WASHINGTON. 1824. Legal rights of the widow to the estate of her husband; Marriage and Divorce laws.
The law of real property, in the United States, is a good deal the same as that of England. Entails are, however, destroyed every where, and the doctrine of descent has, in many of the States, been roughly handled. In New-York (I quote this State oftenest, as the most populous and the most important, though you are to understand that the laws of New-York are strictly applicable only to itself, while they are commonly founded on principles that are general) in New-York, the father is the next heir of a child who leaves no issue. This is a wise, a humane, and a natural departure from the dictum of the common law, and it does much good in a country like this. The next of kin inherit, after the father, in equal portions, without distinction of age or sex. The widow is entitled to one-third of the personal estate of the husband, and to the use of one-third of the real estate during life. The husband is owner of all the personals of the wife, and he is the tenant by the courtesy of her real estate, according to the provisions of the English common law. There is, however, a good deal of difference in the rights of husbands and wives in the different States. In some, the property of the woman is much more respected than in others.
The party in possession of property in fee, can devise it, without restriction, to whom he pleases. This is, I think, a wiser provision than the law of France, which renders natural descent, to a certain extent, unavoidable; but the law of France I take to be an enactment that is intended to do away with the custom of entails, which had gotten such deep root in Europe. Rich men, here, often give more to their sons than to their daughters; though it is very common for men of small fortunes to make the daughters independent at the expense of the sons. Of course, any irregularity or alienation of property from the descent (or ascent) prescribed by the law must be made by will.
Marriage is, of course, altogether a civil contract. Its forms are, however, more or less artificial, according to the policy of particular States. In some, bans are necessary; in others, evidence that would establish any other contract would establish that of marriage. As a breach of the marriage contract is always criminal, the law requires, in cases of indictments for bigamy, rather more positive testimony than would be required in those of inheritance and legitimacy. Thus, a child would be considered born in wedlock, in many States, under the reputation of matrimony, though a man would scarcely be punished for bigamy, without direct evidence of the two contracts. The policy of the different States, however, varies so much, to suit the particular conditions of society, that no general rule can be laid down. In portions of the country recently settled, it is the practice to make the contract before a justice of the peace, as in many parts of New-York; but then, a justice of peace has no more power to celebrate a marriage than any other man. It is thought that his testimony, as a public officer, is more imposing than that of a private individual, and these people always attach high importance to legal rank. People of any condition are always (unless in extraordinary exceptions) married by clergymen.
WASHINGTON. April 1830. On Women Being Permitted to Attend Sessions of Congress.
. Attending the debates in Congress was, of course, one of our great objects; and, as an English woman, I was perhaps the more eager to avail myself of the privilege allowed. It was repeatedly observed to me that, at least in this instance, I must acknowledge the superior gallantry of the Americans, and that they herein give a decided proof of surpassing the English in a wish to honour the ladies, as they have a gallery in the House of Representatives erected expressly for them, while in England they are rigorously excluded from every part of the House of Commons.
But the inference I draw from this is precisely the reverse of that suggested. It is well known that the reason why the House of Commons was closed against ladies was, that their presence was found too attractive, and that so many members were tempted to neglect the business before the House, that they might enjoy the pleasure of conversing with the fair critics in the galleries, that it became a matter of national importance to banish themóand they were banished. It will be long ere the American legislature will find it necessary to pass the same law for the same reason. A lady of Washington, however, told me an anecdote which went far to show that a more intellectual turn in the women would produce a change in the manners of the men. She told me, that when the Miss Wrights were in Washington, with General Lafayette, they very frequently attended the debates, and that the most distinguished members were always crowding round them. For this unwonted gallantry they apologized to their beautiful countrywomen by saying, that if they took equal interest in the debates, the galleries would be always thronged by the members.
PENNSYLVANIA. Summer 1831. Financial Affairs and Legal Rights of Widows
As to the law of dower, it is much the same as that of England generally; but where the sale has been made, the produce is considered as real estate so far, and the widow receives an annuity from one third in lieu of her dower. This does not effect the distribution of the remainder, which is divided as in England. It often happens, that the share of each person if young, is just enough to purchase his destruction.
