Alexander Campbell, "Woman's Rights,"


THE question of woman's rights, or of a new version of woman's rights, is, in this age and country, eliciting, in certain latitudes, a very special attention. The American public are celebrated, wherever the symbols of our country and nation are borne, for their gallantry and regard to the rights of woman. But in their enthusiasm and romantic conceptions of this popular and fascinating theme, they are pushing their inquiries with as much zeal and peril as did the amateurs of Sir John Franklin's expedition into the polar regions, in quest of a long cherished ideal opening into the arctic regions of our little globe. Such expeditions generally cost more than they are worth to the great interests of humanity. More is sacrificed than gained, especially in purely speculative questions, by such bold adventurers. One America was discovered, because humanity had one Christopher Columbus; but there is no other America, and we need no second Columbus. Still, there are some who think, that as there was once a New found land, there may be yet some unknown region, on which they may erect their proud monument, and inscribe their own dear name.

But this mysterious and sublime creation, called woman kind, is yet, with some, an undefined and undefinable impersonation of humanity, possessing inherent powers and capacities beyond all the land-marks of our present established learning and science. They are, therefore, deeply penetrated with the idea, that woman's wrongs //204// have never yet been righted, and now they propose to redress these nameless wrongs by a correct theory of woman's rights. Well, the intention is all commendable, and we cordially sympathize with every noble impulse in that direction. If failings they be, they lean to virtue's side. And on the side of virtue and woman, we stand firm and erect as the Andes, in moral purpose, and in all praiseworthy enterprize.

We have but one infallible standard on this subject; and, indeed, being a subject of such transcendent grandeur and importance, it merits just such an infallible standard as God himself has ordained. Well, the question first to be propounded is, What says God's grand institute of woman's rights and wrongs? They are summed up in a few leading particulars. The first great fact is, that Adam was first formed, then Eve. Hence the man is not of the woman, but the woman is of the man. He is first and she is second. He is senior and she is junior. They are, therefore, neither equal in rank nor in age.

Their office in the world is also unlike. He was Lord Adam, and she was Queen Eve. His lordship was earth wide, her queenship is naturally and rightfully only house wide.

Two sovereigns cannot sit on one throne, nor control one domain. A body with two heads is usually called a monster. And these are always unsightly spectacles. These are aberrations from the regular and staid economy of heaven. And from these we borrow no models. So far, then, we are led by the facts of the Bible, and the analogies of nature and of society.

But again: as the members of one human body have not all the same office, so must it be in every other body, politic or ecclesiastic. There is one God, one Lord, one Spirit, one body, either in the church or in the State.

But it is a fact, that a woman may be a queen of an empire in certain contingencies. This, however, is the exception, and not the law. And the exception is for the maintenance, not for the change of the law. No nation, since the world began, commenced its being with a queen, or provided in its constitution for a succession of queens. A woman is, sometimes, endured from a choice of evils, and for the securing of a king. But a king is never kept for the sake of securing a queen. These are providential arrangements - always the exception, and never the law. So God, and nature, and society enact ordain, and establish.

Within these limits, therefore, lie all questions about social rights - domestic, political, moral or religious. Woman's rights are, therefore, as easily adjusted as man's rights. The sex is, constitutionally, //205// legally and religiously, modest and retiring, in the presence of him whom God made first. It would be cruel, tyrannical, and unmanly, to do violence to female modesty, by forcing her to hold the helm of State, to carry arms, or to fight in the battle field.

Homer, the Grecian poet, though a Pagan, had more good sense and gallantry than some of our modern gentlemen. He puts into Hector's lips, on his parting with Andromache, more manly and gallant words. The Grecian hero says to his beloved Andromache, when importuning her to stay at home while he entered the battle field -

It is in quite as good taste with us as it was with the Grecian chiefs, to assign to women their task at home. Their kingdom and their crown is not to figure in broils and battles in the forum, in the Senate, in the forests, or in the battle field.

