Document 7: Henry B. Blackwell, “The Lesson of Colorado,” Woman’s Journal, 8 (20 October 1877), p. 332.
Henry B. Blackwell, husband of Lucy Stone and one of the founders of the American Woman Suffrage Association, with which the Colorado Woman Suffrage Association affiliated, was a leader, strategist, and publicist for the woman suffrage movement.
Here he assessed what went wrong with Colorado’s 1877 referendum campaign, making connections with both the struggle for Black male suffrage and with the failed 1867 campaign in Kansas for both Black and woman suffrage. Blackwell pinpointed the role of political parties, specifically the Republican Party, as the deciding factor.
THE LESSON OF COLORADO. ______
The defeat of the Woman Suffrage Constitutional Amendment[A] in Colorado, after a vigorous and effective campaign, in spite of the personal sympathy and support of the most respected leaders of both parties, and in spite of the votes of the more intelligent portion of the community, is a repetition of our experience in the Kansas Campaign of 1867. Then, as now, the politicians, as a class, sat quietly upon the fence and looked on, until the tickets had to be printed. Then, as now, they quietly manipulated the printing and distribution of the tickets against Woman Suffrage. This fact alone was fatal.
No one who is not familiar with the practical working of a printed ballot, knows the power of the political machinery, and the practical impossibility of carrying any measure, which has not a party behind it[B]. We are very apt to over-rate the political intelligence of the average voter. But the fact is, that most men give very little thought to public questions. They glance hastily over the newspapers from day to day, and derive general impressions from what they see or hear. These impressions are largely colored by their party bias. No campaign, however thorough, gets down very deep into the great pre-occupied masses of society. The more fundamental the question, the more slowly it impresses the popular consciousness, and the greater the stolidity of the vis inertiae, with which it has to contend. Old prejudices create a habit of mind which is a sort of instinct. To overcome this by a sudden act of independent thinking is, to most men, impossible.
The difficulty in overcoming the fixed habit of masculine supremacy, can only be overcome by the existence of candidates whose personal success depends upon doing so. The great majority of voters are indifferent. But, if compelled to take sides, they are hostile to every innovation. Now when the political managers of both parties take pains to place in the hands of every voter, a ticket printed with the words “Woman Suffrage not approved,” as was done to my knowledge in a number of counties in Colorado, nine voters out of ten do not stop even to read it. They simply ascertain whether the ticket emanates from the right source. Is it “regular?” Does it have the party endorsement? If so, all right. Possibly some personal dislike or preference may lead a voter, more independent than most, to scratch off certain names and to substitute certain others, but even this is an exceptional case. When, therefore, we have a question of principle like Woman Suffrage, upon whose success neither party has staked the personal fortunes of its candidates, an open endorsement of which is avoided by the candidates of both parties for fear it may cost them votes-a question too, which is regarded with distrust by the political “workers,” because it is likely to unsettle the methods of manipulation with which they are familiar-the whole indifferent vote-a majority-is swung solid against us. This was the case in Kansas, in 1867; and again in Colorado, in 1877. By the way in which the tickets were printed and distributed, we were defeated in advance.
Instead, therefore, of feeling surprised at our having only received one-third the votes of Kansas ten years ago, we were amazed at our having had so many. Instead of feeling disappointed if we prove to have had thirty-five or forty per cent of the votes cast in Colorado, we shall regard it as a wonderful triumph to have obtained so many. It was largely due to the fact that women went to the polls. Nobody who remembers the crushing defeat of Negro Suffrage, in every Northern State where the question was ever submitted directly to the voters--in Connecticut, in Michigan, in Kansas, and in Minnesota--even with the Republican party behind it--can expect to succeed without any party support at all. In order to carry Negro Suffrage[C], the vote of Congress had to be coerced by the party lash, and then ratified by a majority of the State Legislatures by a strictly party vote.
To sum up the situation in a sentence: Woman Suffrage can never be carried by a popular vote, without a political party behind it. Let this fact justify those of us who have clung to the Republican party of Massachusetts, until our self-respect has obliged us to revolt. Let our friend Oliver Johnson tell us how the colored men could ever have been made voters, without a party organization, driven by its political necessities, forcing it upon its own reluctant members by every agency of press, pulpit, and lobby.
In Massachusetts and Maine, the Suffragists have one great advantage over every other State. Our Constitutions do not forbid women to vote, except in regard to State officers. A mere change in our election law would suffice to give women equal suffrage in town meetings and municipal elections. Once present in these, the women will have political power to secure Suffrage, by Constitutional Amendment, for State officers also. Municipal Suffrage is our entering wedge, and to get this we must either secure one of the two great political parties, or form a separate party of our own.
A. Blackwell erred here: it was a popular referendum not a constitutional amendment in Colorado.
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B. Before the 1890s, political parties--not the government--printed the ballots and supervised voting during elections, and ballots were cast in public, with party officials casting a watchful eye over the proceedings.
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C. Blackwell referred to the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870.
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