Very frequently, but in some States more than others, its most prominent application is detected by the effects of a vicious indulgence in ardent spirits, principally among the second and lower classes. Drunkenness still prevails to an alarming extent, notwithstanding the benign presence of the temperate societies. I have heard the most melancholy and appalling accounts of its ravages in private life; and in one place I was informed of its disgusting influence over Judicial morality. The root of the evil is in the expectations which are formed: it is the certainty of actual possession of property at a future time, accompanied by ignorance as to its amount, that so often cherishes in the children the most dissolute habits of idleness, with all their attendant evils. Supposing both of them in the same easy circumstances as country gentlemen, and fathers of families, how different must of necessity be the sentiments of an American and an Englishman, when they survey their respective fire sides! Both see around them their wives and children, in the possession of affluence and comfort, and happy in the enjoyment of each otherís society. But in the event of his death, how gloomy may be the picture drawn by the one, in opposition to that contemplated by the other ! A divided estate and a dispersed family, present themselves to the mind of the American; or perhaps a small part of them living together, but unable to command any share of the luxuries, and not many of the comforts they enjoy during his lifetime, in consequence of a secession of property of marriage, or decrease of it from dissipation. The Englishman feels a debt of gratitude to the constitution of his country: in the event of his death, his house, in the possession of his eldest son, will be a home for his widow and a place of meeting for his children. His younger sons have been brought up under the idea that they are to be the architects of their own fortunes, and such a doctrine has not rendered them unhappy, because it has enforced the virtue of contentment. The law of primogeniture perpetuates, through the eldest son, a species of parental affection and authority; and where there is a title to descend, there is a further inducement to the eldest son to emulate the virtues or the actions of an illustrious father; or, if that father has brought disgrace upon a distinguished name or sullied the escutcheon of a distinguished family (which, be it added, is sometimes the case), the son may be naturally desirous of wiping away the stain, and of giving the benefit of his example to society, by his imitation of the character of a nobler ancestor. There is yet a further deficiency of inducement to exertion existing in the American, and in every other democracy. In England, a young man in the enjoyment of a sufficient income, and who is consequently not obliged to labour at any profession with a view to its increase, yet with the possibility of obtaining a title, will exert his abilities to the utmost; but in America, the stimulus of titled distinction being unknown, it must often happen that the finest talents are doomed to remain unemployed.
NEW YORK CITY. 1834. Marriage and Divorce Law
Sometimes the ladies are even less scrupulous than this. I am acquainted with an English gentleman who emigrated to the United States about a year & a half since, who had previously married an English lady with a handsome property, but becoming politically prejudiced with his own country, he resolved to transfer his wealth to the United States & settle there. He, however, had the precaution to go alone to make the trial, taking with him a considerable sum with which he purchased a tract of land on arriving at New York & the necessary implements for clearing it, &c., and went up the country to his location without delay. He found it in the neighbourhood of a farm, the owner of which had a family of several daughters, and the new-comer being a man of wealth & education, our American soon sought & obtained his friendship. Every art was used to make him a constant visitor at his residence. The result was, that though he had in the outset told them he was a married man, & that his intention was to return to England & fetch his wife, if he liked his situation in the new world, they used every species of manoeuvre to influence him to remain & marry one of the daughters. But this only disgusted him the more with his lonely life & solitary & unprofitable situation-being obliged to do all the duties of husbandman, wood-cutter, dairy-maid, &c. though he had ample means to have paid for labour, but none was to be had. He no sooner declared his intention of leaving the country than his Yankee neighbours (which is generally the case) persecuted him with every annoyance, and the result was he sold his land for mere waste paper, though he had paid down his sterling gold for it, & it is doubtful whether he will ever realize a penny of the purchase money.
This is the fate of hundreds. And fortunate indeed is the emigrant who goes over without his family to make the trial, for hundreds are now living in America in a state of the greatest misery, who would not have remained, had it not been from a dread of again encountering a tedious voyage with a wife & children. I knew some disgraceful instances of fellows who had left a wife and family behind them in England, and made no scruple of taking a second wife in America. One man had a wife & family living with him in New York, whom he drove away to England by his brutality, and though this was known to hundreds, he found no difficulty in contracting a left-handed marriage with an American girl possessed of 1000 dollars, and his oldest child, a boy of 12 years old, was a witness to the whole transaction and continued to live in the same house with his father.-In fact, it is so common a thing for a man to have one wife in one state and a 2nd in another, that it is a proverbial saying, "An American has one wife in New York and another at Brooklyn."
