In this module, you will examine the idea of natural rights and equality as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. You will delve into the relationship between liberty and equality and examine the interplay of these two principles with respect to the idea of change within the United States constitutional order.
Throughout this module, you will self-assess your understanding of key terms and concepts through quizzes and other activities. At the end of this module you will complete two reflection questions that help assess your internalization of the content and its transferability to the classroom.
The story of the Nineteenth Amendment is a story of struggle, perseverance, and courage. In 1765 the British jurist William Blackstone described the legal position of married women when he wrote, “The very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage or at least incorporated or consolidated into that of the husband, under whose wing, protection, and cover she performs everything.” For most women in most parts of the world there were few opportunities to pursue education, occupation, or social standing. In general, they were regarded as inferior, subservient, and incapable of reasoning.
The Age of Enlightenment prompted a new focus on the abilities of human beings, the ideals of liberty, and the obligation of constitutional government to preserve both. The British writer Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792 raised her voice to insist that women, as human beings, were entitled to equal treatment under the law, an idea perhaps even more revolutionary than the contemporary political upheavals in Britain’s former North American colonies and in France.
The United States was established on the self-evident truth that all humans are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The fight for women’s equality and the right to vote illustrates the struggle, sacrifice, and hardship involved in making America live up to that truth. The struggle was long, costly, and frustrating but deliberate in its path thanks to the determined individuals who remained committed to the goal.
The pathway to win that fight involved several stages which may be conceived as shown below. It should be noted that the various steps are not necessarily discrete and sequential. Participants in the movement may not always know which step they are in because efforts overlap, progress is hard to see, and the struggle may be long. Constitutional change which rejects the use of violence requires long-term commitment, courage, and perseverance, but its success is deeply rooted and permanent.