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Militancy

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As long as the law reinforced the status quo, feminists fighting against suffrage had to take a radical approach in order to get legal recourse. They had to present a real threat to the established system. The issue of the institution of law as it related to politics presented very subtle complications. For one, the Suffrage Association had later, on during the course, turned conservative, with the main promise advanced being that even if women were given power at the ballot box, they would not use it. This did not convince the lawmakers and the male-dominated institution of law. Too much stalling led to despair among women’s rights activists to the extent that they started invoking militant threats in order to give impetus to campaigns in a frantic bid to catalyze the progress reform.

Half a century was a very long time for a marginalized social group to wait for law reforms. This is something that the new leadership of the Women’s Rights Movement understood very well and therefore became the main source of motivation for militant measures to be adopted.  The impetus with which the suffragist agenda had been introduced during the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, Duncan contends, was reignited with the takeover by young, energetic and more enlightened young leaders (619).

Additionally, a sharp contrast can be derived between those suffragists who were wrangling over the implications of enfranchising the black population, championing for institutional changes and fighting for state legislation in order to get the power of the ballot. Such wrangles, apart from leading splitting of existing organizations formation of new ones, drew attention to the weaknesses of the course that women were fighting for. Although the opposing sides reunited later, it is the militant force that had characterized the movement since its inception that kept the mission of liberating women, thereby taking most of the credit for the birth of 19th amendment. It is through association to militancy that new, young leaders felt obliged to carry on with the fight for suffrage rights to the very end.

When Alice Paul, a prominent suffragist, called for hunger strikes and militant actions, a clear message had been sent to every sympathizer of the Women’s Rights movement that perseverance was needed, mass marches were going to characterize all campaigns and that no compromise would come in the way of the noble course that the women were fighting for. This explains the critical role that such hard-line positions played in spreading a firm message of discontent and awareness with the established system that failed to recognize women as citizens, thereby denying such basic civil rights as voting.

The 15th amendment came with new promises by allowing African Americans the right to vote. Yet it ignited a fire of fury among suffragists who argued this way: if slavery was abolished on both male and female black Americans, why can the same thing not happen to the issue of the right to vote? As DuBois puts it, the fact that such a question triggered ridicule among pro-establishment forces meant that something beyond mere campaigns was required if these rights were to be achieved (856). History has proven that the decision by Women’s Rights Movement to use the militancy strategy is that one the one that contributed most to the proclamation of the 19th amendment, which gave voting rights to women.

Historians like to toy with the proposition that although the 19th amendment was proclaimed, that is as far as women went with regard to their rights. That aside, the suffrage struggle clearly outlined the dangers of compromising the most basic principles of civil rights in order to achieve political expediency. It is no wonder, then, that politicians had to encounter a militant movement that was very determined to have their share of their revolutionary pie. The militant approach was needed in order to fill in the advocacy vacuum that would have been created by divergent views of conservatives and radicals within the Women’s Rights Movement. Of these two groups, it is the militants’ force that was more convincing to federal authorities, so forceful it was that the 19th amendment was finally proclaimed on August 26, 1920.

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