Table of Contents
American Radicalism and the Feminist Movement
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a prominent American political leader who formed the political thought of the society. She founded the Seneca Falls Convention in 1840 to eliminate slavery in the United States (Foner, 2011, p. 479). At the same time, she opposed the Congress passing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution without recognizing women as equal American citizens.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a well-educated woman who graduated from Johnstown Academy. It was there that she realized that female students were no less industrious, diligent, and bright than their male counterparts. The Constitution guaranteed that all citizens were equal before the law and had the right to elect the government, to be free, happy, and wealthy. However, women were not even considered citizens. The problem of this attitude towards women originated in 1619. As Howard Zinn (2005) states, in that year ninety women arrived to the New World and were sold “with their own consent to settlers as wives, the price to be the cost of their own transportation” (Zinn, 2005, p. 111). Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1892) stated: if the society considers a woman “as a citizen, as a member of a great nation, she must have the same rights as all other members” (Stanton, n. p.). According to her, each woman should have the right to vote, to get a higher education, to be equal socially, and to earn a living. That was the reason she opposed the Congress passing the Fourteenth and the Fifteenth Amendments for African males only. Stanton stated, “Women are already the equals of men in the whole of dream of thought, in art, science, literature, and government” (Staton, n. p.). At the same time, not giving them equality could cause a collapse of the United States because of the nation's degeneration.
The Woman’s Bible was the first American book that tried to protect women’s rights through the Christian religion. For that purpose Elizabeth Cady Staton invited theological scholars to revise the Bible, which had become effective evidence proving the inferiority of women. On the other hand, Staton's opinions on certain issues attracted disapproval of the society, e. g. she suggested replacing the Holy Trinity by a family, headed by the mother. Undoubtedly, revising the Bible would have caused protests. At the same time, the image of the Most Holy Mother of God was a vivid example of the worship of a mother, a woman who gives birth to everybody on Earth. Though one cannot imagine a female Apostle, the Most Holy Mother of God occupies a higher place in the religious hierarchy than Apostles. Of course, it provides a stimulus to think about reconsidering the attitude of the Christian Church towards women.
The political career of Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a vivid example of a radical feminist leader who committed controversial actions in the course of her struggle for equality of women and men in America. E.g., she opposed passing the Emancipation Amendments for African males and wanted to revise the Bible, placing a woman at the highest position in the Church.
The Declaration of Independence and American Radicalism
The igning of the Declaration of Independence was the most significant historical event in the United States of America. It proclaimed the birth of a new republic in the monarchic world. The emergence of the United States brought forth new relations in the social, political, and economic spheres, based on the equality of all citizens. Only wealthy men who owned property were considered the real citizens of America at that time, but the main principles of the Declaration and the Constitution gave other social groups the right to fight for their freedom.
The creators of the Declaration of Independence were wealthy and successful people who understood the significance of the middle class for the young American Republic. However, some social groups such as African Americans, slaves, Native Americans, women irrespective of their ethnicity or race, and poor whites were not considered American citizens. They had no right to vote or elect the candidates to protect their interests in the Parliament and the Government. Undoubtedly, such circumstances led to the emergence of various social movements which advocated equality for certain social groups, their right to become real American citizens, free people in a free country. At the same time, the middle class was one of the most privileged classes in America. Moreover, women and the working class were the most numerous social groups in the United States, but the creators of the Declaration could not afford to consider their interests because of political and economic reasons. This approach allowed for the emergence of American Radicalism to solve the problems of equality in America according to the Constitution.
Thus, the feminist movement emerged in the United States in the nineteenth century to protect women's civil rights and freedoms. It was a progressive social phenomenon, because women were the group most oppressed in their social rights. The need to protect them existed from the very beginning of the American colonization history, but the creators of the Declaration could not stipulate it in the first document, because of the idea that each husband was obliged to satisfy all the needs of the family by working and making a living. Therefore, the creators of the Declaration only considered as citizens of the new republic wealthy men who owned property. The Christian religion and the public opinion viewed women as auxiliary persons who provided wealthy men with domestic services. A similar attitude towards the working class led to the emergence of Trade Unions and other radical movements to protect the rights of the working people, who were neither rich nor successful property owners. At the same time, the idea of all men being equal before the law became a crucial point that proved that the notion of "men" ought to be substituted with "individuals" for more exact interpretation of the major principles of the American Constitution.
The Declaration of Independence was the first American document to guarantee the rights and freedoms for all American citizens. Without a doubt, at that time, only wealthy men were able to become citizens. In the course of time, the major points of the Declaration became crucial factors in the emergence of radicalism, which achieved real equality in the American society by reconsidering the roles of the women and the working class in the country.
Religion and Radicalism
The Christian religion and its virtues became a major ideology for the American nation. Each political leader, prominent statesman, and even rebel abided by the Bible and tried to follow Christian virtues in their lives and deeds. It proves the fallacy in Marx’s notorious statement that religion is alien to radical actions and revolution. The Christian religion was the idea that united Americans in their struggle to achieve human rights and freedoms.
A well-known American statesman, philosopher and author Tom Paine developed the idea of American Exceptionalism, which became a crucial point behind the emergence of the new American nation. At the same time, he was a radical in his approach to solving problems of gender, racial, and social inequality in the American life. As many scholars state, Tom Paine was a deist, but he believed in God and said, “I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy” (Paine, 1974, p. 50). Tom Paine criticized the Christian clergy for its hypocrisy, corruption, and falsehood. He stated that all natural phenomena had a logical explanation, at the same time believing that God created the Universe, and that the American nation had a mission to improve the global society.
Nat Turner was a famous African American priest. As Foner states, Turner believed “that God had chosen him to lead a black uprising” (Foner, 2011, p. 447). Moreover, he engrafted in the minds of his followers the idea to kill whites as revenge for their enslavement. Although he only had about eighty followers, they killed sixty white Americans, blaming them for all the suffering of African slaves. The majority of Turner’s victims were women and children, but none of his followers refused to kill them because they believed in their leader's special mission. When the authorities caught seventeen of his followers and Nat Turner himself, he was unrepentant because he considered himself a messenger of God sent to bring justice to America.
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Elizabeth Cady Stanton invited theological scholars to revise the translation of the Bible. They noticed some divergence between the ancient texts and their interpretation concerning women and their subordinate position in the Christian life. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wanted to publish The Woman’s Bible, in which she argued the subordinate position of women in the Church and suggested worshipping a family and addressing God as the Mother. Of course, this approach was not accepted by the Christian followers of the Feminist movement. Moreover, it ended her political career as a feminist leader for the suffrage.
The radical movement did not approve of denying the Christian religion, because American Exceptionalism as a National ideology of the American nation was based upon Christian virtues and moralities. Some radicals might have criticized the Christian Church and become deist in their beliefs, but nobody could revise the Bible for political profit. It proves that Marx was wrong when he stated that religion was alien to any radical movement.