Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.
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Catharine Beecher's Domestic Economy, or
FOR THE USE OF
YOUNG LADIES AT HOME
BY MISS CATHERINE E. BEECHER.
This text comes from the 1855 edition of the book, originally published in 1841 or 1842. The publisher: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 329 and 331 Pearl Street, New York.
Based on the Library of Congress catalogue, it has been reprinted once in the 20th century (1970, Source Book Press c1841 -- apparently a facsimile of the 1st edition). It was also extensively revised about 1860 by Catharine and her sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe., and this has been reprinted by Arno Press in 1971.
Catharine, or Catherine (the name appears both ways in respectable sources) Beecher, did much to strengthen women's role in the middle and late 19th century, although she was at odds with true feminists of her time.
The early 19th century was, according to some historians at least, a kind of low water mark for women in America. Aside from modern secondary sources, Frances Trollope and Harriet Martineau speak of American women as having dismal lives in this period (Beecher, below, berates Martineau on a vulnerable aspect of her critique of women's lives in America). At least in the urban life, a good case can be made that women were losing their traditional role in an integrated family unit, as business was carried out, increasingly outside of the household.
Starting in the late 1820s, a demand for a truly equal role for women was made by Frances Wright, a character startlingly ahead of her time. It was not until ten years later that a succession of women -- many closely connected with abolitionism, began to form into a "movement". Angelina Grimke might be called the "thin end of the wedge" of the enduring woman's rights movement that began around 1840.
Meanwhile, a tendency grew, to make women the undisputed shapers of minds and morals, in the home and in the classroom, all the way to adulthood.
Catharine Beecher's life work was devoted to shaping this role for women; Domestic Economy represents the purely domestic half of the picture.
The other half was her work towards making women the primary educators of young people (once the work of young male scholars, as diverse as Emerson, Stephen A. Douglas, Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston before they entered their real life's work). Beecher promoted, and helped establish, special "normal schools" for training teachers.
Unfortunately, she also busied herself combatting other views of progress for women -- i.e. as in her two years debate in print with Angelina Grimke.
The following, from Notable American Women, 1607-1950 (Cambridge, 1971) Beecher's view, with its strengths and flaws, of woman's role:
In all her writings, she sought to replace the travesties of womanhood -- whether the "nervous, sickly, and miserable" housewife or the "fainting, weeping, vapid, pretty plaything" -- with an energetic and benevolent figure who would joyfully accept as a sacred vocation the opportunity to implant "durable and holy impressions" upon the "immortal minds" placed in her care. Miss Beecher portrayed women as the saviors of society, like Christ in that their power sprang from humility and sacrifice. But, though she pressed the sacrificial role upon her feminine readers, she also ... tempted them with power, envisioning "a 'Pink and White Tyranny' more stringent than any earthly thralldom."
Catharine Beecher had an enormous influence in moving American women away from the marginal role the early 19th century, and into the central, though circumscribed role of the middle and late 19th century. An excellent portrait of her life and work is Kathryn Kish Sklar, Catharine Beecher, A Study in American Domesticity (W.W. Norton, 1973).
Chapter I of Domestic Economy, "The Peculiar Responsibilities of American Women", shows the ideological drive behind her work. In an age when grammars and spellers were apt to have fervent ideological introductions, this chapter is still extraordinary.
Beecher begins by putting a remarkable "spin" on the doctrine that 'all men are created equal', and "equally entitled to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'". Perhaps it is a peculiarly New England point of view, that it
"can readily be seen, that this is only another mode of [stating, as per] the Great Ruler of the Universe ...'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;' and 'Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,' [i.e. we should] regard the happiness of others, as of the same value as his own; and [disallow] any institution ... which secures advantages to one class, by sacrificing the interests of another.
Beecher had already, by this time, clashed with "natural rights" feminists, who would extend "all men" to include women. She soon seques into:
But, in order that each individual may pursue and secure the highest degree of happiness within his reach, unimpeded by the selfish interests of others, a system of laws must be established, which sustain certain relations and dependencies in social and civil life. What these relations and their attending obligations shall be, are to be determined, not with reference to the wishes and interests of a few, but solely with reference to the general good of all; ...
