February 10, 1872
All the readers of this paper, and some others, know perfectly well that Victoria C. Woodhull has not been an inactive woman during the last two or three years. Her private life is her own, although it has been a subject of free comment. As the individual American, however, is supposed to live in a glass house, into and through which the public have a right to look, she has, perhaps, no ground of complaint on that score, only that, with some others, she would complain not of intrusive comment but of deliberative misrepresentation. Her public life is at the public service.
In April, 1869, the world was startled from its propriety by the announcement of a woman's intention to run for the Presidential chair. A few persons thought this was a freak of insanity, others read in it an outrageous craving for personal notoriety.
Some wonderingly inquired whether 'the woman' could possibly be in earnest, while the community at large laughed at the ridiculous presumption of a woman who thus dared to outrage the proprieties and brave an ordeal of unfriendly criticism and aspersion from which a case-hardened political adventurer might well recoil. A few generous exception there were, indeed, who neither blamed nor ridiculed, but saw in the fact a Sign of the Times, and left events to shape their own course. Among the foremost of these bold free-thinkers was Mr. Bennett [of the New York Herald] . . . .
The objects that Victoria C. Woodhull had in view in her presidential candidature were multiform. The most prominent was the deliberate announcement of her conviction that a woman had political rights--that she had, moreover, intellectual capacity for the highest political position. A woman's claim to the highest office in the gift of the nation at once covered the whole ground of 'woman's rights.' The right to vote and to work had been talked; the equal capacity of woman had been advanced, but nothing practical had been done. Victoria C. Woodhull stepped to the front, and, grasping the hostile weapons, concentrated them on herself and undertook to receive the full charge of ridicule, obloquy and detestation, in the hope that the cause might triumph.
Her object has been gained. A woman has been heard in Congress, a woman's arguments have been respectfully listened to by the Judiciary Committee. Women are admitted to colleges, practice law, in one Territory have been admitted to political rights . . . . It is decided that woman's equality with man in all the functions of social and political life is to be the cornerstone of the new edifice in the coming time . . . .
Victoria C. Woodhull at this particular time wishes her position distinctly understood, so that nothing relative to it can be made an objection by anybody to the proposed Convention. Whatever she has done has been with the sole view of pushing the car of progress and justice, and entirely without reference to personal considerations. She has and makes no claim upon anybody, but feels amply repaid for whatever service it has been her privilege to render the common cause. Indeed, she believes there are wider fields of reform than open to view in the White House, while those upon which she has recently entered are so radical and revolutionary, and so generally unpopular among those who now hold and dispense the national favors, that the idea of political preferment in her case is precluded. She has only to add, that had she been a political aspirant, she would not have entered upon them. Let people who have made her motives only those of an ambitious woman consider this before they repeat their assertions. She will work for the election of the candidate of the Equal Rights Party, and to defeat any party which still adheres to the right of the government to, at its will only, dispense the right to vote among citizens, or, if it please them, to withhold it altogether.
'FREE LOVE,' MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE.
The conservative world today professes to be greatly shocked and dreadfully disgusted at the 'free-love' doctrines put forth by a certain class of woman suffragists.
Now, if the 'free lovers' are so greatly in error and the conservative world so neatly right, it seems to me that it would be very easy to show up the errors of the former, and thus put a stop to the spread of their false doctrines.
Instead of this, what do we see? The conservative world, including the Church, seems powerless to check the 'free-love' tide. There must be a reason for this, and, to me, the reason is very plain. It is because the conservative world is deeper in the mud than the 'free lovers' are in the mire. Satan cannot reprove sin with any hope of success. The difference between the 'free lovers' and the conservatives is that the former preach boldly what the latter secretly practice.
I believe that today Victoria Woodhull is leading a virtuous life, while the majority of those who are howling at her are secretly and habitually guilty of adultery or licentiousness; and they howl because they fear exposure. I am glad if the time has come for the fulfillment of that prophecy which declares that that which is done in secret shall be proclaimed on the house-top . . . .
