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Hot Button Issues

"Should Women Vote?"
By Mrs. Jennie Chancey
Aug 19, 2004 - 10:00:00 PM

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[Editor's note, July 2008: It's interesting that, four years after it was posted, this article is now receiving a flurry of hits and comments. Some of the comments leave me wondering if the person even read the article, while others are thoughtful and show a desire to revisit this issue in a cogent manner. I heartily applaud the latter. If this piece provokes you to think more carefully about an issue that has heretofore seemed settled and incontrovertible, great! That's what we hope all the articles posted on LAF do. Just for clarity's sake, let me add here the article summary (which isn't visible to you if you came directly to the article from an outside link):

Take a deep breath. While this is a "hot button" issue, our response to it doesn't have to be. ;-) We're willing to tackle controversial issues here at LAF, but please keep in mind that there's a big, warm smile on this end of the keyboard--not a grimace and a flaming sword. We can differ on this issue (and others!) without coming to blows. We just invite our readers to think carefully and be willing to ask themselves questions they may never have before. We're all learning, and we can all benefit from each other's opinions and viewpoints!

That's it, plain and simple. No one on this side is advocating the mass burning of voter registration cards or the collective shutting off of women's brains. If that's the stereotyped conclusion you jump to after reading the following piece, please read it again and understand that this article is here to provoke thought and to encourage readers not to make decisions in a historical vacuum. Great men and women have thought through these things before us, and we can learn much from their perspectives and practices. But, in the end, it is up to each person to determine what she does with this information. We do not live in colonial times when the family was viewed as a micrcosm of society--a small republic. Like it or not, we live in a wannabe democracy with universal suffrage.  Should Christians "be all things to all men," as Paul wrote, and therefore embrace universal suffrage as the way things are? Or should they strive to follow a model no longer in practice and make a statement by doing so? Is there yet another option? These are absolutely legitimate questions and ones we should ask ourselves and discuss thoughtfully and prayerfully. No one here will judge the conclusions you draw or the decisions you make; we just want to encourage the discussion. Thanks! ~ Jennie]

~*~*~*~

Do you believe that women should use their votes and cast them at a ballot box? I personally feel that God wants me to use my vote as, even though I do not work outside the home, I am still a citizen and therefore should use my voting rights to honour Him. I would be interested to hear your opinions. ~ Curious

Should women vote or hold any political interest? ~ A Reader


When we approach the issue of suffrage, it is important to note right up front that this is not a male versus female issue. It is really an issue of individual versus household suffrage. When our Founders laid down voting laws for the colonies and the states, they did not create universal suffrage ("one man, one vote").[1] This may sound foreign to our ears, but it is only because we have grown so used to the idea in the past century of every individual casting a vote at the ballot box. Our nation is not a Democracy, it is a Constitutional Republic. The difference may seem unimportant at first blush, but it really affects our view of everything from the way American government is structured (three branches rather than one) to how power is divided (checks and balances between the branches).

A Republic is a government that is made up of legislators who represent their constituents in Congress. When Americans go to the ballot box, they elect leaders they believe will represent them fairly and accurately at the state and national level. When an important issue comes up for consideration, constituents can call or write their representatives to express their views, but they do not personally vote on the particular issue in question. If a representative consistently votes in a way that does not reflect his constituency, the people can vote him out of office next time around. In a Democracy, each individual citizen over a certain age votes on every single issue (this process is called "referendum"). If 51% of the people vote a certain way, the majority carries the day. So Democracy always results in the rule of the majority of the people who vote (and sometimes very few people actually vote). The reason our Founders chose to create a Constitutional Republic was to protect the rights and interests of the minority. With divided powers and a system of checks and balances, the majority cannot run roughshod over the rights of the minority. Of course, this doesn't mean a Constitutional Republic is a perfect form of government or that it never tramples the minority, but its intent is to protect the "common good."