For this purpose,
it is needful that certain relations be sustained, which involve the duties
of subordination. There must be the magistrate and the subject, one of
whom is the superior, and the other the inferior. There must be the relations
of husband and wife, parent and child, teacher and pupil, employer and
But who shall take the higher,
and who the subordinate, stations in social and civil life? ...
In most other cases, in a truly democratic state, each individual is allowed to choose for himself, who shall take the position of his superior. No woman is forced to obey any husband but the one she chooses for herself; nor is she obliged to take a husband, if she prefers to remain single ...
Each ... has equal power ... to decide who shall be his superior as a ruler. The weakest, the poorest, the most illiterate [with] the richest the most learned. and the most exalted.
[My take on this: The glory of the American system is that, though
bound to be subordinate, we can all choose our masters.]
... In this Country, it is established, both by opinion and by practice, that woman has an equal interest in all social and civil concerns; and that no domestic, civil, or political, institution, is right, which sacrifices her interest to promote that of the other sex. But in order to secure her the more firmly in all these privileges, it is decided, that, in the domestic relation, she take a subordinate station, and that, in civil and political concerns, her interests be untrusted to the other sex, without her taking any part in voting, or in making and administering laws.
This is followed by a long quote from Alexis de Tocqueville to the effect that "as Nature has appointed such wide differences between the physical and moral constitutions of man and woman, her manifest design was, to give a distinct employment to their various faculties", and that "In no country has such constant care been taken, as in America, to trace two clearly distinct lines of action for the two sexes, and to make them keep pace one with the other, but in two pathways which are always different."
After quoting Tocqueville, she glorifies the role of women, ordained by the Disposer of events, while praising the Frenchman's wisdom in seeing it (apparently, it was the United States, not France that stood for "viva la difference").
And now for the millennium: Beecher begins moving towards it by finally addressing the imperfections of her place and era "with reference to women":
whatever remnants of a barbarous or aristocratic age may remain in our civil institutions, in reference to the interests of women, it is only because they are ignorant of them, or do not use their influence to have them rectified; for it is very certain that there is nothing reasonable, which American women would unite in asking, that would not readily be bestowed.
There is nothing reasonable, which American women would unite in asking, that would not readily be bestowed!
Be reasonable, and unite, and we will sweep all before us ... but ask, don't demand.
And now, beginning with another long quote from Tocqueville, we get a real taste of the millennium; the crescendo of history, which the Disposer of events is ushering in. She quotes her good authority, who tells that signs of its approach are everywhere; that "all have been blind instruments in the hands of God"; i.e. everyone, whether for or against democracy, has been moved by God to forward it this movement "possesses all the characteristics of a Divine decree".
Tocqueville sees an inexorable movement that has been going on for centuries, which is "already accomplished, or on the eve of its accomplishment"; in America, "its development has been the most peaceful and the most complete... in America I saw more than America; I sought the image of democracy itself ... to learn what we have to fear, or to hope, from its progress.
To Catharine Beecher, this is all proof that "the sublime ... anticipations [of] of the religious world, have become so far developed, the philosophers and statesmen are perceiving the signs, and are predicting the approach, of the same grand consummation." Even these generally impious and cynical folks see it coming, whether they really recognize what it is or not,
"There is a day advancing, 'by seers predicted, and by poets sung,' when the curse of selfishness shall be removed: when 'scenes surpassing fable, and yet true,' shall be realized; when all nations shall rejoice and be made blessed, under those benevolent influences, which the Messiah came to establish on earth."
"And this is the Country [with] the grand, the responsible privilege, of exhibiting to the world, the beneficent influences of Christianity, ... already the light is streaming into the dark prisonhouse of despotic lands, while startled kings and sages, philosophers and statesmen, ... are studying our institutions, scrutinizing our experience, and watching for our mistakes ..."
What will we do with this responsibility? What, specifically about "the
part to be enacted by American women"?
