What Is the Declaration of Sentiments?
Although generally referred to as the “Declaration of Sentiments,” Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s text is formally known as the “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.” As its name indicates, the declaration is divided into two portions: the sentiments and the resolutions. By delineating the text in such a way, Stanton clarifies the intentions of her text and what she hopes to impart to her audience.
On the morning of July 19, 1848, the first day of the Seneca Falls Convention, Stanton read aloud the collected sentiments. This portion of the text can be divided into two parts: the introduction and the list of sentiments. In the introduction, Stanton closely mirrors the wording of the Declaration of Independence, shifting the meaning from the nation’s revolutionary call to a women’s call for change.
The sentiments section contains 16 sentiments, or grievances, which outline the ways in which women are treated unequally. The list includes grievances about the strict doctrines of marriage, religion, and labor, as well as the educational system, which prohibited women from receiving higher education, among others. On July 20, Stanton reread the document and passed around the resolutions for attendees to sign. This list of 12 resolutions regarding women’s rights makes up the second half of the document. Of the 12, only one did not pass unanimously: women’s right to suffrage. Many attendees believed this resolution was too radical at the time.
Summary of the Sentiments
The introduction of Stanton’s declaration mirrors the introduction of the Declaration of Independence, the founding document of the United States of America, with notable changes. Stanton substitutes keywords like “woman” or “women” and adjusts the phrasing to address women’s fight for equality. By including choice words like “despotism,” “sufferance,” and “injuries” throughout this section, Stanton speaks directly to her majority female audience, addressing their emotions and experiences.
Stanton claims that now is the time to address women’s inequality because “one portion of the family of man [has assumed] among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied…” In other words, women have been disproportionately harmed in society. She asserts the main motive of the declaration and provides an immediate call to action.
The next paragraph begins with the familiar phrase “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” However instead of proceeding like the Declaration of Independence, Stanton inserts “women” into these words—“that all men and women are created equal…”—recalling the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, establishing Stanton's credibility, and appealing to her audience’s interests.
Stanton then decries the “usurpations” and “injustices” suffered by women, providing the groundwork for her sentiments, and establishes the “necessity” that women “demand the equal station to which they are entitled.”
Stanton concludes the introduction with another allusion to the Declaration of Independence: “To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.” She creates a sense of immediacy, claiming that it is imperative she make plain the ways in which women have been subjected to “tyranny” under a patriarchal society.
List of Sentiments
Sentiment 1: The first grievance is the inability of women to vote.
Sentiment 2: Women are subject to a law in which they have no “voice.” They do not have any say in the formation of the law, yet they are still subject to it.
Sentiment 3: Whereas women are not allowed to vote, all men, even "the most ignorant and degraded" as well as "natives and foreigners," are allowed to do so.
Sentiment 4: Women remain stagnant in society because they cannot elect officials in “the halls of legislation” to represent their voices. Without this fundamental ability, their voices are silenced.
Sentiment 5: Married women, "in the eye of the law," are "civilly dead." This means that their legal status is “covered” under the protection of their husbands, removing women's autonomy and financial independence.
Sentiment 6: Married women cannot own land. Even their wages are turned over to their husbands.
Sentiment 7: Women are made morally irresponsible because they must be subservient to their husbands, or “masters,” in all matters of the law. Even if a woman commits a crime under her husband’s guidance, she is not punished or held accountable. The law deprives women of liberty and allows men to "administer chastisement," or censure their wives.
Sentiment 8: Men have framed the laws of divorce in such a way that makes it difficult for women to receive divorces, even in cases in which there is evidence of the husband’s adultery. In all matters, “all power [falls] into his hands.”
Sentiment 9: Taxation is a fundamentally unequal practice. Women must pay taxes to a government that does not see them as people. Only when “her property can be made profitable to it,” does the government choose to recognize her.
Sentiment 10: Men have monopolized the workforce, dominating the profitable professions and leaving women to the realm of caretaking, domesticity, and motherhood.
Sentiment 11: Men prohibit women from achieving any “wealth” or “distinction” by relegating them to positions of subservience, which they do not desire.
Sentiment 12: Nearly all colleges and institutions of higher education are closed to women.
Sentiment 13: Although allowed in church, women are excluded from becoming religious officials and taking part in the public affairs of the church.
Sentiment 14: Men and women are held to a double standard, by which behavior that "exclude[s] women from society" is "deemed of little account in man."
Sentiment 15: Men have taken up the title of God (Jehovah) by “usurping” women’s rights. However, a woman’s ability to think and act for herself is granted by her and “her God,” and not by the men who see themselves as God.
Sentiment 16: These laws and sentiments illustrate how women are left feeling inhuman and spiritless, forced to live “abject,” unfulfilling lives.
Concluding paragraphs: Stanton recognizes that the fight for women’s equality is long and fraught, and she declares it her life’s mission. She leaves her audience with a sense of hope, issuing her desire to convene again in other conventions and take greater claim in political and religious spheres. Once again, she reiterates the main argument of the declaration: “We insist that [women] have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.”
List of Resolutions
Resolution 1: If any law conflicts with a women’s “substantial happiness,” this law is of “no validity.”
Resolution 2: If any law prohibits a woman from taking a role in society which she desires, then that law is in conflict with “the great precept of nature.”
Resolution 3: In God’s eyes, “woman is man’s equal.” Not recognizing this equality is a threat to “the good of the race.”
Resolution 4: Women must take part in the “law under which they live” and voice when they are unsatisfied with their current conditions.
Resolution 5: Men must “encourage” women to speak up, specifically in religious settings.
Resolution 6: Men and women must be held to the same standard. The same values of “virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior” not only apply to women, but to men as well. The same severity of punishment should be applied to both men and women when they commit a crime.
Resolution 7: Women are constantly degraded for acting improper, and those who bestow these sorts of judgemental claims should be treated with “ill grace.”
Resolution 8: Women must move out of the “perverted application… the Scriptures have marked out for her.” Women must instead move into the “enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned for her”; that is, women should advance away from antiquated, limiting norms.
Resolution 9: Women will work to obtain the “sacred” vote.
Resolution 10: This resolution ensures the equality of all, and specifically states that equality stems from the the “capabilities and responsibilities” of all.
Resolution 11: The implementation of the resolutions depends “upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women.” In order to successful dismantle the structures in society that hold women back, specifically in the job market and in the workplace, both men and women must work together.
Resolution 12: Both men and women must work together “to promote every righteous cause by every righteous means.” Whether publicly or privately, in similar conventions or in writing, everyone can take part in disassembling patriarchal systems. Any authority who rejects these resolutions are “at war with mankind.”