Rhetorical Analysis: On Women’s Right to Vote, Essay Example

Susan B. Anthony delivered her “On Women’s Right to Vote” speech after she was arrested and fined $100 for voting in the 1872 presidential election. To appreciate this speech, the history of its occasion should be considered. When ex-slaves were awarded the right to vote through passage of the 15th amendment, many suffragists fought for the amendment to grant universal suffrage rather than suffrage for only this group. It was no surprise, then, the passion, anger, and persuasive message of women’s rights that Anthony used in her speech to the court when she was arrested in 1873. It is well known that this argument was a major turning point in history because it led to controversy and change for women in following years. To fully understand the reason behind why her speech went so well and persuaded many people to believe in her cause, it will be useful to conduct a rhetorical analysis; the method of speaking that Anthony uses involves logos, ethos, and pathos in “On Women’s Right to Vote” if used in any similar situation, should effectively promote the same change and action for a new speaker as it did for Anthony and her supporters.

The main argument Susan B. Anthony makes in “On Women’s Right to Vote” is the belief that women, like men, should be able to democratically elect their politicians. Women were still considered as somehow less human than men and had not been granted the same rights. Anthony argues that “For any State to make sex a qualification that must ever result in the disfranchisement of one entire half of the people is to pass a bill of attainder, or an ex post facto law, and is therefore a violation of the supreme law of the land” (15). In this statement, she directly refers to the fact that statements in the Constitution meant to provide rights and protections have historically only referred to the white male; after the ratification of the 15th amendment, Constitutional rights were extended to colored people as well. Despite this, she argues against the fact that the Constitution doesn’t apply to 50 percent of the population in the United States. She uses the rest of her speech to explain why women’s rights are important and that women should receive the right to vote.

The purpose of this speech is to persuade the audience that women should be afforded the right to vote. When she delivers this speech, Susan B. Anthony is hoping to appeal to the audience in court. Specifically, the men and women who she believed that could be convinced that women should be afforded equal rights. The ultimate goal of her speech is to drive physical change by encouraging people who have not yet been involved in the women’s suffrage movement to take action.

Anthony’s appeal to her audience is particularly convincing due to her use of evidence throughout her speech When Susan B. Anthony says, “It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen’s right, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any State to deny” she appeals to the audience by comparing women’s rights to human rights. To support this argument, she uses the Constitution as a source both information and evidence because everyone that she is speaking to in the courthouse is expected to be fundamentally aware of law it describes. When she says this sentence, Anthony explains that women are not being treated as human beings despite the protections that the Constitution is supposed to afford to all people in this country. When Susan B. Anthony says, “And it is downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government-the ballot.”, she appeals to the audience by using a specific example that supports the statement discussed above. Women cannot possibly enjoy the rights given to the people of this country if they are not allowed to vote using the ballot. By detailing the story that led to her arrest, she provides a concrete example of the inequality that the Constitution is unable to protect against. Therefore, in these parts of the speech, she emphasizes unfair treatment of women and demonstrates how they are being treated as inferior. In doing so, she persuades the audience that voting is the only way to start treating women as equals.

To strengthen her argument, Susan B. Anthony uses logos in her argument. Logos is a component of rhetoric that refers to the ability of a speaker to persuade by the use of reasoning. In this speech, Susan B. Anthony uses a combination of logic and reasoning several times in order to emphasize her point. Specifically she says, “It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed this Union” (15). By doing so, she cites an exact phrase that was used in the Constitution of the United States and applied it to suffrage. By doing so, she uses reasoning to demonstrate that the country’s forefathers wanted equality for all people and this is the foundation on which this country was established. As a result of this reference, the audience was expected to connect more substantially with the purpose of her speech because they will draw the connection that she wants them to; the constitution applies to people as a whole, not just men, so women deserve the same rights that men are given.

Anthony uses a second example of logos when she states “Our democratic-republican government is based on the idea of the natural right of every individual member thereof to a voice and a vote in making and executing laws”. By doing so, she uses logical appeal to refer to the fact that she should have the right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment and that the Constitution was supposed to ensure all citizens rights. She went on to say that, “the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the constitutions of several States and the organic laws of the Territories, all alike propose to protect the people in the exercise of their God-given rights”. Therefore her argument used deductive logical reasoning to show that if these documents were meant for all people, and they granted rights and protections, that women are people and should be given the same rights and protections.

A third example of logos refers to the terminology used in the Constitution; many people argued that the use of the words “he, his, and him” in the Constitution only refer to men, and therefore these rights only apply to men. She uses logical reasoning to retort that if only men are given these rights by the Constitution, then women should be freed from obligations like taxation because these documents clearly don’t refer to them. In addition, women are exempted from criminal laws under these conditions; since there is no she, hers, or her in these laws, only men are able to break the law. These examples above show how Susan B Anthony effectively uses logos to strengthen her argument.

Anthony uses another appeal in her argument in order to persuade her audience which is ethos. It refers to the credibility of the speaker. Susan B. Anthony uses ethos when she cites Senator Charles Sumner. She uses the credibly of a man who holds the same belief as her regarding her rights as a citizen. Many people both knew and respected the Senator in 1873. Since the male audience voted him into office, they should share many opinions with him. As a result, people would be more likely to believe in Anthony’s statement knowing she had some backup from a person who holds power.

Anthony uses ethos a second time when she cites the authority of a Quaker preacher, who holds authority on her subject because the preacher was prominent at the time that the country was being founded. If  during the time that the Declaration of Independence was written, the Quakers believed that women should have equal value in society as men, it is interesting that this belief was lost as society continued to grow over time. Nonetheless, Anthony uses the reference to this Quaker preacher to appeal to her audience because his belief reflects the beliefs of this country’s forefathers, who intended all people to be treated equally.

A third example of ethos occurs when Anthony cites a reputable source that is the Fourteenth Amendment: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States, and of the State wherein they reside” (16). By this definition of the word citizen, then all the rights afforded by the Constitution should also apply to women; if this is the case, women have the right to vote under the laws that our country’s forefathers established.

Although Susan. B Anthony could have simply accepted the fine she received for trying to vote and not given a speech like this at her trial, she was so passionate about the women’s rights that she delivered this speech. Even though we read this speech rather than heard it being said, we can expect that when she recited this speech, the audience could detect emotion in her tone. In conclusion, Susan B. Anthony’s speech was highly effective because of the rhetorical principles that she took advantage of while conveying her message of women’s suffrage to the courts. The elements of rhetoric that she uses include logos, pathos, and ethos. She speaks in an ideal manner to her target audience and knows them well so she can maximize their response. Anthony makes her argument and purpose clear throughout the speech, using evidence and logic to support her statements. Eventually, this was an ideal speech because many of her listeners respected her opinion and became supporters of the women’s suffrage movement. This moment in history sparked belief in the idea of women’s rights, and many women in the United States today are able to enjoy its outcome.

Works Cited

Anthony, Susan B. “On Women’s Right to Vote”. Language Matters, Ed, Debra De      Southlake, TX:Fountainhead Press, 2010.13-19.Print