After that (very brief!) introduction, we can move on to suffrage and the purpose of voting. At the founding of our nation, there were many men who were not allowed to vote. Depending upon the state in question, men could be denied the right to vote if they didn't pay taxes, if they didn't own property, if they were indentured servants (like my ninth great-grandfather), if they were convicts, etc. One reason that suffrage was limited was to prevent a man who had little stake in the community from having authority over community affairs. He might, after all, pick up and move elsewhere at the drop of a hat. He might not put down roots and become involved in his community. And, finally, he might not pay any taxes. It should also be noted that the very thought of anyone on "public assistance" being allowed to vote would have been abhorrent to the founders of our nation. That man's judgment would be biased by the money in his pocket. All of this is simply to demonstrate that women were not the only ones who couldn't vote. And, in fact, there were many women who did!

Single or widowed women who owned property were allowed to vote in most of the colonies (they did this under the so-called "Dame" laws).[2] During colonial times (1600-1776), the right to vote was linked directly to land ownership (as mentioned above).[3] This practice did not end until the 1820s, as Enlightenment philosophy began to creep into the notions of franchise. (The unfortunate results of the Enlightenment are discussed in The Woman's Place by R.J. Rushdoony.) The founders and lawmakers who didn't give the vote to married women were not woman-haters out to suppress the opinions of half of the population. They had an entirely different view than we do today--a view built around landowning households rather than individuals. According to English Common Law, man and wife become one not only in the spiritual or romantic sense, but in the legal sense. They are one force to be reckoned with legally rather than two individuals. The family (not the individual) has always been considered the foundation of society and the bedrock of government. Therefore the vote was given to the head of the household and not to each member residing within the household. The head represented his household when he went to the polls, much as our senators and congressmen represent us when they vote in the Senate or the House. This is one of the foundation stones of a Republic. Certain people are elected to represent others within their district. In this sense, the husband (or head of the landowning household) was "elected" to represent his household at the ballot box. If a husband was incapacitated or otherwise unable to exercise his right to vote, there were laws allowing the wife to vote for the household. In this way, each household was fairly represented at the ballot box.

We have a completely different notion of franchise today, which is not based upon households but upon individuals within the household. Each eligible individual may vote his or her own opinion. In this way, a husband and a wife can completely cancel each other out at the ballot box. Many commentators in the 19th century (when women began demanding the vote) found such an idea absurd, since it conflicted with republican principles of government. But instead of appealing to the law or making rational discourse about the representation of households, most men who opposed votes for women did so on the grounds that women weren't smart enough to vote or shouldn't be bothered with politics. Those arguments proved weak and ineffective (as they should have). The issue has nothing to do with brains or ability. This brings us to another facet of this discussion, which is addressed in the following question:

What about women voting in church? Do you believe only heads of households should vote, or should every member of the church have a vote? ~ A Reader

One of the best ways to illustrate household voting versus individual voting is to consider the practice of individual church members voting on issues in the church meeting. When my husband and I were first married, we were members of a church that practiced individual voting. The church was not large, so it was immediately obvious how the results of such a practice played out in real life. First of all, the family with six (member) children could outvote four young couples without children--they had eight votes, after all, and each couple had just two. (This is assuming, of course, that every member of the household voted the same way. In a family that prays, studies, and worships together, this is almost always the case. But there are times when this does not happen, and the results are painful to observe.) During a discussion of whether or not the church elders should serve on a rotating basis, a majority of the members expressed a certain opinion. The man seated in the pew in front of us stood to explain why he would endorse the majority view. After he sat down, my husband rose to express his concerns with the majority view and propose a different plan. Right after he did so, the wife of the man in the pew in front of us stood to say that she felt bad that my husband was the only one expressing his viewpoint, so she would vote with him! She had just cancelled out her husband's vote, effectively curtailing his leadership of his family--and publicly. He flushed red and managed to stammer out a joke as a cover for his embarrassment. But both my husband and I felt awful about the division. This is absolutely not to say that a wife's opinion does not matter and carries no weight. A husband should seek his wife's counsel on important issues. Then, when the head of the household votes, he carries the responsibility on his own shoulders, but he does not act as a "lone ranger." He has weighed the issues carefully with his wife beforehand.