Another man of 2 wives, who had married an American girl with a small fortune, was a Methodist preacher within a few miles of New York when I was there. When he left England he had never mounted a pulpit, and his wife expected to be sent for with her 6 children, as soon as circumstances permitted. Finding, however, that she rec’d no summons, and suspecting all was not right, she came over to New York, assisted in so doing by her parish, and inquired for her husband. She was told there was no person of the name in New York, but there was a Rev- of the name at Newark. The poor woman posted off to that place, and there found that her husband had abandoned her & been married to an American girl who had borne him two children.
There is, however, a law by which persons may be punished for bigamy in America but it is so expensive a proceeding, from the difficulty of obtaining evidence, &c. that not one injured person out of 5000 could avail themselves of it. In fact the law is in such a state in North America, as regards marriage, and morality is so lax in consequence, that their own papers are continually complaining of it. One of the most ably conducted Journals, the Sun, a short time since took an occasion to observe, that such an enactment was much wanted in the United States such as had lately been passed by the South American states, which made it imperative upon all emigrants entering their country to produce a certificate whether they were married or not, and for the truth of which their resident Consul must vouch.
A short time before I left New York, a poor woman presented herself at the door of her runaway husband who had married an American girl on reaching the United States, and upon her knocking, he opened it himself. He asked her "what she wanted?" She told him she was his wife. Upon this he slapped the door in her face. The poor creature in vain tried to redress herself, and she must have perished in the streets of New York with her helpless children, but for the compassion of a few English Emigrants, who provided her with food & shelter, and she is now living decently, as a washerwoman, within sight of the dwelling of her recreant husband.
But this state of concubinage is universal in America. I lodged for a few days in one house where there were 14 couples living, as man & wife, and the person who kept it declared to me that she knew they were all living in a state of adultery. As for divorces, they are granted in all the States upon very trivial evidence. According to a late number of the Sun American Paper, in Ohio alone there were 5000 in less than two years. My readers may easily imagine what must be the state of morality where such things can be with impunity, and what are the prospects for a family of daughters, should any such contemplate emigrating to the United States.
The customs observed at such marriages as are celebrated with a kind of public recognition by their friends & relatives are anything but such as would be desirable in well-regulated societies. A houseful are invited, and of course there is a feast, which terminates with the ceremony of the bride being saluted by every booby of the party. I was present at one where the bridegroom by no means relished this part of the proceeding, and stood peeping from behind a corner of the room half blushing, half clenching his fist with rage, as the operation proceeded, & no sooner had it closed, than he seized his bride’s hand, dragged her to a table where there stood a basin of water, and himself well-washed her face. And this precaution was the more necessary; as all the gentlemen present, with the exception of myself, had been chewing tobacco & spitting about the room the whole time they were present.
With marriage vows or contracts so loosely observed, an American Judge has lately decided, in New Hampshire, that if a gentleman for a considerable length of time pays particular attention to a lady of the same rank & standing in life with himself, such as to visit her (whether relation or not), or take her to visit at his father's, or friends, &c. from these facts the jury have a right to presume a promise of marriage.
POLITICAL NON-EXISTENCE of WOMEN. General Treatise on the Denial of Full Citizenship Rights to Women.