The success of democratic institutions, ... depends upon the intellectual and moral character of the ... people. If they are intelligent and virtuous, democracy is a blessing; but if they are ignorant and wicked, it is only a curse ... the moral and intellectual character of the young is committed mainly to the female hand. The mother forms the character of the future man; ... the wife sways the heart, ... Let the women of a country be made virtuous and intelligent, and the men will certainly be the same. The proper education of a man decides the welfare of an individual; but educate a woman, and the interests of a whole family are secured.
Educate a woman, and the interests of a whole family are secured!
Here is Catharine Beecher's declared mission, and the "success of democratic institutions" hangs in the balance.
... to American women ... is committed the exalted privilege ... to renovate degraded man, and "clothe all climes with beauty."
and shame on her who would misuse this opportunity. There is a job to do, and
"it is by forming a habit of regarding the apparently insignificant efforts of each isolated laborer, ... as indispensable [to the] grand result, that the minds of all ... can be invigorated and cheered. The woman, who is rearing a family of children; the woman, who labors in the schoolroom; the woman, who, in her retired chamber, earns, with her needle, the mite, ...; even the humble domestic, whose example and influence may be moulding and forming young minds, while her faithful services sustain a prosperous domestic state ... are agents in accomplishing the greatest work that ever was committed to human responsibility."
and finally, as if to make Daniel Webster look tame,
It is the building of a glorious temple, whose base shall be coextensive with the bounds of the earth, whose summit shall pierce the skies, whose splendor shall beam on all lands; and those who hew the lowliest stone, as much as those who carve the highest capital, will be equally honored, when its topstone shall be laid, with new rejoicings of the morning stars, and shoutings of the sons of God.
So much for dull Home Economics! Of course this isn't just any Home Economics teacher, but the inventor of Home Economics.
After putting the field in its glorious context, she gets down to the business of conveying all the practical knowledge that Woman needs.
There are diagrams and descriptions of the skeletal, circulatory, muscular, and digestive systems; the anatomy of skin, and its relation to clothing.
There is a chapter on "The Construction of Houses", with 21 floor plans and other figures, and much discussion of what is practical, and why, and what is merely the fashion. In an age when "indoor plumbing" was unheard of, there were instructions on how to connect your pump to a reservoir, and from it, run pipes into the house.
And besides the knowledge to direct her husband in the building of houses and privies, there was much knowledge for the woman herself to exercise, such as what to do if her child swallows poison; how to remove stains using "beefs gall" gotten from the butcher -- presumably from cows' gall bladders; and how to produce a pink, olive, salmon color, or buff dye, using leaves, flowers, and chemicals gotten from the pharmacy.
THERE are some reasons, why American women should feel an interest in
the support of the democratic institutions of their Country, which it is
important that they should consider. The great maxim, which is the basis
of all our civil and political institutions, is, that "all men are
created equal," and that they are equally entitled to "life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
But it can readily be seen,
that this is only another mode of expressing the fundamental principle
which the Great Ruler of the Universe has established, as the law of His
eternal government. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;"
and "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so
to them," are the Scripture forms, by which the Supreme Lawgiver requires
that each individual of our race shall regard the happiness of others,
as of the same value as his own; and which forbid any institution, in private
or civil life, which secures advantages to one class, by sacrificing the
interests of another.
The principles of democracy, then, are identical with the principles
But, in order that
each individual may pursue and secure the highest degree of happiness within
his reach, unimpeded by the selfish interests of others, a system of laws
must be established, which sustain certain relations and dependencies in
social and civil life. What these relations and their attending obligations
shall be, are to be determined, not with reference to the wishes and interests
of a few, but solely with reference to the general good of all; so that
each individual shall have his own interest, as well as the public benefit,
secured by them.
purpose, it is needful that certain relations be sustained, which involve
the duties of subordination. There must be the magistrate and the subject,
one of whom is the superior, and the other the inferior. There must be
the relations of husband and wife, parent and child, teacher and pupil,
employer and employed, each involving the relative duties of subordination.
