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The Declaration of Independence and Reimagining the Role of Women

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The ideals of the Declaration of Independence were established in 1776 which was all for equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but were not entirely evident when it came to the re-imagining of a women’s role.

Abigail Adams had been unable to convince John Adams and congress to grant women more rights as they were about to shape the new national government, but it could be seen that John was not going to Remember the Ladies as he states in his response letter to Abigail, “As to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bands of Government everywhere”.

Someone may wonder why were women still complaining about rights if sixty-eight women signed off on the document? That is because they were not heard or treated with equality when the document was established because it only listed a women’s grievances and it didn’t take action into changing these ‘complaints’.

After Independence from England was declared that gave the ability to the thirteen colonies to be able to establish their own state constitutions. A woman’s rights in the Early Republic differentiated based on where they resided and the social circumstances in the region of the country. Later the U.S constitution went into effect in 1789 giving concern over individual liberties and arose the Bill of Rights, but those rights did not even pertain to women. For example, in 1756 women from Massauchussets, New York, and New Hampshire were deprived of voting because state constitutions went into effect and stated that women could not vote.

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Furthermore, the sermon known as the Application by Jonathan Edwards engaged hearers hearts and encouraged them to take action. The sermon stated “The God that holds you over the pit of hell..he looks upon you as a worthy of nothing else” and “he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes”. Possibly made the women react because it just sounds as if it would have made them relate the statement to how the founding fathers and many men viewed women.

“It then all belonged to red men..only way, to check and to stop this evil is for all the red men to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land”. This statement is from the document Tecumseh calls for Pan-Indian Resistance, 1810 and the year it was written is thirty four years after the Declaration of Independence. The native women were not included anywhere in the message because men no matter the ethnicity believed that women didn’t have a right to claim property, vote, or any right that was considered to be a man’s.

Leading into another instance and years after the declaration of independence where women in South Carolina experience occupation in 1780. Eliza Wilkinson wrote about a day where the British Army came to non-combatants houses.It was described as terrible to the last degree. The men were ruthless and overbearing. Mainly the woman dealt with this type of disrespect of getting there houses turned inside out and robbed because the men felt of higher authority over the women. All of what the women were able to do was accept the undesirable but inevitable raid. In addition to their emotional and physical damage to the women they had the audacity to believe they were being apologetic and generous when they gave the women a plate of honey from the women’s personal goods. After such unwelcome visitors, it is not surprising that the unprotected women could not eat or sleep in peace causing them a gloomy resignation of hope.

However thoughts of women’s rights had begun to grow , but they remained small in numbers and increased through the 1820s to 1840s because they began playing a greater role by participating in various reform movements. Elizabeth Cady Stanton used the most important document produced by the body of the Declaration of Independence as a template for the Declaration of Sentiments which was presented at the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York on July 1848 and inspired many women to stand up for their rights. Leading to the creation of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 to 1890 where they decided to join forces and became The National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Finally, the Declaration of Independence did not allow for a reimagining of a womens role, but it did set off a movement written by Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton on behalf of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association called the Women’s Declaration of Rights in 1876 that gained speed and power and after a seventy two year struggle gained victory in 1920, better known as the nineteenth amendment.

Bibliography

  1. Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March – 5 April 1776 [electronic edition].Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. September 2, 2019.
  2. Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 14 April 1776 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. September 2, 2019.
  3. Elizabeth Ellet, The Women of the American Revolution, Volume 1 (New York: 1819), 225-232. September 2, 2019.
  4. Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1739-1742, Harry S. Stout, ed. (Works of Jonathan Edwards Online, Vol. 22), 410-418. September 2, 2019.
  5. Samuel G. Drake, The Book of the Indians; or, the Biography and History of the Indians of North America, from its first discovery to the year 1841 (Boston: 1836), 121-122. September 2, 2019.

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