The Bible is filled from beginning to end with the phrase "you and your household." God's promises to Adam and Eve were also to "their seed." His promises to Noah involved his entire family. His promises to Abraham involved "you and your children after you." The government of the household is a small republic. The husband may represent the household in public and when he votes, but his "constituents" stand right behind him. They speak with one voice. Now, this doesn't mean there are never times when a wife disagrees with her husband's decision. But, in the end, she models the Bride of Christ and submits to her head. She does so without rolling her eyes or fretting, knowing that God is ultimately in control, and she can trust Him. When voting is done by heads of households in church (and this includes older widows who run their own households and make their own vows -- see Numbers 30:9), each household has one vote. The Joneses with eight kids cannot outvote the Smiths with three children and the Harrisons with no children. Surely we can agree that this is wise and maintains a balance (not to mention harmony, since small families will have no reason to resent the power of the large families).

Now, how does this principle carry over into the political realm outside the church? Was the 19th amendment misguided? Should all women (or all people, for that matter) have a vote?

We have to walk carefully here. Let it be understood that there are good, thoughtful people on both sides of the suffrage issue. There are godly Christians who disagree on this matter. This is not an issue that should divide brothers and sisters or cause one person to judge another. What we all must commit to do is to go to the Scripture ( all of which is "profitable...and able to equip [us] for every good work" - I Tim. 3:16-17), think, pray, talk about the issue, and live out our decisions with love instead of pride in our own view. So, if you disagree with me on this one, I am not going to think harsh thoughts about you or write you off as a liberal.

The model of household suffrage is based upon biblical precepts for government. When God commanded that the people of Israel should be numbered, it was done by heads of household (men twenty years old and above; see Exodus 30:14 and 38:26). "Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: 'Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male individually, from twenty years old and above--all who are able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall number them by their armies" (Numbers 1:1-3).

Did God do this because He was not concerned with individuals, including women and children? No, He did it because He has always been concerned with households from the beginning. And for thousands of years, a household has been considered a force to be reckoned with. Splintering the household into individuals has only occurred in the past 140 years in these United States. This has effectively rendered the household a non-entity (the dream of the radical individualist as well as the socialist--and who now gets to define what constitutes a "family?"). It has pitted fathers against sons, husbands against wives, mothers against daughters. Now, you may argue that it has actually increased the power of the household, since all the members can unite to vote together, multiplying the power of their opinion at the ballot box. But here's the rub: "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them" (Matthew 7:12). Put yourself in the shoes of the widow at the ballot box. As she casts her vote, the family with three children of voting age comes right along behind her and casts five dissenting votes. They've outvoted her five to one, even though she represents one household, just as they do.

"But think of the opportunity we have as Christians these days!" someone might exclaim. "We can unite to outvote our enemies!" But what does Jesus say? "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:43-45). The ends do not justify the means. We are to model the justice of our Heavenly Father, who "sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Multiplying votes in this manner simply does not fit a biblical pattern of government (or even of charity toward our neighbor).

"So what about women? Can't we get back to the point here? Why should men represent their families at the ballot box?" Well, why not? Someone else represents you in Congress; you do not directly vote on every issue. If you have a problem with men voting for their households, you must necessarily take issue with the republican form of government our Founders laid down. How can 535 representatives possibly represent the votes of 280 million people? If we don't like this fact, we have the right to "alter or abolish" our government, but we don't have the right to do so at the expense of our neighbor. This is why a system of checks and balances is so vital--and this brings us back to women voting. Should women vote? Yes! Here's the point: Every woman does vote, whether or not she physically pulls the lever or puts the paper in the box. A wife casts her vote every time she discusses the issues of the day with her husband. A daughter casts her vote every time she asks her father about an article she has read or a speech she has heard. A wife votes by the very virtue of the fact that she is the "queen" of the household and rules by her husband's side. In this respect, all women "hold political interest," as our reader said above. It would be foolish indeed for a husband to pat his wife on the head in a condescending manner and say, "There, there, dear. You don't need to think about that; I'll do the thinking for our household all by myself." The wise husband seeks the counsel of his wife and enoys hearing her opinions. He is able to represent his household well because he is listening to those he represents. But, in the end, he does the representing, just as our congressmen represent us in the House and Senate on a daily basis.