The superior, in certain particulars, is to direct, and the inferior is
to yield obedience. Society could never go forward, harmoniously, nor could
any craft or profession be successfully pursued, unless these superior
and subordinate relations be instituted and sustained.
But who shall take the
higher, and who the subordinate, stations in social and civil life? This
matter, in the case of parents and children, is decided by the Creator.
He has given children to the control of parents, as their superiors, and
to them they remain subordinate, to a certain age, or so long as they are
members of their household. And parents can delegate such a portion of
their authority to teachers and employers, as the interests of their children
In most other
cases, in a truly democratic state, each individual is allowed to choose
for himself, who shall take the position of his superior. No woman is forced
to obey any husband but the one she chooses for herself; nor is she obliged
to take a husband, if she prefers to remain single. So every domestic,
and every artisan or laborer, after passing from parental control, can
choose the employer to whom he is to accord obedience, or, if he prefers
to relinquish certain advantages, he can remain without taking a subordinate
place to any employer.
also, has equal power with every other to decide who shall be his superior
as a ruler. The weakest, the poorest, the most illiterate, has the same
opportunity to determine this question, as the richest the most learned.
and the most exalted.
And the various privileges that wealth secures, are equally open to
all classes. Every man may aim at riches, unimpeded by any law or institution
which secures peculiar privileges to a favored class, at the expense of
another. Every law, and every institution, is tested by examining whether
it secures equal advantages to all; and, if the people become convinced
that any regulation sacrifices the good of the majority to the interests
of the smaller number, they have power to abolish it.
The institutions of monarchical and aristocratic nations are based on
precisely opposite principles. They secure, to certain small and favored
classes, advantages, which can be maintained, only by sacrificing the interests
of the great mass of the people. Thus, the throne and aristocracy of England
are supported by laws and customs, which burden the lower classes with
taxes, so enormous, as to deprive them of all the luxuries, and of most
of the comforts, of life. Poor dwellings, scanty food, unhealthy employments,
excessive labor, and en tire destitution of the means and time for education,
are appointed for the lower classes, that a few may live in palaces, and
riot in every indulgence.
of democratic institutions, in reference to the rights and interests of
the female sex, have been fully developed in the United States; and it
is in this aspect, that the subject is one of peculiar interest to American
women. In this Country, it is established, both by opinion and by practice,
that woman has an equal interest in all social and civil concerns; and
that no domestic, civil, or political, institution, is right, which sacrifices
her interest to promote that of the other sex. But in order to secure her
the more firmly in all these privileges, it is decided, that, in the domestic
relation, she take a subordinate station, and that, in civil and political
concerns, her interests be untrusted to the other sex, without her taking
any part in voting, or in making and administering laws The result of this
order of things has been fairly tested. and is thus portrayed by M. De
Tocqueville, a writer, who. for intelligence, fidelity, and ability, ranks
second to none.
"There are people in Europe, who confounding together the different
characteristics of the sexes, would make of man and woman, beings not only
equal, but alike. They would give to both the same functions, impose on
both the same duties, and grant to both the same rights. They would mix
them in all things,- their business, their occupations, their pleasures.
It may readily be conceived, that, by thus attempting to make one
sex equal to the other, both are degraded; and, from so preposterous a
medley of the works of Nature, nothing could ever result, but weak men
and disorderly women.
"It is not thus that the Americans understand the species of democratic
equality, which may be established between the sexes. They admit, that,
as Nature has
appointed such wide differences between the physical and moral constitutions
of man and woman, her manifest design was, to give a distinct employment
to their various faculties; and they hold, that improvement does not consist
in making beings so dissimilar do pretty nearly the same things, but in
getting each of them to fulfil their respective tasks, in the best possible
manner. The Americans have applied to the sexes the great principle of
political economy, which governs the manufactories of our age, by carefully
dividing the duties of man from those of woman, in order that the great
work of society may be the better carried on.
no country has such constant care been taken, as in America, to trace two
clearly distinct lines of action for the two sexes, and to make them keep
pace one with the other, but in two pathways which are always different.
