Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/September 1897/Editor's Table

Editor's Table.


IF the right of women to vote in political elections depended on a demonstration of their ability to think clearly and conduct an argument in an orderly manner, the book which Mrs. Helen Kendrick Johnson has published under the title of Woman and the Republic (Appletons) would settle the question. It happens, however, that Mrs. Johnson is not a woman-suffragist, but that, on the contrary, a wide historical study of the subject has led her to the belief that the party which is laboring to convert women into voters is threatening serious injury to the state both in a political and in a social aspect. Her argument is a very comprehensive one, as a glance at the titles of her chapters will show; and at every point she arrives at the same conclusion, namely, that the woman suffragists have raised false issues, put forward false pretensions, and generally gone about as far wrong as it was possible to do. We believe—having read the book attentively—that it is destined to have a potent influence in the settlement of the question with which it deals.

The first thing that strikes us in connection with Mrs. Johnson's argument is the high ground she takes on woman's behalf. If she does not claim the suffrage for women it is not that she deems them incapable of forming correct judgments on political questions; not because she recognizes any mental inferiority whatsoever on their part, but because she believes that they constitute that portion of society in whose interest chiefly all laws are enacted and the whole machinery of politics is kept going. We are hardly mistaken in saying that she considers that in the development and perfection of woman the life of society finds its highest significance. The poet Clough had the same thought when he said that men might well

Perish in labor for her, who is worth the destruction of empires.

The advocates of the suffrage for women will therefore have to attack Mrs. Johnson on other grounds than her depreciation of the female sex. It is they, according to Mrs. Johnson, who depreciate the female sex in asking woman to enter upon a struggle for a position actually inferior to that which she already possesses, a position in which, instead of assuming, as she now may, that laws are made especially for her benefit, she will proceed on the contrary supposition that she can not get common justice unless she wrenches it from man at the polling booth.

Our own view of the general question has been more than once stated in these columns; and it is with pleasure we note how close the agreement is between what we have said, writing from a masculine standpoint, and the conclusions of the book before us, written by a woman jealous for the honor of her sex and instinct with true feminine feeling. Mrs. Johnson perceives, as we do, that law-making means nothing else than the laying down of rules of conduct which are to be enforced, if necessary, by physical compulsion, and that unless we want women to take up cudgels in the most literal sense for the enforcement of laws we should not ask them to take part in making them. Those who vote for laws should not only be possible combatants, but should be individuals whose natures would not be essentially injured by actual physical conflict. Women are possible combatants, as the suffragists sometimes remind us, but the essential nature of woman would be injured by participation in physical conflicts. Why can we tolerate prize fights between men, while prize fights between women fill us with horror and disgust? Is it not because Nature itself tells us that whatever woman's physical strength may be—and suffragists sometimes remark with their customary acuteness that some women are stronger than some men—it is not meant to be exerted in delivering blows? But if a prize fight between two women is horrible to think of, what language could be applied to a prize fight between a woman and a man, however evenly they might be matched? Surely "woman's rights" stop short of that. If voting meant merely the collecting of opinions, no one would dream of refusing the votes of women; but so long as it means the determining and arraying of forces, which must in the last resort be physical forces, something else than an instinctive desire to tyrannize may well inspire the men who do not wish women to vote. As to the women who do not wish to vote, the simple answer they have to give to inquiring committee women is that they know "a more excellent way."

If the book to which we are referring has a fault it is that it is too argumentative. The author seems to have made up her mind to achieve a victory at every point, and has consequently entered on one or two discussions which might perhaps have been advantageously omitted. We doubt whether it was very necessary to prove that aristocratic institutions are more favorable to the political prominence of women than democratic ones. It is enough to prove, as we think the author has done, that there are reasons for believing that the participation of women in the suffrage to-day, far from improving the constitution of society, would tend to impair it. It was useful, however, to insist that there is no connection between the democratic theory of society and the extension of the suffrage to women. It would be an insult to the female sex to maintain that, in the progressive lowering of the conditions for the exercise of the electoral franchise, women ought to be taken in; or even that, because the franchise is very widely bestowed, women ought to possess it. These unflattering arguments are more or less used by the advocates of woman suffrage; but those who have a truer sense of the position and claims of women perceive that it never can be a question of conceding any right to her after men have obtained the same right, or even because they have obtained it; whatever is a woman's right belongs to her whether men have it or not.

