Belated Birthday Wishes to a Presidential Candidate

Yesterday, I posted a piece about Belva Ann Lockwood, an American Portia, on the occasion of her 182nd birthday. However, especially since we are in the final weeks of a presidential campaign I must say a bit about her campaigns for that high office.

Ms Lockwood worked hard from the outset of her legal career to do well and to make a name for herself, even in such areas as criminal law. According to her biographer, Attorney Lockwood managed to do quite well.

“The postbellum emphasis on gentility made the thought of women working in the criminal courts egregious, even loathsome. Society’s morally repugnant dramas played out in criminal court, a place off-bounds to ladies. Lockwood could have refused criminal cases. Yet, despite her religious rectitude and middle-class aspirations, criminal cases and criminal court argument were as acceptable to her as any other kind of legal work. It is not difficult to imagine this no-nonsense woman facing the judge in a room teeming with people, many of them down on their luck, charged with drunkenness or simple assault. Nor is it difficult to contemplate why the poor and the unfortunate had to accept representation by an inexperienced, woman lawyer. But Lockwood cut a sharp figure and was blessed with a quick mind and tongue. By 1875 she had begun to attract clients charged with more serious crimes, representation that brought her before the judges of the criminal division of the D.C. Supreme Court. From 1875 to 1885 Belva represented at least 69 criminal defendants in this court. They were charged with virtually every category of crime from mail fraud and forgery to burglary and murder. She won “not guilty” decisions in 15 jury trials and submitted guilty pleas in 9. Thirty-one of her clients were judged guilty as charged, while five others were found to be guilty of a lesser charge. An entry of nolle prosequi (termination of the proceedings by the prosecutor) ended four cases. She won retrials for several others.”– Jill Norgren, author of Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who would Be President.

the definitive biography of Lockwood

“Lockwood was not content to rest on her personal achievements. She sought not only suffrage, but full political and civil rights for all women. . . . . Explaining why she entered the race, she wrote in a letter to her future running mate, Marietta Stow: “We shall never have equal rights until we take them, nor respect until we command it.” In 1884 and 1888, during her two campaigns as the presidential nominee of the Equal Rights Party, Lockwood drew attention to a range of issues important to Americans, among them, preservation of public lands, reform of family law to make it less unfair to women, and use of tariff revenues to fund benefits for Civil War veterans. No celestial idealist, Lockwood turned to advantage the publicity of the campaign to launch herself onto the paid lecture circuit.”– Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

period political cartoon mocking Lockwood’s candidacy

In 1884 the Equal Rights Party nominated Lockwood for president of the United States. She ran on a liberal platform, radical in its day, that included the following:

1. We pledge ourselves, if elected to power, so far as in us lies to do equal and exact justice to every class of our citizens, without distinction of color, sex, or nationality.  

2. We shall recommend that the laws of the several states be so amended that women will be recognized as voters, and their property-rights made equal with that of the male population, to the end that they may become self-supporting rather than a dependent class.  

3. It will be our earnest endeavor to revive the now lagging industries of the country by encouraging and strengthening our commercial relations with other countries, especially with the Central and South American States, . . . encourage exports by an effort to create a demand for our home productions; and to this end we deem that a moderate tariff-sufficient to protect the laboring classes, but not so high as to keep our goods out of the market-as most likely to conserve the best interests of our whole people. That is to say, we shall avoid as much as possible a high protective tariff on the one hand, and free trade on the other. We shall also endeavor, by all laudable means, to increase the wages of laboring man and women. Our protective system will be most earnestly exerted to protect the commonwealth of the country from venality and corruption in high places.  

4. It will be our earnest effort to see that the solemn contract made with the soldiers of the country on enlistment into the United States service-viz.: that if disabled therein they should be pensioned-strictly carried out; and that without unnecessary expense and delay to them . . . .


6. We believe that the only solution of the Indian question is to . . . treat the Indian like a rational human being, as we have the Negro–make him a citizen, amenable to the laws, and let him manage his own private affairs.  


9. We oppose monopoly, the tendency of which is to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer, as opposed to the genius and welfare of republican institutions.  

10. We shall endeavor to aid in every laudable way the work of educating the masses of the people, not only in book knowledge, but in physical, moral, and social culture, in such a manner as will ‘tend to elevate the standard of American manhood and womanhood-that the individual may receive the highest possible development.  

