the way of chastisement except at the risk of being complained of for assault and battery, and, perhaps, sued for a divorce, and (which is worse than either) of being pronounced by his neighbors a brutal fellow. The nominal custody of the person of the wife, which the law still, in some of the states, affects to bestow upon the husband, is a mere illusion. If he attempts to lock her up, she can sue out her habeas corpus, and oblige him to pay the expenses of it; and if she wishes to quit her husband’s house, and go elsewhere, he has no means of compelling her return. He may sue those with whom , takes refuge, for harboring her, but if he obtain damages at all, they will be only nominal. In many of the states, laws have been enacted and soon will be in all of them, giving the wife the exclusive control of her own property, acquired before or after marriage, by gift, inheritance, or her own industry.

While the wife is thus rendered to a great extent independent of her husband, he, by a strange inconsistency, is still held, both by law and public opinion, just as responsible for her as before. The old and reasonable maxim, that he who dances must pay the piper, not apply to wives—they dance, and the husband pays. To such an extent is this carried, that if the wife beats her husband, and he, having no authority to punish her in kind, applies to the criminal courts for redress, she will be fined for assault and battery, which fine he must pay, even thought she has plenty of money of her own. or, in default of paying, go to jail! Such cases are by no means of unprecedented occurrence in our criminal courts.

Now, what sense or reason is there in making the husband responsible for the licenses of the wife’s tongue, after he has lost all power to control it? If the wife is to hold her property separately, ought she not to be sued separately, both for debts and damages? If her property ought not to go to pay the husband’s debts, why ought his to go to pay hers? If the husband has lost the power to control tile goings in and runnings out of the wife, why ought public opinion to hold him any longer responsible therefor?

We have no objection to an amendment of the law in relation to husband and wife. Public opinion demands it. The progress of society requires it. But the new wine ought not to be put into old bottles, nor the old garments to be patched with new pieces, lest, as the proverb says, the rent be made worse than before.

But there is yet another recent innovation in the law, liable to still more serious objections. Not content with placing the unfortunate husband in an absurd and anomalous condition, not content with still demanding of him certain duties and obligations, at the same time that he is deprived of the powers and the rights essential to their fulfillment, reducing him in fact to a position hardly less ridiculous, and not at all less embarrassing, than that of a short-tail bull in fly-time—the law (as if conscious that, before entering into such an unequal alliance, the men would grow pretty critical as to the personal qualities of the women in whose power they were about so completely to place themselves) seeks to entrap us into matrimony against our inclinations, by holding, as it does, that any man who shows signs of having been impressed by a woman, becomes, if she is single, her lawful prize, and is bound to marry her if she insists upon it, or eke—stand a suit for breach of promise.

Though suits for breach of promise of marriage are comparatively a recent thing, in order fully to understand their nature it is necessary to go back to the dark ages. We pretend to be protestants; we rail against the popish church; yet in how many important matters are we still the mere slaves and tools of that church! The canon law was one of the most crafty devices of the middle age theocracy, and is a standing topic of reproach against Catholicism ; and yet in the most delicate of all our relations, that of marriage and divorce, we protestants are to this day substantially governed by the canon law! The canon law was made by monks, men forbidden to marry themselves, and therefore destitute of any personal experience by which to shape their legislation on this subject. They had, indeed, the Roman law as their guide, but this they departed from in the most essential particulars, as being altogether too reasonable to suit their ascetic theories or serve their purpose. The monks who made the canon law looked upon marriage as a sensual and unholy state, only to be tolerated in the gross laity, to prevent something worse; and they seem to have exerted their whole ingenuity to render this sinful condition as uncomfortable as possible. Hence the excessive hostility of the canon law to divorce, it being held a just punishment of the immorality of marrying at all, that persons Unsuitably or unhappily married should be kept during their natural lives tied together neck and heels, Bo that their torments in this world might give them, as it were, a relishing foretaste of what married sinners had to expect in the next. But while unhappy marriages were thus cursed with a perpetuity beyond the reach of the parties or the law, the ingenious canonists at the same time suspended over the heads of every happy couple the terror of an involuntary and forced separation, which should unmarry them and bastardize their children. One of the means employed for this devilish purpose was the doctrine of pre-contracts. A promise to marry was, according to the canon law, equivalent to a marriage, and every subsequent marriage to another party, pending the life of the party to whom the promise had been made, was vitiated by it. The canonists even went so far as to allow suits for the specific performance of these marriage contracts—the officers of their courts, on the suit of some disappointed virgin, entering the household of love, breaking up the family, stigmatizing the woman as a concubine and her children as illegitimate, and compelling the man to take his legal wife—as by virtue of some pretended pre-contract she was held to be—into his house and his bed. It is from this canonist doctrine of precontracts that our suits for breach of promise are derived. The common law, indeed, being the work of ruder hands, is ignorant of that beneficial process of the Roman law—the suit for specific performance. In the case of the nonperformance of a contract, the common law contents itself with attempting to set matters right, by awarding damages for the non-performance. In this particular case, even this defect in the common law was a very fortunate thing, as otherwise, instead of merely having damages to pay for refusing to marry against our inclination, we might have been brought up to the ring-bolt of specific performance, and forced into the yoke any how.

