One of the most vital documents in the women’s rights movement, “The Declaration of Sentiments” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton is rich with history and literary merit. An impassioned orator and skillful author, Stanton used rhetoric to appeal to her audience. Drawing on the three rhetorical appeals—ethos, pathos, and logos—as well as invoking the language of the Declaration of Independence, Stanton speaks directly to her audience. Her declaration powerfully compares the immediacy and necessity for American revolution with that of the women’s rights movement nearly seventy five years later.
Structure and Style
Throughout the “Declaration of Sentiments,” Elizabeth Cady Stanton mirrors the structure and style of the United States Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson and adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. Arguably on the most important documents in American history, the declaration demonstrated the American colonies’ desire for autonomy from British rule and announced the start of the American Revolution. By drawing on the form of this historically powerful document, Stanton clarifies her intentions: the American desire for freedom from British monarchy is the same as women’s desire to become free from society’s patriarchal oppression. Stanton’s comparison indicates the magnitude of women’s rights issues, which she views on par with the nation’s independence 75 years prior.
The first four paragraphs of Stanton’s declaration closely follow the structure and diction of the Declaration of Independence. However, Stanton makes a few noteworthy deviations from the original text, which have been bolded. The opening paragraph, for example, in the Declaration of Independence states:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
In her text, Stanton alters some of her diction and phrases to speak to the women’s rights movement. The meaning of her declaration diverges from that of the Declaration of Independence when Stanton lays out her thesis, claiming that one “portion” of society has been oppressed by another:
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.
In the opening paragraph, she switches “people” to “portion of the family of man,” and “the separate and equal station” to “a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied.” Straightaway, the language of Stanton’s declaration shifts the original meaning of political separation to that of the suffering of women in society.
The mirrored structure proceeds throughout the second paragraph. Whereas the original declaration claims, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal,” Stanton revises it to include women by stating, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.” Through this change, Stanton demonstrates the failure of the Declaration of Independence to include women by integrating them into her own declaration.
Stanton continues to alter phrases throughout her declaration, such as in paragraphs three and four. The original states:
Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history...
(The entire section is 2,261 words.)