If you know the history of the 19th Amendment, you will notice a peculiar omission from the statements issued by various Democrats celebrating the 100th anniversary of its passage by Congress. Elizabeth Warren, for example, tweeted: “People always say that big change is impossible. That’s what they told the suffragettes — but they got organized, persisted, & 100 years ago today, the Senate passed the 19th Amendment to give women the right to vote.” What Warren conveniently forgets is that the people who said it was “impossible” were Democrats. Her party blocked passage of the amendment from 1878, when it was introduced by the Republicans, until the latter won such huge majorities in the 1918 midterms that the Democrats were no longer able to deny women justice.
Warren and the rest of today’s Democrats, knowing that our government education system has long since given up teaching history have little fear that the public will realize that the GOP’s support of women’s suffrage goes back to its founding in 1854. Nor are they worried that the “news” media or the various organizations purporting to support women’s rights will let the cat out of the bag. Indeed, much of the media has tried to reframe the fight for women’s suffrage in terms of racism. The Washington Post, for example, ran an article titled: “How racism almost killed women’s right to vote.” The piece all too predictably attempts to blame Democratic resistance on the southern members of their party.
The reality is that most Democrats were against the 19th Amendment, including President Woodrow Wilson — who was so reviled by the suffragists that they routinely referred to him as “Kaiser Wilson.” What really delayed Congress from passing the amendment was a forty-year legislative war in which the Democrats did their level best to keep women out of the voting booth. That war began in 1878, when a California Republican named A.A. Sargent introduced the 19th Amendment only to see it voted down by a Democrat-controlled Congress. It finally ended four decades later, when the GOP won landslide victories in the House and the Senate, giving them what we now call a “super-majority.”
One of the weirdest events in the long congressional war over women’s suffrage involved Utah. In 1870, 50 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, Utah passed a suffrage bill recognizing a woman’s right to vote. This was celebrated by congressional opponents of polygamy, which was practiced by some wealthy Mormons. The assumption was that Utah’s women would deploy their votes to end “the abomination of bigamy.” Ironically, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of polygamy. Congress then passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1882, which disfranchised Utah’s women while also violating the First Amendment by outlawing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Meanwhile, the Republicans continued to introduce the 19th Amendment in Congress every year, but the Democrats were able to keep it bottled up in various committees for another decade before allowing either chamber to vote on it. In 1887 it finally reached the floor of the Senate. Once again, however, it was defeated by the Democratic majority. After this setback, advocates of women’s suffrage opted to put pressure on Congress by convincing various state legislatures to pass bills giving women the vote. This met with some success. By the turn of the century a variety of Republican-controlled states, including Wyoming, Colorado, and Idaho, had granted women suffrage. During the first 10 years of the new century, several other states gave women the vote, including Washington and California.
Congress, however, didn’t deign to vote on the issue again until 1914, when it was once again defeated by Senate Democrats. It was subsequently brought up for a vote in January of 1915 in the House, where it also went down. Nonetheless, the Republicans continued to push. The big break for 19th Amendment came when President Wilson, being a typical Democrat, violated his most solemn campaign promise. Having fervently pledged to keep the United States out of the European conflict that had been raging since 1914, he nonetheless decided to enter the war. This set the stage for the 1918 midterm elections in which voter outrage swept the Republicans into power. This finally placed the GOP in a position to pass the 19th Amendment without the votes of the still intransigent Democratic opposition.
In May of 1919, Republican James R. Mann reintroduced the 19th Amendment in the House and it finally passed. The Republicans voted in favor of the amendment 200-14. These 200 GOP votes constituted a majority, so some Democrats reluctantly faced reality. Nonetheless, 40 percent of the much-diminished Democratic caucus still voted, “Nay.” Shortly thereafter a now Republican-controlled Senate also passed it, clearing the way for ratification by the states. But the Democratic resistance was by no means dead. They did their level best to prevent the amendment from being ratified but failed: “When the Amendment was submitted to the states, 26 of the 36 states that ratified it had Republican legislatures. Of the nine states that voted against ratification, eight were Democratic.”
By this point, President Wilson had finally faced the reality that women would inevitably get the vote and reversed his opposition. Indeed, he staged a signing ceremony despite the inconvenient fact that the amendment required no presidential signature. Obviously, today’s Democrats desperately hope that most women voters don’t know this story, and are counting on the media and our government education system to prevent it from being told. They know that, if the truth about the roles each party truly played in the women’s suffrage movement, they will be deprived of yet another phony talking point. If that happens, the Dems may have to face the prospect of discussing their pathetic record. Meanwhile, anyone inclined to support the party that passed the 19th Amendment should vote Republican.