God is the one who defines the household and declares who shall be the head of it. A married man is the head of his household. A widow "indeed" (over sixty and not obligated to remarry) is the head of her household (like Lydia in the book of Acts). Single young men like Samuel or Daniel were leaders even while single and so headed their own "households" (they were not dependent upon anyone). If a father died without a son, his daughter could become his heir, basically becoming the de facto head of the household and bearer of the family name (Numbers 7:1-11). But the normal pattern God has clearly laid out in Scripture is that of a young woman living under her father's roof until she is given in marriage and a young man leaving home to "cleave to his wife." When Ruth was widowed, she placed herself under the protection of her mother-in-law's male relative, Boaz. It is not the scriptural pattern for young women to seek to be heads of their own households and remain single for life. It must also be noted that it is not a scriptural pattern for young men to avoid marriage and become parasites to their parents! God's pattern is for the creation of households that follow after Him. When God covenanted with Abraham, He said He did it "in order that he [Abraham] may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice" (Genesis 18:19).

Some might ask how a woman could be politically involved in this traditional historical model. It's important to note that the ballot box is only one of many facets to politics and government. Alexis de Tocqueville noted in his book, Democracy in America, how intelligent and "superior" (his word choice) American women were. He saw their direct influence upon the men of the day as a good thing and as something that raised them to a lofty, important position. This was well before the women's rights movement began, yet a foreigner easily noted the connection between America's success and the contributions American women made to the republic in their own sphere.

We need to learn from and imitate our intelligent, capable foremothers. Are you a woman who is vitally interested in the issues of the day? Talk to your husband (or your father, if you're a daughter)! Draw him out into conversation and get to know his mind on the issues. Most of all, be willing to listen. You may be astounded at how well your husband can articulate his viewpoints when he is asked for them. Ask lots of questions! And be willing to be wrong. When your viewpoint cannot hold up to scrutiny, accept defeat gracefully. If your husband ends up changing his mind, be humble. And when you really feel your husband is wrong, commit your feelings to the Lord and pray for your husband as he represents your household "in the gates." It is a solemn duty to serve as the "magistrate" of the household and not one to be taken lightly. Much rests upon husbands and fathers as they represent their households, so lighten that burden by being supportive, encouraging, and involved.

Besides serving as an interested counselor, there are many ways women can be involved beyond the ballot box. Are you passionate about pro-life issues? Write articulate letters to the editor from a woman's point of view. Offer to counsel young women in crisis pregnancies. Is your family excited about a political candidate? Work together to help his campaign by placing signs, handing out brochures, and opening your home for a "Meet the Candidate" coffee (we've done this as a family many, many times). Together, families can work as a team to influence our nation for godliness. Gender has nothing to do with our success.

NOTES:


[1] Einwechter, William. "The Christian Colonial Foundation of America."
[2] Banner, Lois. "Woman Suffrage," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia
[3] For a very thorough treatment of the history of women's property ownership in America, see Women and the Law of Property in Early America by Marylynn Salmon. While the book is written from a feminist perspective, it covers dozens of interlocking aspects of the history of property ownership (including a woman's legal status when it came to voting) in detail.

* Daniel Crittenden also has a fascinating take on the 19th Amendment in her book, What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us. Mrs. Crittenden takes a pragmatic look at what has happened to political campaigns since women have received the vote and asks if we are really any better off. Would a presidential candidate's hairstyle really have been an issue 100 years ago? Image and emotion are big players in modern politics. While women's suffrage certainly isn't the only cause, isn't it possible that it has played a major part in this shift, Crittenden asks?


An opinion cartoon from 1902, showing the woman taking her husband's role "in the gates."

© Copyright 2002-2009 by LAF/BeautifulWomanhood.org

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