Written in 1848, the Declaration of the Rights and Sentiments was signed by 68 women and 32 men at the women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the other authors, modeled it after the United States Declaration of Independence. The beginning of the declaration states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This beginning was taken directly from the Declaration of Independence, with the exception of adding women, to help emphasize that the mistreatment of women by men was similar to the mistreatment of the colonies by the British leaders. The rest of the document continues by explicitly stating injustices against women by men.
The Declaration of Sentiments states that history is a “history of repeated injuries” from men to women and that it has established an “absolute tyranny” over women. Before the Revolutionary War, the colonists stated that the King was an absolute tyranny over them, and that they had no say in the way that they were governed. The Declaration of Sentiment states, “He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.” This statement is in parallel to the Revolutionary War argument that the colonists were subject to taxation without representation. The colonists were upset that they did not have a say in the laws that they had to obey. Therefore, the women and men of the Declaration of Sentiments argue that, since women do not have the right to vote, that women are subject to laws that they have no say in creating. Therefore, these women and men hope to point out the hypocrisy of the Declaration of Independence.
After the argument showing the hypocrisy of the Declaration of Independence, the writers of the Declaration of Sentiments continued to list the grievances that women have of the way that men and society treats them. One argument states, “He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earned.” This emphasizes the fact the women could not own property or earn any wages. Married women could not own any property at all because it was just considered their husbands. Another argument states, “He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce; in case of separation, whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women—the law, in all cases, going upon the false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.” When a woman wanted to get a divorce, she had to decide whether or not it was worth losing her children because the judge almost always gave them to the man. Therefore, even within the home, the gender sphere where women were supposed to be, women did not get priority. Men still had the ultimate authority within the home sphere.
The writers of the Declaration of Sentiments finish by stating, “Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation,–in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.” The women of the 19th century were fighting long and hard to gain the right to vote and to gain some power within society. These women did not even think about gaining complete freedom or even sexual freedom. These ideas were not even within these women’s minds. It was not until the late 20th century that young women began to want more than just suffrage. The women of the 19th century could not even conceive the idea that society could give them more than just the ability to vote. These women could not even image having women in political offices making the laws.