One of the fundamental principles announced in the Declaration of Independence is, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. How can the political condition of women be reconciled with this ? Governments in the United States have power to tax women who hold property ( to divorce them from their husbands; to fine, imprison, and execute them for certain offences. Whence do these governments derive their powers? They are not " just," as they are not derived from the consent of the women thus governed. Governments in the United States have power to enslave certain women ( and also to punish other women for inhuman treatment of such slaves. Neither of these powers are " just;" not being derived from the consent of the governed. Governments decree to women in some States half their husbands' property; in others one-third. In some, a woman, on her marriage, is made to yield all her property to her husband; in others, to retain a portion, or the whole, in her own hands. Whence do governments derive the unjust power of thus disposing of property without the consent of the governed ? The democratic principle condemns all this as wrong; and requires the equal political representation of all rational beings. Children, idiots, and criminals, during the season of sequestration, are the only fair exceptions. The case is so plain that I might close it here ( but it is interesting to inquire how so obvious a decision has been so evaded as to leave to women no political rights whatever. The question has been asked, from time to time, in more countries than one, how obedience to the laws can be required of women, when no woman has, either actually or virtually, given any assent to any law. No plausible answer has, as far as I can discover, been offered for the good reason, that no plausible answer can be devised. The most principled democratic writers on government have on this subject sunk into fallacies, as disgraceful as any advocate of despotism has adduced. In fact, they have thus sunk from being, for the moment, advocates of despotism. Jefferson in America, and James Mill at home, subside, for the occasion, to the level of the author of the Emperor of Russia's Catechism for the young Poles. Jefferson says " Were our State a pure democracy, in which all the inhabitants should meet together to transact all their business, there would yet be excluded from their deliberations,
" 1. Infants, until arrived at years of discretion.
" 2. Women, who, to prevent depravation of morals, and ambiguity of issue, could not mix promiscoously in the public meetings of men.
" 3. Slaves, from whom the unfortunate state of things with us takes away the rights of will and of property."
If the slave disqualification, here assigned, were shifted up under the head of Women, their case would be nearer the truth than as it now stands. Woman's lack of will and of property, is more like the true cause of her exclusion from the representation, than that which is actually set down against her. As if there could be no means of conducting public affairs but by promiscuous meetings ! As if there would be more danger in promiscuous meetings for political business than in such meetings for worship, for oratory, for music, for dramatic entertainments, for any of the thousand transactions of civilized life! The plea is not worth another word.
Mill says, with regard to representation, in his Essay on Government, ďOne thing is pretty clear, that all those individuals, whose interests are involved in those of other individuals, may be struck off without inconvenience.... In this light, women may be regarded, the interest of almost all of whom is involved, either in that of their fathers or in that of their husbands."
The true democratic principle is, that no person's interests can be, or can be ascertained to be, identical with those of any other person. This allows the exclusion of none but incapables.
The word "almost," in Mr. Mill's second sentence, rescues women from the exclusion he proposes. As long as there are women who have neither husbands nor fathers, his proposition remains an absurdity.
The interests of women who have fathers and husbands can never be identical with theirs, while there is a necessity for laws to protect women against their husbands and fathers. This statement is not worth another word.
Some who desire that there should be an equality of property between men and women, oppose representation, on the ground that political duties would be incompatible with the other duties which women have to discharge. The reply to this is, that women are the best judges here. God has given time and power for the discharge of all duties, and, if he had not, it would be for women to decide which they would take, and which they would leave. But their guardians follow the ancient fashion of deciding what is best for their wards. The Emperor of Russia discovers when a cost of arms and title do not agree with a subject prince. The King of France early perceives that the air of Paris does not agree with a free-thinking foreigner. The English Tories feel the hardship that it would be to impose the franchise on every artizan, busy as he is in getting his bread. The Georgian planter perceives the hardship that freedom would be to his slaves. And the best friends of half the human race peremptorily decide for them as to their rights, their duties, their feelings, their powers. In all these cases, the persons thus cared for feel that the abstract decision rests with themselves; that, though they may be compelled to submit, they need not acquiesce.
It is pleaded that half of the human race does acquiesce in the decision of the other half, as to their rights and duties. And some instances, not only of submission, but of acquiescence, there are. Forty years ago, the women of New Jersey went to the pol1, and voted, at state elections. The general term, " inhabitants," stood unqualified as it will again, when the true democratic principle comes to be fully understood. A motion was made to correct the inadvertence; and it was done, as a matter of course without any appeal, as far as I could learn, from the persons about to be injured. Such acquiescence proves nothing but the degradation of the injured party. It inspires the same emotions of pity as the supplication of the freed slave who kneels to his master to restore him to slavery, that he may have his animal wants supplied, without being troubled with human rights and duties. Acquiescence like this is an argument which cuts the wrong way for those who use it.