American women never manage the outward concerns of the family, or conduct
a business, or take a part in political life; nor are they, on the other
hand, ever compelled to perform the rough labor of the fields, or to make
any of those laborious exertions, which demand the exertion of physical
strength. No families are so poor, as to form an exception to this rule.
If on the one hand, an American woman cannot escape from the quiet circle
of domestic employments, on the other hand, she is never forced to go beyond
it. Hence it is, that the women of America, who often exhibit a masculine
strength of understanding, and a manly energy, generally preserve great
delicacy of personal appearance, and always retain the manners of women,
although they sometimes show that they have the hearts and minds of men.
"Nor have the Americans ever supposed, that one consequence of
democratic principles, is, the subversion of marital power, or the confusion
of the natural authorities in families. They hold, that every association
must have a head, in order to accomplish its object; and that the natural
head of the conjugal association is man. They do not, therefore, deny him
the right of directing his partner; and they maintain, that, in the smaller
association of husband and wife, as well as in the great social community,
the object of democracy is, to regulate and legalize the powers which are
necessary, not to subvert all power.
"This opinion is not peculiar to one sex, and contested by the
other. I never observed, that the women of America considered conjugal
authority as a fortunate usurpation of their rights, nor that they thought
themselves degraded by submitting to it. It appears to me, on the contrary,
that they attach a sort of pride to the voluntary surrender of their own
will, and make it their boast to bend themselves to the yoke, not to shake
it off. Such, at least, is the feeling expressed by the most virtuous of
their sex; the others are silent; and in the United States it is not the
practice for a guilty wife to clamor for the rights of woman, while she
is trampling on her holiest duties."
"Although the travellers, who have visited North America, differ
on a great number of points, they agree in remarking, that morals are far
more strict, there, than elsewhere. *
((* [Beecher's footnote:] Miss Martineau is a singular exception to this remark. After receiving unexampled hospitalities and kindnesses she gives the following picture of her entertainers. Having in other places spoken of the American woman as having "her intellect confined," and "her morals crushed," and as deficient in education,because she has "none of the objects in life for which an enlarged education is considered requisite," she says,-"It is assumed, in America, particularly In New England, that the morals of society there are peculiarly pure. I am grieved to doubt the fact; but I do doubt it."
"The AuldRobinGray story
((I'd appreciate any information anyone may have on the "Auld-Robin-Gray story" -- Hal Morris))
is a frequentlyenacted tragedy here, and one of the worst symptoms that struck me, was, that there was usually a demand upon my sympathy in such cases." -- "The unavoidable consequence of such a mode of marrying, is, that the sanctity of marriage is impaired, and that vice succeeds. There are sad tales in country villages, here and there, that attest this, and yet more in towns, in a rank of society where such things are seldom or never heard of in England." -- "I unavoidably knew of more cases of lapse in highly respectable families in one State, than ever came to my knowledge at home; and they were got over with a disgrace far more temporary and superficial than they could have been visited with in England." -- "The vacuity of mind of many women, is, I conclude, the cause of a vice, which it is painful to allude to, but which cannot honestly be passed over.-It is no secret on the spot, that the habit of intemperance is not infrequent among women of station and education in the most enlightened parts of the Country. I witnessed some instances and heard of more. It does not seem to me to be regarded with all the dismay which such a symptom ought to excite. To the stranger, a novelty so horrible, a spectacle so fearful, suggests wide and deep subjects of investigation."
It is not possible for language to give representations
more false in every item. In evidence of this, the writer would mention,
that within the last few years, she has travelled almost the entire route
taken by Miss Martineau, except the lower tier of the Southern States;
and, though not meeting the same individuals, has mingled in the very same
circles. Moreover, she has resided from several months to several
years in eight of the different Northern and Western States, and
spent several weeks at a time in five other States. She has also had pupils
from every State in the Union, but two, and has visited extensively at
their houses. But in her whole life, and in all these different positions,
the writer has never, to her knowledge, seen even one woman, of
the classes with which she has associated, who had lapsed in the manner
indicated by Miss Martineau, nor does she believe that such a woman could
find admission in such circles any where in the Country. As to intemperate
women, five cases are all of whom the writer has ever heard, in
such circles, and two of these many believed to be unwarrantably suspected.