Christianity elevates, ennobles, and adorns woman kind, with other charms and graces than those obtained in legislative halls, in courts, in cabinets, in chairs of state, in tented camps, and in floating navies. Nor would an Apostle--who commanded and importuned them to be chaste, keepers at home, obedient to their own husbands; to adorn themselves with modest apparel, with good works, with a meek and quiet spirit; who commanded them to marry, to raise and educate children, and to teach their junior women to follow their example in similar pursuits--contradict himself, and stultify his own wisdom and discretion, by telling them, at the same time, that they had political or civil rights and duties, incompatible with these, calling them off into the busy circles of the forum, or the battle field, or the tumultuous cabals and controversies of men.

He that would have women to veil their own faces even in the synagogue, and to wear long hair for a covering in Christian assemblies, could not have made it either a duty, a privilege, or an honor, to claim the rights of a civil magistrate, a lawgiver, a legal adviser, a minister of state, a civil judge, or an envoy, ordinary or extraordinary, to some foreign government, as ministers of peace or of war.

But with a superlative modesty and delicacy, he inhibits them from asking a curious question, even in a religious assembly, and charges the ministers of the church to cause their women--their wives and their daughters--to keep silence in the churches, alleging that to them "it was a shame," rather than a right, or an honor, "to speak in the church." He would have them to adorn themselves with modest /206/ apparel--to ask their husbands at home to instruct them more perfectly in the Oracles of God. He would have the elder sisters in the church to teach the younger women to be prudent, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God, through them, might not be blasphemed.

Such are the Christian rights, duties, privileges and honors, of Christian women, in the judgment of great and good men, and of Heaven's own officials--apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers.

When any Christian lady usurped authority over her husband, Paul commanded her to be subject to him according to the Divine law; and if any assumed to be talkative or inquisitive in the church, he commanded them to propound their questions to their husbands at home, and thus to learn in silence and graceful submission.

And finally, to silence every argument and demur, he asks a question rather humiliating to certain garrulous ladies, who were disposed to usurp authority by presuming to teach and speak in the church. What, says he, women, came the word of God out from you, or did it only come to you? Did God send women to illuminate the world, by making them the depositories of his revelations, or the oracles of salvation to mankind? If he did not, why should the church send them, and, still less, why should they send themselves?

//206// But enough. I have a few words for the sisters, which I will commit to a private page of the Harbinger, for their own special use, at a more convenient season. Meanwhile, I conclude with a few words from a very distinguished lady, Mrs. Sigourney. I saw it the other day, under the caption of "Woman's Rights," and will give it as I found it.


There is much clamor in these days of progress, respecting a grant of new rights, or an extension of privileges for our sex. A powerful moralist has said, that "in contentions for power, both the philosophy and poetry of life are dropped and trodden down." Would not a still greater loss accrue to domestic happiness, and to the interest of well balanced society, should the innate delicacy and prerogative of woman, as woman, be forfeited or sacrificed?

"I have given her as a helpmeet," said the Voice that cannot err, when he spake unto Adam, in the cool of the day, amid the trees of paradise. Not as a toy, a clog, a wrestler, a prize fighter. No; a helpmeet, such as was fitting for man to desire, and for woman to become.

Since the Creator has assigned different spheres of action for the different sexes, it is to be presumed, in His unerring wisdom, that there is work enough in each department to employ them, and that the //207// faithful performance of that work will be for the benefit of both. If He has made one the priestess of the inner temple, committing to her charge its unrevealed sanctities, why should she seek to mingle in the warfare that may thunder at its gates or rock its turrets? Need she be again tempted by pride or curiosity, or glowing words, to barter her own Eden?

True nobility of woman is to keep her own sphere, and to adorn it; not like the comet, daunting and perplexing other systems, but as the pure star, which is the first to light the day, and last to leave it. If she share not the fame of the ruler and the blood-shedder, her good works, such as "become those who profess godliness," though they leave no deep "foot-prints on the sands of time," may find record in the "Lamb's Book of Life."

Mothers! are not our rights sufficiently extensive - the sanctuary of love, the throne of the heart, the "moulding of the whole mass of mind and its first formation?" Have we not power enough in all realms of sorrow and suffering - over all forms of ignorance and want - amid all ministrations of love, from the cradle-dream to the sepulchre?

So let us be content and dilligent, aye, grateful and joyous, making this brief life a hymn of praise, until called to that choir which knows no discord, and whose melody is eternal.

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