How odiously in certain cases the suffrage party have stated their position is well shown by Mrs. Johnson in the following paragraph:

"The argument for woman suffrage which bases it upon a fancied grouping of women with the vile and brainless element in the country appears to me at once the weakest and the meanest of all. When the United States Government invited its women citizens to share in making the Columbian Exposition the most wondrous pageant of any age, the National Suffrage Association, at its official exhibit, gave a picture of the expressive face of Miss Willard surrounded by ideal heads of a pauper, an idiot, and a criminal, with a legend recording their belief that it was with these that American men placed American women. So false a picture must have taught the thoughtful gazers the opposite lesson from the one intended. It could have told them that the United Slates Government had at least guarded one trust with sacred care. The pauper was excluded from the ballot as not being worthy to share with freemen the honor of its defense. The unfortunate was excluded by an inscrutable decree of Providence. The criminal was excluded as being dangerous to society. The women were exempt from the ballot because it was for their special safety that a free ballot was to be exercised from which the pauper and the criminal were to be excluded. They were the ones who have given to social life its meaning and its moral, the ones who give to civic life its highest value."

The writer lays proper stress on the fact that the occasions are not so rare when the authority of law has to be maintained by force, and correctly draws the inference that it would be dangerous to mix up with those who, by their votes, make the laws a large number of non-combatants. We do not find, however, as distinct a recognition as we could wish of the fact that not only are laws founded in the last resort on physical force, but that, in the interest of liberty, it is desirable that they should be so founded—that physical force should be fully in view as the final arbiter between those who favor a law and those who are opposed to it. The reason is obvious: if a law may have to be fought for, and if there is nothing to deter those who object to it from fighting against it, if it seems unduly to infringe their liberties, and provided they feel themselves strong enough, there will be a reasonable parsimony in the passing of laws, and individual liberty will be the gainer. If, on the other hand, the idea of armed resistance to any law which has once been passed dies entirely out, there will be no bounds to the tyranny of majorities. This is the condition of things which the sharing of the suffrage equally between men and women would tend to bring about. Even to-day laws are being passed, in this country particularly, in vastly too great number, precisely because the instinct of resistance to unjust or unnecessary laws is already weaker than it should be. If we could be sure that it was always "the common sense of most"' that kept a "fretful realm in awe" there would not be so much reason to complain; but we have no reason in many cases to suppose that there is anything more than a common desire on the part of a majority to have their wishes and fancies imposed upon others. Men seem to be approximating to women in their belief in compulsion: add the female vote, and liberty, in any wholesome sense, is at an end.

We trust that Woman and the Republic will be widely read and deeply pondered. One advantage which the suffragists possess is that the arguments they use, though very superficial, are specious in their simplicity. It is so easy to ask whether women are not as good as men, whether they are not as cultivated, whether they are not as intelligent; and when affirmative answers are given to these and similar questions, it is so easy to draw the inference that they ought in that case to have equal voting power. The result is that unwary persons are apt to be carried away to an acceptance of the suffragist position. Many men, and some of no mean note, have been so carried away; but the remedy for the error is to look deeper and consider society in its organic character. Prof. Goldwin Smith, as quoted by Mrs. Johnson, expresses the fear lest, through the "feeble facility of abdication" which prevails in a revolutionary era like the present, men may give way to the demands that are being made by the woman-suffragists. Mrs. Johnson shares the fear, but sees also a source of danger in "the very tender-heartedness of the men of our time," adding that, "so far from desiring to hold the slightest restriction over the women of the republic, they may rush into an attempt at abdication of a sovereignty that did not originate in their will, but in their environment, in order to prove the sincerity of their desire that woman should not even appear to be compelled to obey." For our part we share both fears; but our special dread is lest the intellectual superficiality of our time should lead to the acceptance of arguments which move, as it were, in one dimension only, the dimension of abstract rights. Any logic chopper can deal with abstractions, and make of them what he or she likes; it requires a more philosophic mind and vastly more patience and attention to deal with concrete facts and organic systems. Mrs. Johnson's book will repay a careful perusal and reperusal. Whatever errors she may have fallen into upon points of detail—and it is almost impossible that, dealing with so vast an array of facts as she has done, she should not have fallen into some—she has got to the root of the matter. Her formula for man and woman is not, as with the suffragists, 2a, but ab, each the coefficient of the other, and both together forming a compound unity. Her book rests on the solid ground of Nature, and will survive many dreary diatribes of the 2a school of social reformers.


Mr. Thomas Davidson is by all accounts a philosopher. He is profound in Aristotle and Rosmini, and can tell to a shade just where Kant failed to grasp the problem of human knowledge. He has written magisterially on the subject of education. He is therefore a man whose utterances ought to be marked by a very superior wisdom, particularly on the subjects which he claims to have made his own. Strange to say, however, we fail to see any great wisdom, or even, to put it plainly, much sense in a remark in which he indulges in the July Forum. He there discusses the changes that have taken place in England during the last sixty years, and, in doing so, takes occasion to say that "the education of children, which formerly was let out to teachers as the washing of clothes was to washerwomen, is now regarded as a matter demanding the careful attention of parents. If this means anything it means that the giving of clothes to a washerwoman to wash may be taken as a typical instance of a matter that does not receive careful attention—a matter about which people are proverbially indifferent.

