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THE CONSTITUTIONAL BASIS OF WOMEN'S
One cannot easily grasp the truth of great questions before the country, with minds perturbed by the babel of tongues, and the strife of party and personal discord; one cannot see the effect of the pageant of this world's life in true perspective, because we, who would see it, are in the march ourselves. It is only by standing for awhile, as it were, out of ourselves, seeking for first principles, testing the meaning of terms in their abstract and concrete relations, that we gain some power of interpretation. It is difficult to find an opponent who clearly understands what Women Suffragists ask, and why they ask it. Let it be clear. All parties and all societies who really wish Women's Suffrage (whatever be their differing methods) are united in one claim—“That the Suffrage be granted to women on the same terms as it is, or may be, granted to men.” Why do they ask it? I propose to consider this question, by far the greatest which lies before the country of the world, under three heads. What do the facts of British Constitutional History say to it? How does the spirit of the British Constitution affect it? and Why is there so much excitement concerning it to-day? We must premise that there is a certain ambiguity in using the word "vote" as the meaning of the franchise or freedom. That has had other forms in the past, it may take other forms in the future. The British Constitution is in a course of constant evolution, varied by periods of definite retrogression. Even the most radical of reformers acknowledge there is something in the Constitution worthy of being reformed, or deformed, as the case
Mr. J. Toulmin Smith, the historian, has said, When we seek the principles of solid liberty, we never need to appeal to our fathers in vain.” In appealing to our fathers, against the ruling of our brothers, we women ask, Is the vote necessarily a sex-privilege? And is a temporary majority, among the representatives of a permanent minority of the people of the country, competent to settle this question for all cases, and for all times ?
We must go back as far as Magna Charta, at least, to reach the foundation of the people's liberties. It was written in Latin, but the word “Homo " was not only held then to mean (as it always does to those who understand it) man and woman,
but when it was translated into English, a language deficient, through not providing a literal translation for “ Homo,” it was held that the word “man” should take its place, and always include “woman,” except where otherwise expressly stated. In that Charter the prime clause was, “ To none will we sell, to none will we delay, to none will we deny the right of justice. That clause was framed expressly to include women, but every one who denies them the vote to-day denies them the justice secured to them by their fathers in Magna Charta.
But, oven then, there were two limitations, that of inheritance and that of matrimony. In feudal times, lands were held as of the King's gift, by the tenure of military service. As personal service is generally more reliable than deputed service, there was naturally a preference for males, and all the sons, in order of their birth, of a tenant-in-chief inherited before any of the daughters. When there were only daughters, however, the inheritance did not pass away to any other male relative. The property was divided among them, the title and family honours being generally secured to the eldest. When there was only one daughter, she inherited all the estates held by military or any other service, every title, honour, and privilege of the family, exactly the same as if she had been a man. She had the immemorial right of exercising by proxy or deputy, in common with aged or invalid men, any function too onerous for her. But she held the offices nevertheless, with all responsibilities, honours, and revenues associated with them. Hence there is hardly any public office in the country, not dependent on a University education, which has not been held at some time by a woman, sometimes exercised in person, sometimes by proxy. Women have been High Chamberlains, High Sheriffs, High Constables, High Stewards, Lords Marshal, and even Royal Champions, the last office, of course, being executed by deputy. They have been Chamberlains to the Queen, Marshals of the King's Court, Governors of Districts, of Royal Castles, of Jails ; held the office of Marshalsea of the King's Bench, and have been appointed Justices of the Peace and Clerks of the Crown, Governors of Houses of Correction, and Constables.
Curiously enough, it was only after military service for lands was commuted into money-payments that inheritance customs began to be altered to the disadvantage of women. But even then sex-limitations did not enter into a woman's life, except through her relationship to a man. To the English Constitution, except when she was Couverte de Baron, a woman could hold all hominal privileges.
The second limitation was that of matrimony. Church and
State alike believed in the doctrine of wifely obedience; and the husband, who acted as proxy for his wife, became theoretically joint-owner of her property for life, as she technically became of his. When they two were one, he represented the one.
In troublous times the King generally held the wardship, and decided the marriage of the heiress, and that marriage was generally hastened at an early age, as a husband was believed to be the safest and surest “proxy."
proxy." By degrees the marital proxy assumed increasing powers over the wife, but that the inheritance was still vested in the heiress is proved by the fact that on his death it remained in her hands, however many adult sons they may have had.
