Jefferson and Stanton Two oars of the same boat -Kazi Falguni Eshita
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson penned down one of the most important documents in American history: The Declaration of Independence. Learned individuals like John Adams and Benjamin Franklin assisted him. Almost a century later, Elizabeth Cady Stanton used Thomas Jefferson’s declaration as a model to form The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions. Jefferson’s statement targets the general public of the USA, while Stanton’s statement primarily serves the audience present at the Seneca Falls Convention. Stanton’s declaration sometimes contradicts with Jefferson’s, but is still relevant today. I personally agree with many things that Stanton states.
First of all, despite being in important political positions for a noticeable time period (1801-1809), Jefferson did not mention women or their rights explicitly, anywhere in the Declaration of Independence. He said: “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (262)” In contrast, Stanton states: “all men and women are created equal (272).”
It is obvious that Jefferson wrote his declaration for “men”; but what seemed noticeable to me was that he had completely eliminated the word “women” from his statement. There were no implicit mentions of women either. Usually, the word “men” can be used as a substitute of people, if the writer writes using a figurative language, but here, the word “men” only had a literal meaning.
Although both Jefferson and Stanton use the same rhetorical devices like periodic sentences, their opinions and target audiences differ to a great extent. At a glance, both the declarations might seem to have the same tone or diction. However, two completely different individuals wrote them. Jefferson was a politician and focused mainly on the political side of injustice done by autocratic king George the Third. Jefferson mainly talked about how the various laws imposed by the tyrant king kept on acting like blood-sucking leeches for the general public of the USA. How migration was controlled to keep a check on the population or how the lives of the Americans had been destructed, as illustrated by this quote: “He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. (264)”
Jefferson uses a nice blend of ethos and logos, to appeal to both the ethical and logical thought processes of the intended audience. Though there are no specific statistical data to support Jefferson’s logic, yet he provided a lot of points to ponder. “He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their acts of pretended legislation: (264)” Jefferson actually listed a number of injustice done over here, like how trade has been cut from the rest of the world; or how unjust taxes were imposed on the Americans. The listed points not only seem logical; but also unethical to a great extent.
Stanton was born in a society where males were considered superior to females. Though she was very well educated and had many privileges girls of her time could not even dream of having, yet, Stanton’s father did regret that she was born a female instead of a male. This perhaps created the first spark of gender equality in her mind. As her title suggests, she stepped outside the boundary of just politics. She talked about sentiments and how women were expected to be under the shoes of men in many ways. As opposed to Jefferson, Stanton used plenty of examples which might appeal to the emotions of women. For example: “He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. (273)” This was something noticeable to me because I would loathe the fact that I cannot own property; or work according to my own will, just because of a marital bond: “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. (273)” This seems a bit too extreme for the women. She as an individual could feel humiliated because of this. She had to keep her mouth shut even if she had an opinion about something.
The fact that a husband always expected a huge dowry from his wife and could spend it however he wished to (even on things like gambling or drinking) seemed completely illogical and inhuman. Stanton, on the other hand, never said that women were superior to men in her Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions. She talked about equality as human beings. She wanted men and women to work as complements; she never said women should be substitutes of men. Stanton’s ideas could reach fewer people compared to Jefferson’s; yet, she seemed to be more persuasive than him because she focused on a broader subject in comparison to Jefferson.
Even today, in some countries like Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive cars. Despite being highly educated, only about 5 to 15 percent of the Arab women can hold jobs. Jobs for women are allowed only if it doesn’t contradict with their household duties; or if her family absolutely requires economic support.
In other countries like Bangladesh, although women get social and economic independence, they are expected to do household works without any help from their male partners, because those egoistic males think that these jobs are only meant for ladies. Even if women do more work than men, they are paid less remuneration in comparison to their male colleagues. She can seldom continue practicing certain entertaining activities like music and dancing after marriage. She cannot even decide when to give birth, she has to abide by her husband’s wish.After becoming a mother, sometimes a Bangladeshi family can force a woman to quit her job for taking care of the newborn.
Bangladesh is a country where both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are women. Women secure many important government and corporate positions. Still, she is the one who can be forced to become a child bride, she can suffer emotional blackmail to give up her hobbies, she also can suffer sexual harassment at her workplace or even in public transports. After reaching thirty, she can be considered as an oldie who’s supposed to be married. It is true that the Prime Minister of Bangladesh has taken many important steps to improve the lives of women in many ways; yet; they remain as the recessive gender, still judged by their skin color or physical beauty. A man does not have to face all these only because he is a man. He can marry a 25-year-old even if he’s 60. A girl, no matter how qualified she is, can be considered ill, or socially unacceptable if she does not get married or has a baby after her late twenties.
So, it is evident that even today, Stanton’s declaration remains true, in spite of the innumerable changes in the position of women across the globe.
Overall, it can be said that, both Jefferson and Stanton’s declarations have their own historical significance, and are both very important in their own places.