It is often said that no woman of any delicacy or self-respect ever would or ever does bring a suit for breach of promise of marriage. That may be so; still nothing prevents a great many women, who would be entirely unwilling to confess to any deficiency of delicacy or self-respect, from taking advantage of the law, or more properly speaking, of the public sentiment out of which the law grows and which sustains it, to force their once lovers, but lovers no longer, into a reluctant and repugnant marriage ceremony. Whose private experience does not enable him to recount instances, in which men, sensibility and honor have suffered themselves to be thus forced into unsuitable matches, of which the unfortunate result has corresponded with the inauspicious beginning? Contrary to every principle of common sense, as well as to every instinct of sentiment, as are suits for breach of promise of marriage, yet undoubtedly they are fully sustained by the prevailing public sentiment. Otherwise it would be impossible to explain the extravagant lengths to which courts have gone in inferring a promise of marriage from the most trivial circumstances—waiting on a lady home from church; going to see her of a Saturday night; asking her twice of a winter to a ball; corresponding with her, though nothing is said in the letters about love or marriage; allowing her to darn your stockings. There is, indeed, no circumstance, however light or trivial, upon which the busy tongues of a country parish get up a rumor of an engagement, which is not held amply sufficient by our courts of law to establish the fact of a promise of marriage, and to lay the foundation of a suit for damages.

It is not, however, upon these extreme cases that we rest our opposition. We object to the proceeding in any case, no matter how solemn and formal the promise, nor how often renewed. We object to the whole idea of obligation in such a case, and, of course, to the enforcement of such supposed obligation by law. The whole thing is a gross abuse—to speak the truth—a scandalous abomination. The very idea of marriage, according to any but the grossest and lowest conception of it, implies the free and full consent of both the parties to it. On the part of the man, if not of the woman, it implies something more, not a mere tacit consent, but a forward, active, joyous consent. A great deal of sympathy has been expended over women forced by tyrannical fathers to give their hands without their hearts. A miserable case, truly, but altogether less miserable than that of a man, drawn, by a false sense of honor and a ridiculous public opinion, to speak a public lie, and, in the face of God and man, to pledge himself as a husband, when he knows he cannot be one. All promises are made with this implied reservation—that he who promises shall have it in his power to fulfill. This is true even of mercantile promises. No man is held to be under any moral obligation to pay his debts, any further than he has the means to pay; and upon giving up the property that he has, our insolvent laws will discharge him from the legal obligation. A promise to marry carries with it the implied reservation that he who promises shall continue to love. The promise is not, and is not understood to be, either by him who makes, or her who receives it, a promise merely to assume the legal responsibility of marriage; it is a promise to assume the moral and sentimental responsibilities also; and if, by change of circumstances or change of mind, it has become impossible to fulfill one part of the promise, if it is impossible to love. the whole necessarily falls to the ground.

What is the object and intent of that intimacy called an engagement of marriage, unless to enable the parties to live together in that freedom of intercourse which the mutual expectation of marriage inspires, for the very purpose of giving them an insight they would not otherwise have into each other’s character, and an opportunity of repentance and retraction before taking the irrevocable step? And if this be the object of an engagement—as who will venture to say it is not—how absurd to hold a man bound to marry, by the very process of socking to discover whether it will be judicious for him to marry or not?

