Clinton, Obama and Seneca Falls

What a difference four years make! In July 2004, a commentator on the presidential election noted that it was 156 years since the Seneca Falls convention for women's rights. Even though Barack Obama was giving the keynote speech that month at the Democratic Convention, the commentator said it would be "ridiculous" to associate the 1848 convention with the Democratic Party.

Now it's the 160th anniversary year of Seneca Falls and we have two good reasons for associating that historic event with Democratic Party -- Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Seneca Falls was born out of the antislavery movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were accompanying their American abolitionist husbands at an 1840 anti-slavery convention in London when they found out that women were not allowed to speak. They decided to do something about it when they got home.

Eight years later, they succeeded in holding their convention on women's rights. They prepared a declaration of the rights of women and resolutions for change. The sticking point was the resolution demanding votes for women. Lucretia Mott split with Stanton on this one, arguing that asking for the right to vote would make women look "ridiculous!" The editor of Rochester's North Star, Frederick Douglass, the only black person at the convention, was the decisive voice in the discussion. He said: "Suffrage is the power to choose rulers and make laws, and the right by which all others are secured." It finally passed narrowly, and indeed the media of the day made it sound ridiculous.

Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party championed the anti-slavery position in the Civil War and when the Union won the war, adult male suffrage was made universal with the 15th amendment in 1870. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony the year before had formed an organization to advocate such an amendment for women, but the abolitionists were ahead of them. Frederick Douglass regretfully split with his woman suffrage friends, who felt betrayed that women were not enfranchised first. Not for another 50 years, not until women picketed the White House and went on a hunger strike in prison after their arrest, did women got the vote with the 19th amendment in 1920. By that time, few Lincoln Republicans were left and black voters were largely without a champion, until FDR remade the Democratic Party into the party of all the people that is finding its voice again today.