Now, we do not claim a very profound knowledge of the household diplomacy which results in the making of treaties with washerwomen; but, so far as any echoes of the proceedings have reached our ears, we have received an impression that very considerable interest is taken in the choice of an efficient washerwoman, and that the subsequent performance of the person selected is watched with close attention. We have reason to believe that questions are very frequently raised as to whether the clothes have been properly treated in the washerwoman's hands; and that if they come back unsatisfactory in color, badly ironed or folded, or showing signs of excessive use of alkali, sharp remonstrances are made. If the case is serious, the clothes are not again given to the inefficient or destructive operator, but search is at once made for one who will do the work better. If we are not up to date in our notions on this subject, we are sorry for it; all that we can say is that it used to be so. What are we to say, then, to the learned professor's typical example of slipshod indifference? Only this, that it was very ill-chosen, and that the professor is evidently more at home on the dizzy peaks of a transcendental philosophy than in the region of domestic economy.

The real truth is that, in these advanced days, a contrast might well be drawn between the care and sense of personal responsibility people manifest in getting their clothes washed and the easy-going confidence and careless irresponsibility with which they send their children to be educated. One reason for the difference is that they pay directly for the former, and only indirectly, and in a manner they can not control, for the latter. In the former case they want to get value for the money they pay out; in the latter case if they don't get value they can not do anything about it; the whole thing has passed beyond their control, and is largely in the hands of ward politicians. So the children go to school and come home; and the average parent hardly asks what they have learned or whether they have learned anything. It was long ago remarked by Adam Smith that "the proper performance of every service seems to require that its pay or recompense should be as exactly as possible proportioned to the nature of the service." That is the case with the washing of clothes, but it is not the case with the education of children. The parents who pay the money have nothing to say as to the quality of the article they get in return; and superintendents and trustees are only able to a very imperfect degree to proportion compensation to the amount of useful work done. Upon the whole the "washerwoman" system has its good points; and, disagreeing with Prof. Davidson, we should be very glad if it could be made applicable to the whole business of education.


A correspondendt regards as inadequate the recent explanation given in these columns of the origin of the department store. Instead of attributing it to the economies it effects as a piece of labor-saving machinery, which has come into existence under the operation of the law of evolution, he ascribes it to the influence of the heavy municipal taxation that prevails in the United States. In proof, he cites the failure of the department store, or rather the country store, in new communities to prevent the growth of the specialist. He cites also the city of Chicago, saying that "here we find the highest rate of taxation of all the principal cities of America," and the highest development of the department store.

That heavy taxation, as was shown in the case of the match and whisky industries during the civil war, tends to concentrate business in a few hands with large capital we would not deny. Nor would we deny that such concentration is abnormal and injurious. But while we are willing to admit that further municipal taxation in this country has become very heavy and ought to be materially reduced instead of increased, as the tendency is, owing to the extension of the sphere of government, we are not convinced that it has become great enough to produce the department store. Were that the case, the department store would not be the only form that the concentration of capital would assume. Other industries, subjected to the same influence, would also become consolidated. But, as yet, we have heard of no complaint of this kind. What convinces us that this view is correct is the fact that the rate of taxation in Chicago, where the movement against the department store has assumed the greatest proportions, is not higher than in many other cities where there is no serious complaint against this form of industrial development. A reference to the Abstract of the Eleventh Census and to the World Almanac will show that the rate of taxation in Boston, New York, Cincinnati, Baltimore, San Francisco, and elsewhere is higher than in Chicago.

The failure of the so-called department store in new and growing communities to prevent differentiation and segregation is not difficult to explain. In such communities the retail trade is not, as a rule, in the hands of men of commanding ability and enterprise, alert to seize every opportunity to extend their business. If they do possess these qualities, they either go into some other business or move to a larger town. The consequence is, that in the smaller towns the business of the general merchant does not grow beyond his limited capacity. If it does, there are differentiation and segregation. Men more capable in certain lines set up drug stores, grocery stores, hardware stores, etc. But when there is a large concentration of population, making a concentration of trade so profitable as to attract men of the highest ability, then the department store proper is certain to make its appearance. It should be remembered, moreover, that such a store, like any valuable labor-saving appliance effecting important economies, has to be discovered by some superior mind. Only within recent years has any one thought it possible to unite deliberately under one management a large number of forms of retail business. But, as we pointed out in the article criticised, there appears to be a certain limit to this phase of industrial development, thus making superfluous the efforts of the "new" social reformers to cure the "evil." Even if it were due to heavy taxation, as our correspondent suggests, the remedy would be simply a reduction in public expenditures.