After following in Miss Martineneau's track, and discovering all the falsehood,
twaddle, gossip, old saws, and almanac stories, which have been strung
together in her books, no charitable mode of accounting for the medley
remains, but to suppose her the pitiable dupe of that love of hoaxing so
often found in our Country.
Again, Miss Martineau says, "We passed an unshaded
meadow, where the grass had caught fire, every day, at eleven
o'clock, the preceding Summer. This demonstrates the necessity of shade"!
A woman with so little common sense, as to swallow such an absurdity for
truth and then tack to it such an astute deduction, must be a tempting
subject for the above mentioned mischievous propensity.))
[The quote from De Tocqueville continues:]
...It is evident that, on this point, the Americans are very superior to their progenitors, the English."
"In England, as in all other Countries of Europe, public malice
is constantly attacking the frailties of women. Philosophers and statesmen
are heard to deplore, that morals are not sufficiently strict; and the
literary productions of the Country constantly lead one to suppose so.
In America, all books, novels not excepted, suppose women to be chaste;
and no one thinks of relating affairs of gallantry."
"It has often been remarked, that, in Europe, a certain degree
of contempt lurks, even in the flattery which men lavish upon women. Although
a European frequently affects to be the slave of woman, it may be seen,
that he never sincerely thinks her his equal. In the United States, men
seldom compliment women, but they daily show how much they esteem them.
They constantly display an entire confidence in the understanding of a
wife, and a profound respect for her freedom. They have decided that her
mind is just as fitted as that of a man to discover the plain truth, and
her heart as firm to embrace it, and they have never sought to place her
virtue, any more than his, under the shelter of prejudice, ignorance, and
"It would seem, that in Europe, where man so easily submits to
the despotic sway of woman, they are nevertheless curtailed of some of
the greatest qualities of the human species, and considered as seductive,
but imperfect beings, and (what may well provoke astonishment) women ultimately
look upon themselves in the same light, and almost consider it as a privilege
that they are entitled to show themselves futile, feeble, and timid. The
women of America claim no such privileges.
"It is true, that the Americans rarely lavish upon women those
eager attentions which are commonly paid them in Europe. But their conduct
to women always implies, that they suppose them to be virtuous and refined;
and such is the respect entertained for the moral freedom of the sex, that,
in the presence of a woman, the most guarded language is used, lest her
ear should be offended by an expression. In America, a young unmarried
woman may, alone, and without fear, undertake a long journey."
"Thus the Americans do not think that man and woman have either
the duty, or the right, to perform the same offices, but they show an equal
regard for both their respective parts; and, though their lot is different,
they consider both of them, as beings of equal value. They do not give
to the courage of woman the same form, or the same direction, as to that
of man; but they never doubt her courage; and if they hold that man and
his partner ought not always to exercise their intellect and understanding
in the same manner they at least believe the understanding of the one to
be as sound as that of the other, and her intellect to be as clear. Thus,
then, while they have allowed the social inferiority of woman to subsist,
they have done all they could to raise her, morally and intellectually,
to the level of man; and, in this respect, they appear to me to have excellently
understood the true principle of democratic improvement.
"As for myself, I do not hesitate to avow, that, although the women
of the United States are confined within the narrow circle of domestic
life, and their situation is, in some respects, one of extreme dependence,
I have nowhere seen women occupying a loftier position; and if I were asked,
now I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so
many important things done by the Americans, to what the singular prosperity
and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should
reply, -- to the superiority of their women."
This testimony of a foreigner, who has had abundant opportunities of
making a comparison. is sanctioned by the assent of all candid and intelligent
men, who have enjoyed similar opportunities.
