The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony

Essay: Combining Movements, 1859-1861

All of the woman's rights activists divided their attention to some degree between their own reform and the abolition of slavery. Few of them took on a dual workload like Susan B. Anthony. Fueling the quickening pace of both reforms by 1858 and 1859 was the new power of the Republican party; it had carried reformers into state legislatures, opening opportunities to rewrite law. In addition, two bequests in 1859 put money in the hands of woman's rights activists for agents and publications. This money revived campaigns in New York and also funded campaigns in Ohio and Kansas.
In their antislavery work SBA and ECS continued to press for a state personal liberty bill to protect fugitive slaves from slave hunters and guarantee them some civil rights. There were more petitions, and ECS wrote an emotional pamphlet, The Slave's Appeal, urging New Yorkers to make their state "sacred to freedom, that when the panting fugitive shall touch your soil, his chains must fall forever." To circulate their ideas more efficiently, reformers created an Anti-Slavery Book Depository with funds from Boston abolitionists; a kind of reformers' bookstore and distribution center, the depository stocked pamphlets on slavery, woman's rights, and other reforms.
Woman's rights activists, who now had allies in the legislature, focused their work on bills to enlarge "Civil and Political Equality." They lobbied for women's rights to their wages (originally referred to as the Earnings Bill) and to equal custody of their children (originally the Guardianship Bill). The Married Women's Property Act of 1860, which included custody and property, crowned their efforts.
Abraham Lincoln's election in the fall of 1860 precipitated a national crisis even before he assumed office in March 1861. Southern states began to secede from the Union, and many northerners, including President James Buchanan, wanted to quiet the antislavery element in the hope of saving the nation. The last tour documented in this edition, one in which ECS joined SBA on the road to preach "No Compromise with Slaveholders," took place in that heated moment. The meetings triggered riots in major cities of upstate New York; despite the riots, ECS and SBA continued to tour, adding free speech to their list of demands. This tour, like all of SBA's tours, concluded at Albany in January, when the legislature convened for a new session.
The final document in this last chapter of the edition treats the decision, in the face of Civil War, to postpone the annual national meetings of the antislavery and woman's rights activists. At that moment, the era of antebellum reform came to an end. Looking back on that decision, when agitation for woman suffrage resumed after the war, SBA and ECS called it a blunder to have halted the woman's rights movement in wartime. They were hardly idle. SBA and ECS launched their wartime enterprise, a Women's Loyal National League, in 1863, applying many of the skills they had acquired in New York to a national petition drive managed by women and aimed at Congress to pass the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery.