Women and Children
Though no one doubted that women and children were citizens, there was also general agreement that they could not possess all the rights of citizens, especially full property and political rights. Abigail Adams challenged this status quo in 1776; and in succeeding decades a movement to supply equal rights for women gained momentum. Women’s literacy fed women’s political advocacy, including petitioning campaigns on behalf of Indians, abolition, and women’s rights. But post–Civil War politics blocked women’s suffrage, and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of women’s subordination. Because women, like children, were understood to be not fully responsible, in criminal trials they were sometimes treated less harshly than men—especially in capital cases. Indeed, subordination to husbands remained a pillar of family law. And whether rich or poor, the marital bond meant bondage for some wives, where they surrendered not only their property rights but also personal and religious liberty. As for people of color, inclusion of women within the doctrine that all “are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights” proved a deeply challenging proposition.
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