But this acquiescence is only partial; and, to give any semblance of strength to the plea, the acquiescence must be complete. I, for one, do not acquiesce. I declare that whatever obedience I yield to the laws of the society in which I live is a matter between, not the community and myself, but my judgment and my will. Any punishment inflicted on me for the breach of the laws, I should regard as so much gratuitous injury, for to those laws I have never, actually or virtually, assented. I know that there are women in England who agree with me in this. I know that there are women in America who agree with me in this. The plea of acquiescence is invalidated by us.
It is pleaded that, by enjoying the protection of some laws, women give their assent to all. This needs but a brief answer. Any protection thus conferred is, under woman's circumstances, a boon best owed at the pleasure of those in whose power she is. A boon of any sort is no compensation for the privation of something else; nor can the enjoyment of it bind to the performance of anything to which it bears no relation.
Because I, by favour, may procure the imprisonment of the thief who robs my house, am I, unrepresented, therefore bound not to smuggle French ribbons? The obligation not to smuggle has a widely different derivation. I cannot enter upon the commonest order of pleas of all; or those which relate to the virtual influence of woman; her swaying the judgment and will of man through the heart and so forth. One might as well try to dissect the morning mist. I knew a gentleman in America who told me how much rather he had be a woman than the man he is; a professional man, a father, a citizen. He would give up all this for a woman's influence. I thought he was mated too soon. He should have married a lady, also of my acquaintance, who would not at all object to being a slave, if ever the blacks should have the upper hand; it is so right that the one race should be subservient to the other ! Or rather, I thought it a pity that the one could not be a woman, and the other a slave so that an injured individual of each class might be exalted into their places, to fulfil and enjoy the duties and privileges which they despise, and, in despising, disgrace.
The truth is, that while there is much said about " the sphere of woman," two widely different notions are entertained of what is meant by the phrase. The narrow, and, to the ruling party, the more convenient notion is that sphere appointed by men, and bounded by their ideas of propriety ; a notion from which any and every woman may fairly dissent. The broad and true conception is of the sphere appointed by God, and bounded by the powers which he has bestowed. This commands the assent of man and woman, and only the question of powers remains to be proved.
That woman has power to represent her own interests, no one can deny till she has been tried. The modes need not be discussed here: they must vary with circumstances. The fearful and absurd images which are perpetually called up to perplex the question, images of women on wool-sacks in England, and under canopies in America, have nothing to do with the matter. The principle being once established, the method will follow, easily, naturally, and under a remarkable transmutation of the ludicrous into the sublime. The kings of Europe would have laughed mightily, two centuries ago, at the idea of a commoner, without robes, crown, or sceptre, stepping into the throne of a strong nation. Yet who dared to laugh when Washington's super-royal voice greeted the New World from the presidential chair, and the old world stood still to catch the echo?
The principle of the equal rights of both halves of the human race is all we have to do with here. It is the true democratic principle which can never be seriously controverted, and only for a short time evaded. Governments can derive their just powers only from the consent of the governed.
WOMAN. General Treatise on the Education, Morals, Religion, and Overprotection of Women.
IF a test of civilisation be sought, none can be so sure as the condition of that half of society over which the other half has power,--from the exercise of the right of the strongest. Tried by this test, the American civilisation appears to be of a lower order than might have been expected from some other symptoms of its social state. The Americans have, in the treatment of women, fallen below, not only their own democratic principles, but the practice of some parts of the Old World.
The unconsciousness of both parties as to the injuries suffered by women at the hands of those who hold the power is a sufficient proof of the low degree of civilisation in this important particular at which they rest. While woman's intellect is confined, her morals crusted, her health ruined, her weaknesses encouraged, and her strength punished, she is told that her lot is cast in the paradise of women: and there is no country in the world where there is so much boasting of the " chivalrous" treatment she enjoys. That is to say, she has the best place in stage-coaches: when there are not chairs enough for everybody, the gentlemen stand: she hears oratorical flourishes on public occasions about wives and home, and apostrophes to woman: her husband's hair stands on end at the idea of her working, and he toils to Indulge her with money: she has liberty to get her brain turned by religious excitements, that her attention may be diverted from morals, politics, and philosophy; and, especially, her morals are guarded by the strictest observance of propriety in her presence. In short, indulgence is given her as a substitute for justice. Her case differs from that of the slave, as to the principle, just so far as this; that the indulgence is large and universal, instead of petty and capricious. In both cases, justice is denied on no better plea than the right of the strongest. In both cases, the acquiescence of the many, and the burning discontent of the few, of the oppressed testify, the one to the actual degradation of the class, and the other to its fitness for the enjoyment of human rights.
