In 1867 New York State held a Constitutional Convention for the purpose of examining the existing constitution and proposing changes. Sheshequin Universalist Society member O. H. P. Kinney, well-known in Tioga County, N. Y., as the editor of the Waverly Advocate, was selected as that county’s delegate to the convention.
Kinney was an avid proponent of women’s suffrage. He arranged for Lucy Stone to speak in Waverly in the 1860s. At the 1867 convention he spoke in support of suffrage. His speech was so highly regarded that it was published in several newspapers.
Kinney’s reliance on masculine and feminine stereotypes may seem antiquated today. Nevertheless, his speech was well-crafted and used rational arguments to counter his opponents’ irrational objections. He said in part:
“…The world has long been accustomed to regard woman as the mere appendage instead of the counterpart and co-equal of man. Constitutions and laws have been framed upon the hypothesis that she is inferior in capacity, and designed by the Creator to occupy a subordinate… condition in life. And it was not until the American Revolution developed the idea that all men are created with equal rights that the other idea was suggested that possibly woman might be included in that formula. Hitherto her person and her property had been so completely and absolutely sunk upon entering the marriage relation that the law scarcely knew of the existence of such being. She had few rights which the laws, or the men who made the laws, were bound to respect. But under the civilization of the age, and its wonderful discoveries in all the departments of science and philosophy, she has been discovered and brought to light, since which period she has been gradually emerging and arising to the stand point of perfect equality with her former lord and master.
“But her natural rights have never been, to any great extent, restored to her without a desperate struggle on the part of those who had usurped them. Some twenty years ago, when it was proposed in this State to recognize… her rights of property, there were not more than a half dozen senators who dared vote to relinquish to her those rights; and soon after men turned pale everywhere when they saw the scepter of rule over woman and her property departing from them. Now but few can be found in the State who will own that they ever hesitated to grant her those rights, and not more than two or three in this Convention have the ungallantry to cast doubt upon the propriety of those eminently just and humane measures. Now that she asks the right of self-government upon terms of equality with man, so long and so unjustly withheld, gentlemen hold up their hands in utter amazement at the demand. Probably her request will receive in this Convention, about the same support her plea for the right of property did in the Legislature twenty years ago; but I predict that twenty years hence few men will be found to acknowledge they even so much as questioned the propriety of doing this act of simple justice.
“The gentleman from Rockland… said the sovereign power of the State is vested in the present voting population, and he denounced the proposition for a surrender of any percentage of it to those who do not now enjoy it. This has been the plea of crowned heads and privileged classes in all ages of the world… The ballot was given the poor under protests not unlike those heard in this Convention, by the parties who believed the power of the State should be wielded by the property holders of the State. That branch of the democratic party which had ruled this country so long and with such an iron hand… gave up the right to enslave their fellow man only at the cannon’s mouth.
“In keeping with this death-like grasp on political power, is the refusal of gentlemen to-day to part with any percentage of it by permitting other classes to exercise those natural rights of self-government on equal terms with themselves. Sir, we are parting with a percentage of our political power every day. Foreigners who land upon our shores are continually demanding political power and it is granted. The young men, as they arrive at the age of manhood, demand a voice in the work of self-government and they have it…
“…Man possesses no faculty or power of mind whatever which woman does not also possess, and in a mental point of view they are in truth the counterpart of each other. If mind votes and rules and governs, and not wealth or physical structure, then the right of woman to vote, rule and govern is no less than that of man… No one has yet shouldered the inevitable task of showing her destitute of any of the essential elements of government which inhere in man… She is already intrusted with the most complicated and arduous tasks of government, such as the government of the family and the school; and it is needless for me to say that she performs those difficult governing duties with a degree of success which has never yet characterized the opposite sex.
“Why should she not vote? Gentlemen say it is not her legitimate sphere… A few years since, owning and managing property was not her sphere; school teaching was not her sphere; the store, and the counting room, and the post-office, and the printing office, and the apothecary shop, and the medical office, and the lecture room, etc., etc., were not her sphere. All these, and many other like situations which have heretofore been filled by men exclusively, she has filled with so much propriety and ability that the question as to her sphere in these directions has become almost obsolete.
“…One gentleman has held up before our frightened visions the horrible idea of allowing the vile women of our large cities to vote… What would the gentlemen of this Convention say if I should, as a reason why men should not vote, present before them those vile masculine wretches who pollute certain portions of the city of New York?… I find by the prison statistics before me that the native-born women are but one-twentieth as bad as the men; that is, there were twenty men in the prisons of the State in 1866 to one woman, and of foreign birth there were ten men to one woman… I think we need not fear that our elections will be brought into disgrace by allowing this better element of society to vote. Those who have attended political meetings where the women were present known that they are conducted with decency and propriety, and are free from the obscenity, profanity and drunkenness which too frequently characterize those composed exclusively of men. Their presence at the polls would have the same humanizing and refining effect… Those who complain so bitterly and no doubt reasonably of the corrupt condition of our politics, should not be at loss for one of the best remedies which the elements of society afford; it is woman voting. A State under purely masculine rule must be characterized by those cold, stern, severe elements of government which characterize masculine society. The State and all her institutions necessarily partake of the nature of her voting population and we never can infuse into it those purer, warmer, more generous and more humane elements until those elements of society are felt at the ballot box. This State will never become our idea of a perfect State until it is made to impersonate all the elements of a perfect society and a perfect humanity.”
Sadly Kinney’s logical arguments failed to persuade the majority of the delegates in 1867. It wasn’t until fifty years later, in 1917, that women won the right to vote in New York State.