It appears then, that it is in America, alone, that women are raised
to an equality with the other sex and that, both in theory and practice,
their interests are regarded as of equal value. They are made subordinate
in station, only where a regard to their best interests demands it, while,
as if in compensation for this, by custom and courtesy, they are always
treated as superiors. Universally, in this Country, through every class
of society, precedence is given to woman, in all the comforts, conveniences,
and courtesies, of life.
In civil and political affairs, American women take no interest or concern,
except so far as they sympathize with their family and personal friends;
but in all cases, in which they do feel a concern, their opinions and feelings
have a consideration, equal, or even superior, to that of the other sex.
In matters pertaining to the education of their children, in the selection
and support of a clergyman, in all benevolent enterprises, and in all questions
relating to morals or manners, they have a superior influence. In such
concerns, it would be impossible to carry a point, contrary to their judgment
and feelings; while an enterprise, sustained by them, will seldom fail
If those who are
bewailing themselves over the fancied wrongs and injuries of women in this
Nation, could only see things as they are, they would know, that, whatever
remnants of a barbarous or aristocratic age may remain in our civil institutions,
in reference to the interests of women, it is only because they are ignorant
of them, or do not use their influence to have them rectified; for it is
very certain that there is nothing reasonable, which American women would
unite in asking, that would not readily be bestowed.
The preceding remarks, then, illustrate the position that the democratic
institutions of this Country are in reality no other than the principles
of Christianity carried into operation, and that they tend to place woman
in her true position in society, as having equal rights with the other
sex; and that, in fact, they have secured to American women a lofty and
fortunate position, which, as yet, has been attained by the women of no
There is another topic, presented in the work of the above author, which
demands the profound attention of American women.
The following is taken from that part of the Introduction to the work,
illustrating the position, that, for ages, there has been a constant progress,
in all civilized nations, towards the democratic equality attained in this
[Tocqueville, again:] "The various occurrences of national existence
have every where turned to the advantage of democracy; all men have aided
it by their exertions; those who have intentionally labored in its cause,
and those who have served it unwittingly; those who have fought for it,
and those who have declared themselves its opponents, have all been driven
along in the same track, have all labored to one end;" "all
have been blind instruments in the hands of God."
"The gradual development of the equality of conditions, is, therefore,
a Providential fact; and it possesses
all the characteristics of a Divine decree: it is universal, it is durable,
it constantly eludes all human interference, and all events, as well as
all men, contribute to its progress."
"The whole book, which is here offered to the public, has been
written under the impression of a kind of religious dread, produced in
the author's mind, by the contemplation of so irresistible a revolution,
which has advanced for centuries, in spite of such amazing obstacles, and
which is still proceeding in the midst of the ruins it has made.
"It is not necessary that God Himself should speak, in order to
disclose to us the unquestionable signs of His will. We can discern them
in the habitual course of Nature, and in the invariable tendency of events."
"If the men of our time were led, by attentive observation, and
by sincere reflection, to acknowledge that the gradual and progressive
development of social equality is at once the past and future of their
history, this solitary truth would confer the sacred character of a Divine
decree upon the change. To attempt to check democracy, would be, in that
case, to resist the will of God; and the nations would then be constrained
to make the best of the social lot awarded to them by Providence."
"It is not, then, merely to satisfy a legitimate curiosity, that
I have examined America; my wish has been to find instruction by which
we may ourselves profit." "I have not even affected to discuss
whether the social revolution, which I believe to be irresistible, is advantageous
or prejudicial to mankind. I have acknowledged this revolution, as a fact
or on the eve of its accomplishment; and I have selected the nation, from
among those which have undergone it, in which its development has been
the most peaceful and the most complete, in order to discern its natural
consequences, and, if it be possible, to distinguish the means by which
it may be rendered profitable. I confess, that in America I saw more than
America; I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations,
its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what
we have to fear, or to hope, from its progress."