The intellect of woman is confined. I met with immediate proof of this. Within ten days of my landing, I encountered three outrageous pedants, among the ladies; and in my progress through the country I met with a greater variety and extent of female pedantry than the experience of a lifetime in Europe would afford. I could fill the remainder of my volume with sketches: but I forbear, through respect even for this very pedantry. Where intellect has a fair chance, there is no pedantry, among men or women. It is the result of an intellect which cannot be wholly passive, but must demonstrate some force, and does so through the medium of narrow morals. Pedantry indicates the first struggle of intellect with its restraints; and it is therefore a hopeful symptom.
The intellect of woman is confined by an unjustifiable restriction of both methods of education, by express teaching, and by the discipline of circumstance. The former, though prior in the chronology of each individual, is a direct consequence of the latter, as regards the whole of the sex. As women have none of the objects in life for which an enlarged education is considered requisite, the education is not given. Female education in America is much what it is in England. There is a profession of some things being taught which are supposed necessary because everybody learns them. They serve to fill up time, to occupy attention harmlessly, to improve conversation, and to make women something like companions to their husbands, and able to teach their children somewhat. But what is given is, for the most part, passively received; and what is obtained is, chiefly, by means of the memory. There is rarely or never a careful ordering of influences for the promotion of clear intellectual activity. Such activity, when it exceeds that which is necessary to make the work of the teacher easy, is feared and repressed. This is natural enough, as long as women are excluded from the objects for which men are trained. While there are natural rights which women may not use, just claims which are not to be listened to, large objects which may not be approached, even in imagination, intellectual activity is dangerous: or, as the phrase is, unfit Accordingly, marriage is the only object left open to woman. Philosophy she may pursue only fancifully, and under pain of ridicule: science only as a pastime, and under a similar penalty. Art is declared to be left open: but the necessary learning, and, yet more, the indispensable experience of reality, are denied to her. Literature is also said to be permitted: but under what penalties and restrictions ? I need only refer to the last three pages of the review of Miss Sedgwick's last novel in the North American Review, to support all that can be said of the insolence to which the intellect of women is exposed in America. I am aware that many blush for that article, and disclaim all sympathy with it: but the bare fact that any man in the country could write it' that any editor could sanction it, that such an intolerable scoff should be allowed to find its way to the light, is a sufficient proof of the degradation of the sex. Nothing is thus left for women but marriage. Yes; Religion, is the reply. Religion is a temper, not a pursuit. It is the moral atmosphere in which human beings are to live and move. Men do not live to breathe: they breathe to live. A German lady of extraordinary powers and endowments, remarked to me with amazement on all the knowledge of the American women being based on theology. She observed that in her own country theology had its turn with other sciences, as a pursuit: but nowhere, but with the American women, had she known it make the foundation of all other knowledge. Even while thus complaining, this lady stated the case too favourably. American women have not the requisites for the study of theology. The difference between theology and religion, the science and the temper, is yet scarcely known among them. It is religion which they pursue as an occupation; and hence its small results upon the conduct, as well as upon the intellect. We are driven back upon marriage as the only appointed object in life: and upon the conviction that the sum and substance of female education in America, as in England, is training women to consider marriage as the sole object in life, and to pretend that they do not think so.