Of all miserable things in this world of misery, a miserable marriage is the most miserable, yet every acute observer must have noticed that the misery of many of these marriages arises from causes too immaterial, so to speak, too spiritual to attract the notice of the casual observer. At a time when our courts and our legislatures are besieged by wives and husbands struggling to get rid of uncongenial partners; when the laws on the subject of divorce are loudly complained of in so many quarters, as failing to afford that relief which they ought, one measure, it would seem, might suit equally well both the friends and the enemies of the freedom of divorce. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It may be necessary to allow those married persons to separate, who have become not merely tiresome, but hateful to each other; but how much better to avoid the blunder of bringing such people together? Divorce at the pleasure of either party, after the marriage has been consummated, and especially after children are born, is limited to some very weighty objections; but what can be the objection to allowing the freedom of separation in cases where no marriage has yet been celebrated? If, indeed, to seek the intimacy of a lady with a view to discover if she is fit to be your wife, is to carry with it the obligation to make her so, at all events, we are in no respect better off than the Chinese, who marry their wives without over having seen them. So far, indeed, as the wife’s person is concerned, we have an advantage over the Chinamen, in the privilege of seeing so much of it as she exhibits to the world at large in the street, or as she displays to a select circle in a ballroom. Looks, however, in this climate, are not much to be depended upon. American beauty fades with marvellous rapidity; while, as to the lady’s temper, and mental and moral traits, which in our state of civilization are of at least equal importance with her face, if we are so impertinent as to peep into them, the law and public opinion insist that in so doing we have contracted an obligation to marry her. Thus, in fact, we are worse off than the Chinaman. He, if not suited with one wife, can take another, and so on, till he is suited. We, when once married, are done for. We can neither get rid of our uncongenial wife nor take a congenial one. Under these circumstances, we ought at least to have the privilege of making a choice with our eyes open, and not be held by the very act of examination to have precluded ourselves from declining to accept an article, which, however taking it might seem at first sight, proves, on being more closely looked at, not what we wanted.

[“A Word For Men’s Rights.” Putnam’s Monthly, A Magazine of Literature, Science , and Art, Vol. II, Feb. 1856, No. XXXVIII, p. 208]

Gaining Equal Rights for Men: Ratifying the E.R.A.

Ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment has long been discussed in men’s rights circles, but there was perhaps none more passionate about it than David Ault who actively lobbied for its ratification from the 1970s, and established the Equal Rights Amendment Project of Men’s Rights. The following article by David Ault was published in MEN Magazine in 1996, and in honour of his memory and work I’m pleased to republish it here. – PW

Article by David Ault
The notion that men need equal rights with women is almost as politically incorrect today as it was in 1978, when I began actively working in Virginia for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Even today, the ERA is often referred to as the “women’s rights amendment.” This limited interpretation is difficult to understand given its wording: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, I distributed pamphlets that explained why women deserve to have equal rights with men. As Vice Chair of the Virginia Equal Rights Amendment Ratification Council, I often passed out our organization’s pamphlet entitled Women of Virginia, Rights You Are Denied.

We did not have a corresponding pamphlet Men of Virginia, Rights You Are Denied. In fact, men’s rights were so excluded from the ERA ratification process that, despite repeated requests by several knowledgeable men, no men were invited to testify on men’s equal rights issues before the U.S. Congressional hearings on ERA ratification.

Harris and Gallup polls informed us then that nearly 60 percent of all Americans favored ERA ratification. Although men were ignored as potential beneficiaries of a ratified ERA, younger men favored the ERA at nearly the same percentage as women. Many older men also supported it.

Despite this majority of women and men in its favor, the ten-year ratification period expired in June 1982 with only 35 of the required 38 states approving its ratification. I recall that some people blamed the ERA’s defeat on men who wanted to keep women “in their place” by denying women equal rights. Particularly targeted for blame were those male legislators from nonratifying states who voted against it.

Upon reflection, perhaps some men are to “blame” for the ERA’s failure to be ratified, but not for the reasons I heard in 1982. During that period of time, I was one of very few men who donated large amounts of their time and money to support ERA ratification. I also voted for political candidates by giving heavy weight to their stand on the ERA. At ERA meetings and workshops, I was often outnumbered by the women present by 10 or 20 to 1. My level of passion in support of the ERA was typical of many American women.

Although many American men supported ERA ratification, their support was more from their heads. Men often explained to me that they supported the ERA for their wife, sister, daughter, or mother. However, they did not donate significant time or money to support its ratification. Judging from the phone calls that I made polling households for ERA support, many men did not vote for pro-ERA candidates as a top priority.

