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Declaration of Rights and Sentiments

Text of the document signed at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, accompanied by reactions to the document in the press.

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Declaration of Rights and Sentiments
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course. When a group of people feel it is necessary to change their social position, they should lay out their reasoning for doing so.
We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves, by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled. We believe the following truths are obvious to everyone: All men and women are created equal. God has given men and women certain rights, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To guarantee these rights people form governments. When the government gets in the way of these rights, people can reject that government and form a new one. This should not be done lightly. But when a government has gone too far, the people must act. This is where U.S. women find themselves today.
The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world. Throughout history, men have oppressed and mistreated women. Here are the facts that prove this.
He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men – both natives and foreigners.

Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.

He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.

Men have never allowed women to vote. 

Men force women to obey laws that she did not help write.

Men rob women of rights that even ignorant and poor men are guaranteed. Even immigrant men have more rights.

Men deprived women of the right to vote, so women cannot shape the government that rules over them. Men have oppressed women on all sides.

Men have made married women non-existent under the law. 

Married women cannot own property. Even if she works, her husband can take her wages.

He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes, with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master – the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement. Men have made married women morally irresponsible, because she can commit any crime as long as she is with her husband.

In marriage, women are forced to obey their husbands. Husbands become the masters of their wives. They can restrict their wives movements and punish them.

He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce; in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women – the law, in all cases, going upon the false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands. Men have written divorce laws so that husbands men get total control of children, and women get nothing.
After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.

He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration.

He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction, which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.

He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education – all colleges being closed against her.

As for single women, men make them pay taxes to support a government that she has no voice in.

Men limit the jobs single women can hold. And they pay women workers very little.

Men prevent women from holding any job that would give women wealth and prestige. Women cannot be ministers, doctors, or lawyers.

Men do not let women go to college.

He allows her in Church as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.

He has created a false public sentiment, by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.

He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.

Men let women attend church, but they have to submit to men there too.

Men have set different codes of conduct for men and women. Some actions that would ruin a woman’s reputation are no big deal if committed by men.

Men have taken on the role of God, saying they have the right to determine what women can do.

He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation, – in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.

Men demean women in order to keen them dependent on men.

Now that we have proven that half the population of this country is subject to political, social, and religious oppression, we demand that women be granted the full rights of U.S. citizens.

In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and national Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions, embracing every part of the country. We know that not everyone will understand what we are asking for. Many with make fun of it. But we will do everything the law allows to achieve our goal. We will hire representatives, write papers, petition the state and federal government. We will try to convince the church and the media to support us. We hope that this is the first of many conventions for women’s rights around the country. 
Firmly relying upon the final triumph of the Right and the True, we do this day affix our signatures to this declaration. Because we believe that what is right and true will eventually win, we sign our names to this declaration.
Declaration of Rights and Sentiments

“Declaration of Rights and Sentiments,” 1848. New-York Historical Society Library.

Document Text

Summary

“This is all wrong…. Society would have to be radically remodeled in order to accommodate itself to so great a change.”

–Mechanics’ Advocate, Albany, New York

This is all wrong. All of society would need to be rebuilt to make this change.
“The women folks have just held a Convention up in New York State, and passed a sort of “bill of rights”…. They should have resolved at the same time, that it was obligatory … upon the “lords” … to wash dishes, scour up, be put to the tub, handle the broom, darn stockings, patch breeches, scold the servants, dress in the latest fashion, wear trinkets, look beautiful, and be as fascinating as those blessed morsels of humanity whom God gave to preserve that rough animal man, in something like a reasonable civilization.”

–Lowell (Massachusetts) Courier

The women have just held a convention in New York State and