The morals of women are crushed. If there be any human power and business and privilege which is absolutely universal, it is the discovery and adoption of the principle and laws of duty. As every individual, whether man or woman, has a reason and a conscience, this is a work which each is thereby authorised to do for him or herself. But it is not only virtually prohibited to beings who, like the American women, have scarcely any objects in life proposed to them; but the whole apparatus of opinion is brought to bear offensively upon individuals among women who exercise freedom of mind in deciding upon what duty is, and the methods by which it is to be pursued. There is nothing extraordinary to the disinterested observer in women being so grieved at the case of slaves, slave wives and mothers, as well as spirit broken men, as to wish to do what they could for their relief: there is nothing but what is natural in their being ashamed of the cowardice of such white slaves of the north as are deterred by intimidation from using their rights of speech and of the press, in behalf of the suffering race, and in their resolving not to do likewise: there is nothing but what is justifiable in their using their moral freedom, each for herself, in neglect of the threats of punishment: yet there were no bounds to the efforts made to crush the actions of women who thus used their human powers in the abolition question, and the convictions of those who looked on, and who might possibly be warmed into free action by the beauty of what they saw. It will be remembered that they were women who asserted the right of meeting and of discussion, on the day when Garrison was mobbed in Boston. Bills were posted about the city on this occasion, denouncing these women as casting off the refinement and delicacy of their sex: the newspapers, which laud the exertions of ladies in all other charities for the prosecution of which they are wont to meet and speak, teemed with the most disgusting reproaches and insinuations: and the pamphlets which related to the question all presumed to censure the act of duty which the women had performed in deciding upon their duty for themselves. One lady, of high talents and character, whose books were very popular before she did a deed greater than that of writing any book, in acting upon an unusual conviction of duty, and becoming an abolitionist, has been almost excommunicated since. A family of ladies, whose talents and conscientiousness had placed them high in the estimation of society as teachers, have lost all their pupils since they declared their anti-slavery opinions. The reproach in all the many similar cases that I know is, not that the ladies hold anti-slavery opinions, but that they act upon them. The incessant outcry about the retiring modesty of the sex proves the opinion of the censors to be, that fidelity to conscience is inconsistent with retiring modesty. If it be so, let the modesty succumb. It can be only a false modesty which can be thus endangered. No doubt, there were people in Rome who were scandalised at the unseemly boldness of Christian women who stood in the amphitheatre to be torn in pieces for their religion. No doubt there were many gentlemen in the British army who thought it unsuitable to the retiring delicacy of the sex that the wives and daughters of the revolutionary heroes should be revolutionary heroines. nut the event has a marvellous efficacy in modifying the ultimate sentence. The bold Christian women, the brave American wives and daughters of half a century ago are honoured, while the intrepid moralists of the present day, worthy of their grand mothers, are made the confessors and martyrs of their age.
From Martineau’s chapter-treatise on Marriage:
The institution presents a different aspect in the various parts of the country. I have spoken of the early marriages of silly children in the south and west, where, owing to the disproportion of numbers, every woman is married before she well knows how serious a matter human life is. She has an advantage which very few women elsewhere are allowed: she has her own property to manage. It would be a rare sight elsewhere to see a woman of twenty-one in her second widowhood, managing her own farm or plantation; and managing it well, because it had been in her own hands during her marriage. In Louisiana, and also in Missouri, (and probably in other States,) a woman not only has half her husband's property by right at his death, but may always be considered as possessed of half his gains during his life; having at all times power to bequeath that amount. The husband interferes much less with his wife's property in the south, even through her voluntary relinquishment of it, than is at all usual where the cases of women having property during their marriage are rare. In the southern newspapers, advertisements may at any time be seen, running thus: " Mrs. A, wife of Mr. A, will dispose of &c. &c." When Madame Lalaurie was mobbed in New Orleans, no one meddled with her husband or his possessions; as he was no more responsible for her management of her human property than anybody else. On the whole, the practice seems to be that the weakest and most ignorant women give up their property to their husbands; the husbands of such women being precisely the men most disposed to accept it: and that the strongest-minded and most conscientious women keep their property, and use their rights; the husbands of such women being precisely those who would refuse to deprive their wives of their social duties and privileges.