11. We recommend a uniform system of laws for the several states as desirable, as far as practicable; and especially the laws relating to the descent of property, marriage and divorce, and the limitation of contracts.  

12. We will endeavor to maintain the peaceable relations which now exist between the various sections of our vast country, and strive to enter into a compact of peace with the other American as well as the European nations, in order that the peace which we now enjoy may become perpetual. We believe that war is a relic of barbarism belonging to the past, and should only be resorted to in the direst extremity.  

13. That the dangers of a solid South or a solid North shall be averted by a strict regard to the interests of every section of the country, a fair distribution of public offices, and such a distribution of the public funds, for the increase of the facilities of inter-comi-rercial relations, as will restore the South to her former industrial prestige, develop the exhaustless resources of the West, foster the iron, coal, and woolen interests of the Middle States, and revive the manufactures of the East.  

14. We shall foster evil service, believing that a true civil service reform, honestly and candidly administered, will lift us out of the imputation of having become a nation of office seekers, and have a tendency to develop in candidates for office an earnest desire to make themselves worthy and capable of performing the duties of the office that they desire to fill; and, in order to make the reform a permanent one, recommend that it be engrafted into the Constitution of the United States.  

15. It will be the policy of the Equal Rights party to see that the residue of the public domain is parceled out to actual settlers only, that the honest yeomanry of the land, and especially those who have fought to preserve it, shall enjoy its benefits.  

In October, 1884, Belva Lockwood delivered a campaign speech in New York City to an audience of about 1,050 people, mostly women, whom the New York Times dismissively described as “the leading female suffragists of the city . . . a majority of middle-aged virgins, with one or two pretty girls and fashionable young women.” [NYT, October 20, 1884] Candidate Lockwood, tastefully attired in a black silk dress, a societal reminder that she was indeed a widow, spoke “in an even, clear, and pleasant voice that reached the furthest corner of the hall.” [NYT, October 20, 1884]

most likely how Lockwood dressed while campaigning

A skilled speaker and well aware of the society and her audience, the candidate began with a Biblical quotation from II Samuel 23:3 “He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God..” She carefully launched into an explanation of key parts of the party’s platform, pointing out that for 20 years the two major parties governed without much difference in political philosophy and certainly without building peace between capitalist corporate owners and the working masses. Turning to issues near to her heart, Ms Lockwood, knowledgeable in constitutional law, explained that there was no prohibition against a woman being president and though she herself could not vote, nothing prevented men from voting for her. She asserted that males “have been running the Government of the United States on a policy diametrically opposed to the Constitution, for in all of these years a grand aristocracy known as the men of the country have insisted on and have succeeded in distributing all of the public money. [Applause] We are determined to break up this gigantic hide-bound monopoly based on sex which makes of the women of the country paupers and checks and strangles in them at birth inspiration and aspiration, and makes of every male child half a tyrant and half a freeman. This senseless oppression is rapidly deteriorating the mental and physical powers of the race. Only a grand, free woman, with the fresh blood of inspiration flowing through her veins and proud of her motherhood can bear a child fit to govern a republic.”

Sane and sensible platform and challenging campaign speech and still relevant. I wonder if we have in either political party right now enough intelligent minds, hearts of broad vision and will to work for the common good to put into effect such platform provisions.

Ms Lockwood, along Alfred H Love, founded and helped to lead the Universal Peace Union, a peace advocacy group. She supported the establishment of an international court of justice, a parliament of nations and a system of international treaties of arbitration to replace war as an instrument of national policy. On these topics she gave public addresses not only in the United States but in England and on the European continent as well, even being received by the elderly Queen Victoria.

the 1986 postage stamp issued in her honor

Ms Lockwood worked long and hard for woman suffrage. The New York Times in the obituary for Belva Lockwood on May 20, 1917, quoted her as saying, “Suffrage is no longer an issue. It is an accomplished fact. Those states which have denied it to women will come around.”

She died about a month after the United States declared war against Germany. I wonder if that decision to join the Great War saddened unto death her elderly heart so dedicated to peace. Yet she must have died knowing that the first woman elected to Congress, Ms Jeanette Rankin, had put her political career at stake by voting against President Wilson and in keeping with the peace principles which the two women shared. “No one can claim to be called Christian who gives money for the building of warships and arsenals.”– Belva Lockwood

We need more like her.

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