The United States started with a manifesto. You may have heard of it: The Declaration of Independence. The country started with a protest, and protest is part of the American tradition. When the women of the Seneca Falls Convention decided to write their declaration concerting the rights of Woman, they deliberately chose the Declaration of Independence as their template. The very form of their protest recalled the hope that in the United States the promise of the Declaration of Independence might apply to all who dwelt there, not just white men.
We’ve made progress since 1848 when the Declaration of Sentiments was signed by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men. But the work is not done. Even now, some of the points in the Declaration of Sentiments still stand. A common answer to feminism is to say that we’ve come a long way, and all the bad stuff is done now, and progress will come naturally. While I agree it’s good to look back and see the progress we’ve made for women’s liberation and gender equity, the work is not done. Nor has it come easily.
I’ve had a tradition for some years of reading the American Deceleration of Independence as part of my 4th of July celebration. Fireworks, BBQ, flags, big band, and of course, the manifesto that started it all. This year, I’m expanding my manifesto-reading to include the Declaration of Sentiments.
I invite you to join me in reading it today.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled. The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.