It thus appears, that the
sublime and elevating anticipations which have filled the mind and heart
of the religious world, have become so far developed, the philosophers
and statesmen are perceiving the signs, and are predicting the approach,
of the same grand consummation. There
is a day advancing, "by seers predicted, and by poets sung,"
when the curse of selfishness shall be removed: when "scenes surpassing
fable, and yet true," shall be realized; when all nations shall rejoice
and be made blessed, under those benevolent influences, which the Messiah
came to establish on earth.
And this is the Country, which
the Disposer of events designs shall go
forth as the cynosure of nations, to guide them to the light and blessedness
of that day. To us is committed the grand, the responsible privilege, of
exhibiting to the world, the beneficent influences of Christianity, when
carried into every social, civil, and political institution; and, though
we have, as yet, made such imperfect advances, already the light is streaming
into the dark prisonhouse of despotic lands, while startled kings
and sages, philosophers and statesmen, are watching us with that interest,
which a career so illustrious, and so involving their own destiny, is calculated
to excite. They are studying our institutions, scrutinizing our experience,
and watching for our mistakes, that they may learn whether "a social
revolution, so irresistible, be advantageous or prejudicial to mankind."
There are persons, who regard these interesting truths merely as food
for national vanity; but every reflecting and Christian mind, must consider
it as an occasion for solemn and anxious reflection. Are we, then, a spectacle
to the world? Has the Eternal Lawgiver appointed us to work out a problem,
involving the destiny of the whole earth? Are such momentous interests
to be advanced or retarded, just in proportion as we are faithful to our
high trust) "What manner of persons, then, ought we to be," in
attempting to sustain so solemn, so glorious a responsibility?
part to be enacted by American women, in this great moral enterprise, is
the point to which special attention should here be directed.
The success of
democratic institutions, as is conceded by all, depends upon the intellectual
and moral character of the mass of the people. If they are intelligent
and virtuous, democracy is a blessing; but if they are ignorant and wicked,
it is only a curse and as much more dreadful than any other form of civil
government as a thousand tyrants are more to be dreaded than one. It is
equally conceded, that the formation; of the moral and intellectual character
of the young is committed mainly to the female hand. The mother forms the
character of the future man; the sister bends the fibres that are hereafter
to be the forest tree; the wife sways the heart, whose energies may turn
for good or for evil the destinies of a nation. Let the women of a country
be made virtuous and intelligent, and the men will certainly be the same.
The proper education of a man decides the welfare of an individual; but
educate a woman, and the interests of a whole family are secured.
If this be so, as none will deny, then to
American women, more than to any others on earth, is committed the exalted
privilege of extending over the world those blessed influences which are
to renovate degraded man, and "clothe all climes with beauty."
No American woman, then, has any occasion for feeling that hers is an
humble or insignificant lot. The value of what an individual accomplishes,
is to be estimated by the importance of the enterprise achieved, and not
by the particular position of the laborer. The drops of heaven which freshen
the earth, are each of equal value, whether they fall in the lowland meadow,
or the princely parterre. The builders of a temple are of equal importance,
whether they labor on the foundations, or toil upon the dome.
Thus, also, with those labors which are to be made effectual in the regeneration of the Earth. And it is by forming a habit of regarding the apparently insignificant efforts of each isolated laborer, in a comprehensive manner, as indispensable portions of a grand result, that the minds of all, however humble their sphere of service, can be invigorated and cheered. The woman, who is rearing a family of children; the woman, who labors in the schoolroom; the woman, who, in her retired chamber, earns, with her needle, the mite, which contributes to the intellectual and moral elevation of her Country; even the humble domestic, whose example and influence may be moulding and forming young minds, while her faithful services sustain a prosperous domestic state;--each and all may be animated by the consciousness that they are agents in accomplishing the greatest work that ever was committed to human responsibility. It is the building of a glorious temple, whose base shall be coextensive with the bounds of the earth, whose summit shall pierce the skies, whose splendor shall beam on all lands; and those who hew the lowliest stone, as much as those who carve the highest capital, will be equally honored, when its topstone shall be laid, with new rejoicings of the morning stars, and shoutings of the sons of God.You can support this site at no cost if you make an Amazon purchase using this link to get to Amazon: Thanks