There is, there can be, no difference of opinion about the right of every person to exercise the freest love for everybody that is lovely and lovable, in the same sense that we love a beautiful or fragrant flower. Such a love must be free; no law can touch it, because it is purely a personal matter. It does not even require that the love should be mutual, and, of course, it cannot involve or injure the rights of any other person. There would be no pith or point to the assertion or to the opposition to free-love doctrines on such grounds. But such love does not imply or constitute marriage.
True marriage implies a mutual love and a contract or compact of union between two persons of the opposite sex. Nothing less than this can be called marriage in any true sense of the word. The real question at issue is, shall we have marriage at all or shall we not? Shall that love...be regulated by mutual legal compact--shall it be tethered to law and order, or shall it be left solely to individual control, and therefore in multitudes of case to the fickle caprice of designing or misguided men and women.
I reply in the most positive and emphatic terms, that social organization and order imply the regulation b civil law of all important relations that exist between or affect second and third parties. Civil law is, or should be, the expression of the highest moral tone of the best developed element of society, and this moral tone, expressed and enforced by law, controls, or should control, the lower and baser elements, which, if left to themselves, would recognize no rights but their own selfish desires.
[Eds. . . . . Doesn't Mrs. Willard see that freedom is the only cure for the lawlessness of which she complains, which is legalized by present marriage customs? Or can she not comprehend that in freedom no expression of selfish desires is possible unless they first find a consenting party. And who has the right to object in that case . . . .]
Men will bind themselves before the world to obey a much higher code of morality than they would practice in secret; and it is in this way that society lifts itself up to a higher plane of life and action . . . .
Mrs. Woodhull asserts most positively that all which is good and commendable now existing in the marriage relation, would continue to exist if all marriage laws were repealed tomorrow. I am just as positive that it would not continue to exist long. Public opinion might preserve and maintain the present legal status of sexual morality for a while, but civil law is the form and expression of public morality, and this moral tone or status could not long remain after its form and expression had been destroyed . . . .
Civil marriage should embody the form and expression of the highest moral sense of that sexual relation that implies parentage; but today it does not. The best and most intelligent element of society has outgrown our civil code of marriage laws and regulations. I am just as much opposed to the present unjust law and conditions of marriage as Mrs. Woodhull, but I would not abrogate the present laws until I had substituted better ones.
[Eds.--We have never advocated the immediate and unconditional repeal of all laws to regulate marriage. But we do say the reasons that we presented to prove the right to institute such laws apply equally to numerous other things beside marriage. If the children argument is advanced to prove the right to control marriage, why should not laws also be enacted to compel people to eat and drink such things as the doctors tell us are conducive to health. It seems to us that health for children is of a vast deal more importance than the mere matter of support during youth . . . .]
In all the relations of life (especially in one so fundamental and vital to society as the sexual) where two or more persons are concerned, the law should seek to bind the parties to deal truly and justly by each other, to keep them on their best behavior . . . and when either of the fails . . . then the law should take cognizance of the failure . . . .
If public opinion could become so demoralized that a man could feel as if it was perfectly honorable for him to desert his wife at any time, even when the law of maternity had placed her in a condition that made his loving care and attention essential to her health and happiness, I am very certain that greater misery and worse children would result from the reform than under the present laws and conditions of marriage, bad as they are.
[Eds.--Women should be placed upon such a footing by the general customs of society that they will be perfectly independent of men. Then there will be no such thing as desertion. And women will only have children when they desire them....]
If I understand Mrs. Woodhull aright, she would have no legal form or recognition of the conjugal relation; and now, with the kindest feelings toward Mrs. Woodhull, and without at all impugning her motives or her character, I must say, in all sincerity, that I believe that such doctrines, if fully carried out and practically realized, would produce such a lawless condition of society as would render social order and self-government impossible.
I am uncompromisingly opposed to every form of slavery, but I am just as strongly opposed to unbridled license and lawlessness. It is no more slavery to bind ourselves by a solemn compact of marriage in such a way as would lead us to repress the evil passions and tendencies of our nature and cultivate the best feelings and affections toward each other, than it would be slavery to join a temperance society and bind ourselves not to get drunk . . . .
The conditions of the marriage union and compact should be such as to compel the parties, as far as possible, to do their best to be always true and constant and affectionate toward each other. Nevertheless, divorces should be granted whenever the best good of all parties concerned demands it; but the best good of children and of society should be the paramount consideration....
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