I submit that it was not the men (and women) who opposed the ERA that defeated it. Instead, those men who are largely to “blame” are the majority of men who favored its ratification and yet failed to give it sufficient importance in their lives to see that it passed.

Winning men’s active support for the ERA may be easier today. During recent years, men’s consciousness about their own issues has been raised substantially and the momentum is upward. Men are growing aware of how the narrow gender-role conditioning they receive during society’s indoctrination of them to become protectors and providers negatively affects both their emotional and physical health. They learn that, on average, men not only live 7 years less than women, but men’s quality of life is reduced in trying to live up to this restrictive gender role.

Men are grieving, publicly and privately, for the loss of their fathers and their distance from their own children. They are learning how welfare rules and our father-negative “family” courts separate caring fathers from their children. They are dismayed by the contribution that fatherless families have tothe increase in homeless and runaway children, and toteenage suicide, academic failure, drug abuse, violence and unwed pregnancy.

At the same time that women have control over their parenthood through abortion or adoption, men’s reproductive rights are either ignored or condescendingly dismissed. Men lack the “right to choose” legal fatherhood, but have the responsibility of financial support. Further, men have no corresponding right to either custody or noncustodial access to their children.

Although outlawing female genital mutilation gets national media and Congressional attention, over 60% of American male babies still undergo medically unnecessary, involuntary, and painful infant circumcision.

Men realize that only they have the responsibility to register for selective service and may subsequently face the military draft. Further, as women gain the option of volunteering for combat positions, men are still assigned to combat.

Men see programs instituted to help women, while men’s similar concerns go unacknowledged and unfunded. Examples of neglected areas include male academic difficulties at all educational levels, lack of support for “men’s programs” in higher education, failure to acknowledge and support male victims of domestic violence, lack of affirmative action for men to enter predominately female professions, low levels of government support to homeless men, unequal privacy provisions in public restrooms and dressing rooms, failure to recognize and combat female modes of sexual harassment of men, and more stringent employee dress codes for men.

Men are hurting from 30 years of being the object of unwarranted blame, male-bashing, and negative sex-role stereotyping. As their consciousness increases, men will be more receptive to understanding both the harm done to them by continued pressure to conform to rigid role models and the legal injustices still visited upon them. Men will see how unjustified blame and their traditional stoic conditioning have combined to repress any remedy to their equality issues.

However, when men understand how gender-inclusive application of the ERA will benefit them, their pain, anger, and desire for justice will propel them into action to support ERA ratification. Together with women supporters, they will work to successfully win ERA passage in the U.S. Congress and by the necessary three-quarters of the states.

To make this happen, men’s equality issues must be included in the debate over ERA ratification. The first step within each state is to continue to research and document the areas where men are discriminated against by local, state and federal law. This includes not only laws written in a gender-biased way, but laws that, although gender-neutral in wording, result in bias against men in practice. Sometimes the remedy will not require changing the law; instead, changing public opinion will result in an equitable application of existing law. In other cases, the law will require modification or elimination.

The second step is to bring men’s equality issues and the ERA remedies to the attention of the public and our legislative bodies. Men might begin by asking each state legislature to memorialize the ERA again, as Washington State did in 1983. Memorialization means that the state legislature passes a resolution asking the U.S. Congress to pass the ERA and to send it out to the states for ratification. However, the reasons expressed this time by each state legislature for memorializing the ERA must include the need for men’s equal rights.

The third step is to secure an invitation for knowledgeable men to testify for the first time before the U.S. Congress when hearings are held again on the ERA. This will have three important benefits. First, it will help to bring the issue of discrimination against men before the entire country. Second, it will increase American men’s identification of ERA ratification with ending this discrimination. Third, it will create an official record of Congress’s intent to include equal rights for men in its justification for the ERA.

This Congressional record will be vital to men after the ERA is ratified, because judges often consider legislative intent in deciding how to apply the law to a specific case. After the Congress records its support for men’s rights, men will find it much easier to use the ERA to right legal injustices against them.

Finally, prepared with our research and buoyed by state and federal recognition of men’s need for the ERA, men must continue to educate the public and join with women in the ERA ratification process. With women and men working together for a gender-inclusive ERA, to quote Susan B. Anthony, “Failure is impossible.”