If this condition of the marriage law should strike any English persons as a peculiarity, it is well that they should know that it is the English law which is peculiar, and not that of Louisiana. The English alone vary from the old Saxon law, that a wife shall possess half, or a large part, of her husband's earnings or makings. It is so in Spanish, French, and Italian law; and probably in German, as the others are derived thence. Massachusetts has copied the faults of the English law, in this particular; and I never met with any lawyer, or other citizen with whom I conversed on the subject, who was not ashamed of the barbarism of the law under which a woman's property goes into her husband's hands with herself. A liberalminded lawyer of Boston told me that his advice to testators always is to leave the largest possible amount to the widow, subject to the condition of her leaving it to the children: but that it is with shame that he reflects that any woman should owe that to his professional advice which the law should have secured to her as a right. I heard a frequent expression of indignation that the wife, the friend and helper of many years, should be portioned off with a legacy, like a salaried domestic, instead of having her husband's affairs come legally, as they would naturally, into her hands. In Rhode Island, a widow is entitled to one-third of her husband's property: and, on the sale of any estate of his during his life, she is examined, in the absence of the husband, as to her will with regard to her own proportion of it. There is some of the apparatus of female independence in the country. It will be most interesting to observe to what uses it is put, whenever the restraints of education and opinion to which women are subject, shall be so far relaxed as to leave them morally free.
I have mentioned that divorce is more easily obtained in the United States than in England. In no country, I believe, are the marriage laws so iniquitous as in England, and the conjugal relation, in consequence, so impaired. Whatever maybe thought of the principles which are to enter into laws of divorce, whether it be held that pleas for divorce should be one, (as narrow interpreters of the New Testament would have it;) or two, (as the law of England habit;) or several, (as the Continental and United States' laws in many instances allow,) nobody, I believe, defends the arrangement by which, in England, divorce is obtainable only by the very rich. The barbarism of granting that as a privilege to the extremely wealthy, to which money bears no relation whatever, and in which all married persons whatever have an equal interest, needs no exposure beyond the mere statement of the fact. It will be seen at a glance how such an arrangement tends to vitiate marriage: how it offers impunity to adventurers, and encouragement to every kind of mercenary marriages: how absolute is its oppression of the injured party: and how, by vitiating marriage, it originates and aggravates licentiousness to an incalculable extent. To England alone belongs the disgrace of such a method of legislation. I believe that, while there is little to be said for the legislation of any part of the world on this head, it is nowhere so vicious as in England.
Of the American States, I believe New York approaches nearest to England in its laws of divorce. It is less rigid, in as far as that more is comprehended under the term " cruelty." The husband is supposed to be liable to cruelty from the wife, as well as the wife from the husband. There is no practical distinction made between rich and poor by the process being rendered expensive: and the cause is more easily resumable after a reconciliation of the parties. In Massachusetts, the term " cruelty" is made so comprehensive, and the mode of sustaining the plea is so considerately devised, that divorces are obtainable with peculiar ease. The natural consequence follows: such a thing is never heard o£ A long-established and very eminent lawyer of Boston told me that he had known of only one in all his experience. Thus it is wherever the law is relaxed, and, caeteris paribus, in proportion to its relaxation: for the obvious reason, that the protection offered by law to the injured party causes marriages to be entered into with fewer risks, and the conjugal relation carried on with more equality. Retribution is known to impend over violations of conjugal duty. When I was in North Carolina, the wife of a gamester there obtained a divorce without the slightest difficulty. When she had brought evidence of the danger to herself and her children,ódanger pecuniary and moral, from her husband's gambling habits, the bill passed both Houses without a dissenting voice.
It is clear that the sole business which legislation has with marriage is with the arrangement of property; to guard the reciprocal rights of the children of the marriage and the community. There is no further pretence for the interference of the law, in any way. An advance towards the recognition of the true principle of legislative interference in marriage has been made in England, in the new law, in which the agreement of marriage is made a civil contract, leaving the religious obligation to the conscience and taste of the parties. It will be probably next perceived that if the civil obligation is fulfilled, if the children of the marriage are legally and satisfactorily provided for by the parties, without the assistance of the legislature, the legislature has, in principle, nothing more to do with the matter. This principle has been acted upon in the marriage arrangements of Zurich, with the best effects upon the morals of the conjugal relation. The parties there are married by a form; and have liberty to divorce themselves without any appeal to law, on showing that they have legally provided for the children of the marriage. There was some previous alarm about the effect upon morals of the removal of such important legal restrictions: but the event justified the confidence of those who proceeded on the conviction that the laws of human affection, when not tampered with, are more sacred and binding than those of any legislature that ever sat in council. There was some levity at first, chiefly on the part of those who were suffering under the old system: but the morals of the society soon became, and have since remained, peculiarly pure.