Professor Rosalie Yezbick
21 January 2018
The Power of Words: A Compelling Speech to Congress on Women’s Suffrage
By Carrie Chapman Catt
Why were women excluded from voting? The originators of the Constitution and those that succeeded them over the next century thought that women were immature and lacked the ability to think independently or vote prudently. By the beginning of the 1840s, women started voicing their opinions about their right to vote. During the 1880s women’s suffrage took a giant leap forward when activist Carrie Chapman Catt, a former teacher and superintendent in Iowa joined the cause. She was the president of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1900-1904, and 1915-1920. Catt furthered the movement with organized campaigns, a strong volunteer force, and powerful speeches. She founded the League of Women Voters and was the primary reason for the victory on woman’s suffrage in 1920. Carrie Chapman Catt’s “Address to Congress on Women’s Suffrage” on November 4, 1917 is compelling and affirms her argument that Women’s suffrage is inevitable. Catt uses an antanagoge strategy to deliver her message effectively.
Carrie Chapman Catt starts of her speech by using pathos and logos when discussing Americas history. She argues that “Women suffrage is inevitable” (Carrie Catt). She emphasizes that “Suffragists knew it before November 4, 1917; opponent’s afterword” (Catt). She outlines three clear-cut causes that made it unavoidable. She uses pathos to depict the early history of our country and reminds Congress that America was “born of revolution and rebellion against a system of government so securely entrenched in the customs and traditions of human society that in 1776 it seemed impregnable” (Catt). She talks about the tyranny that the American Revolutionists were under and that governments are empowered by the people. Catt talks about the colonist’s victory and our newly formed nation’s ability to preserve the key principles of democracy. Catt furthers her argument by using logos and states, that eight years after America was born Abraham Lincoln said these words “Ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people” (Catt). She then goes fifty years into our history when president Woodrow Wilson told the world “We are fighting for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their government” (Catt). She brilliantly displays that political leaders have had strong convictions in their statements without judgement for 141 years.
Catt uses the backdrop of American history to state that our nation cannot escape the logic it has always followed when women call for the vote. She asserts that “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” and with the others seizing the billions of dollars paid in taxes by women to whom he refuses “representation” (Catt). She strengthens her argument by affirming the impact that women have on society through their contributions, including teaching the same young men that vote about how to be Americans, while Uncle Sam denies women a voice in its government. Catt declares, “the suffrage for women already established in the United States makes women suffrage for the nation inevitable” (Catt). She talks about a statement made by Elihu Root, the president of the American Society of International Law “The world cannot be half democratic and half autocratic” (Catt). These words were significant and backed Congress into a corner because voting against Women’s suffrage would contradicts America’s principles of a democratic government that represents everyone. Catt states that the leaders of our country are obligated to allow women the right to vote. She points out that the world is watching and states that “It is a death grapple between the forces which deny and those which uphold the truths of the Declaration of Independence” (Catt). She continues to explain that the U.S. is the only democratic country where suffrage is completely denied as is the case in certain states.
Catt uses a pathos approach to remind Congress that educated women must rely on uneducated men who cannot read for their rights and states “Do you realize that such anomalies as a college president asking her janitor to give her a vote are overstraining the patience and driving women to desperation?” (Catt). She continues with the pathos approach and asks Congress to fight for them and they will be better allies and a happier country. She adds that delaying this measure will not make it go away and that it is inevitable. She boldly tells Congress that they will meet opposition and talks about the women haters amongst them and that some have been there to long. Catt uses pathos to prompt action from Congress “Are you willing that those who take your places by and by shall blame you for having failed to keep pace with the world and thus having lost for them a party advantage” (Catt). She uses logos to remind Congress that there is no valid reason or political gain for their party delaying the inevitable and strongly implies that doing so will cause defections amongst women and liberals from their party.
Carrie Chapman Catt delivers a compelling speech that solidifies her argument for women’s suffrage and the fact that it is “inevitable”. She brilliantly uses antanagoge to highlight America’s democratic history and at the same time bring to light Americas democratic negatives that hinder women’s suffrage. Catt delivers a speech filled with emotion, and logical insight that solidifies her argument.