In the trading and industrial classes of life there was some divergence, and much more advantage to women. Fathers generally divided their earnings equally between sons and daughters; they had a right by Statute 7, Hen. IV., c. 17, to send their daughters to any school in the country; they had a right to apprentice them to a trade, in which they might become freemen and go on the livery. It is strange how absolutely this has been forgotten in relation to this discussion. Women could become “free" in most companies, through patrimony or apprenticeship, in all through being “widows of freemen.'' They paid the same brotherhood money, and held the same freomen's privilege. The Charters of all the Guilds that I have soen are made out “To the brothers and the sisters of the same,' and every list of “Freemen” that I have met contains the names of women. I have found them, among others, in the lists of the Haberdashers, Clothworkers, Weavers, Grocers, Mercers, Fishmongers, Stationers, Plumbers, Armourers, Clockmakers, Barber-Surgeons, and Parish Clerks. We may find examples of their employment, for instance, in the ChurchWardens' Books of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Women sometimes did the glaziers' work, the brick work, the iron work, and a woman cast the second bell. And all the women employed were paid at the same rate as men for the same work, because they were free of their companies. There is proof that as widows and as spinsters they were free, not only in London, but in every great town at least in the three kingdoms. But in this rank men were more liberal than in the higher ranks. By industry, even a married woman might become free. Reference may be made, in the White Book of the City of London, to "The case of a woman trading alone,” where it is made clear that when a woman manufactured or traded in any industry, in which her husband did not co-operate, she was held as a single woman in
regard to her trade or industry, and could become free. That was why there was no need of a Married Women's Property Act then. Our civic fathers, therefore, recognised three classes of freewomen, singlewomen, widows, and wives who supported themselves. It is evident, therefore, that the whole class of women were not excluded, from the moment of their birth to their death, as they now are, from any share in national freedom.
The basis of privilege in early times depended upon the inheritance of lands, office, or money, or upon the inheritance or earning of money. Our fathers would not have thought it reasonable that the purchaser, gardeners, labourers in an orchard, should, when the fruit was ripe, invite the neighbouring schoolboys to be equal sharers in the produce. Neither would they invite co-operation in spending public money from those who did not contribute. But they saw that women did contribute, as “purchasers, gardeners, labourers” do. The privilege carried with it responsibility. We may read in the White Book of the City of London, “And the freeman, when she is a woman, shall have no excuse from the duties of watch and ward” (though she might execute them by proxy).
The foundation of the Council, afterwards called Parliament, took place in the thirteenth century. The first clear summons was that of 38 Hen. III., 1254; and many elucidations followed (see 43 Hen. III., c. X., and 52 Hen. III.). The reason for summoning it was because the King wanted money, and all who would be liable to pay the subsidies, i.e., the freeholders in the counties, the burgesses in the towns, were instructed to meet together and choose a representative from among themselves to send up to the Council of the King, to decide, with other representatives, how much aid they would give the King. These representatives later found that the best time to seek redress of grievances was when impecunious Kings wanted money, and the making of new laws followed the redress of old grievances. But the fundamental cause of the existence of Parliament, and the determining factor in its electorate, was the voting of supplies. The privilege of being a chooser or elector was irrevocably associated with the responsibility of payment; in modern terms, the sole qualification for being an elector was being a tax-payer. There was no possible disqualification through sex when this condition was certified. Women were freeholders in the counties and liable to subsidies. Women burgesses paid Scot and Lot in the towns, and contributed to the grants made to the King as benevolences or other “taxes." Freeholders in the counties had two forms of votes, the collective and the individual, i.e., where many
were associated in selecting the representative; or where, through some special right or charter, at some time conferred, the owners of certain freeholds had the right of returning one, or even two personal representatives, a form of voting abolished with the Pocket Boroughs. Women who held land in the counties and were liable to the subsidies then met the other freeholders at the County Courts, to help to choose the man they preferred to represent them, or through their immemorial right of proxy they sent their stewards or other representatives to carry their voice or vote for them, as was then permitted. No word has ever been applied to a voter which was not a common term, chooser, freeholder, resident, subsidy-payer. The word “man” in statutory and common use, always included woman,' and every list of
gentlemen of the county" included the names of women.
We suffer much from the lack of old records for either sex of old elections, but among those preserved there are cases of women voting, and there were certainly many more than we know of, though women, through the working out of the two limitations above noted, would always be in a minority. Lords of the Manor held their own manorial courts; when women were freeholding tenants of the manor, they were summoned with the others to appear as pares, or jurors, unless they sent valid excuse. I have not been able to institute a general search through the records of manorial courts, but in searching for another purpose the Court Rolls of Rowington, Warwickshire, I came upon the following entry among the fines : “Joan Shackspere, for default of sute of Court, 4d.," 1636.
When the Lord of the Manor was privileged to send up his own representative or representatives, he did so, in early days, without any association with his sub-tenants. When a woman was Lord of the Manor, she held the Lords' Courts, received the homage, returned the member or members, under three conditions—when she was a widow without adult sons in her busband's right; when she was a widow on property of her own inheritance, with or without adult sons; or when she was spinster heiress in her own right. In a bundle of returns for 14 and 18 Elizabeth, Brady has preserved, and Heywood in his County Elections has quoted, the Indenture of Dame Dorothy Packington, owner of the private Borough of Aylesbury. “To all Christian people to whom this present writing shall come, I, Dame Dorothy Packington, widow, Late wife of Sir John Packington, Knight, Lord and Owner of the Town of Aylesbury, sendeth greeting. Know ye me, the said Dame Dorothy Packington, to have chosen, named, and appointed my trusty and well-beloved Thomas Lichfield and John Burden Esquires, to be VOL. LXXXIV. N.$.