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Despite What They Tell You: The Constitution Never Discriminated Against Women

One way some writers try to discredit the Constitution is to assert that the document’s original meaning discriminated against women.

Thus, a 2011 Time Magazine cover story claimed that “The [Constitution’s] framers gave us the idea that . . . women were not allowed to vote.” An October 13, 2020 article in The Hill added, “The very fact that [Amy Coney] Barrett accepted the president’s nomination means that there are limits to her originalism. She clearly doesn’t believe that being a woman disqualifies her from sitting on the Supreme Court.”

The author of the Time Magazine article formerly headed the National Constitution Center. The author of The Hill piece sports a “Ph.D. in Political Science from Indiana University, with a focus on comparative constitutional law.” Both of them should have known better.

It has been over a century since the state legislatures ratified the 19th amendment, which guaranteed female suffrage nationwide.  The amendment is worded in a way that readily provokes two questions: (1) Taken in context with previous amendments, it implies that women already voted in some states; is this true? and (2) why didn’t the amendment add the right to hold federal office?

The answers are: (1) Yes, before the amendment was ratified, women voted in many states. Where they were blocked from the polls, it resulted from a decision by state authorities. It was not dictated by the Constitution. (2) The original Constitution permitted women to hold federal office, as demonstrated by the congressional service, before the 19th amendment, of Rep. Jeanette Rankin of Montana.

In fact, the Constitution never barred women either from voting or from holding federal office. On the contrary, the document’s framers carefully avoided sex-based tests for voting or officeholding, just as they avoided tests based on race, property, or religion. Here’s the background:

When the Constitutional Convention met in 1787, most state constitutions contemplated that voters and officeholders would be male. Some expressly limited voting to “male inhabitants” (New York, Massachusetts) or “freemen” (New Hampshire, Pennsylvania). The Virginia constitution provided for election to the state Senate of “the man who shall have the greatest number of votes in the whole district,” and the New York constitution described the state legislature as consisting of “two separate and distinct bodies of men.”

Although at the time people often employed the word “man” generically to signify a human being, these documents probably meant “man” in the narrower, male sense. For example, the Virginia constitution’s use of “man” was interpreted in practice to limit voting and office-holding to males.

But not all state charters were written that way. The New Jersey constitution was gender-neutral. It nowhere contained the words “man” or “men.” Rather, it granted both suffrage and the right to hold office to “all inhabitants” who met certain property requirements. It uniformly referred to officeholders as “persons.”

The New Jersey constitution did use the pronoun “he” and its variants. But of course before the PC language-manipulation project of recent years, standard English used “he” and its variants to designate either men or women. Women had their own pronouns; men had to share theirs.

Contemporaries fully recognized the New Jersey constitution as gender-neutral. That’s why women could vote in that state. They voted in such numbers that New Jersey political operatives routinely included appeals for the female vote.

The spirit of the time favored female political involvement in other states as well. Massachusetts saw sporadic female voting. During the public debates over the Constitution, women participated actively on both sides of the issue. In addition to voting for ratification convention delegates in New Jersey and perhaps elsewhere, women organized public events, mostly in favor of the Constitution. Mercy Otis Warren of Massachusetts (later a distinguished historian) contributed essays against the Constitution. And both sides apparently made written appeals to women for political support.

The delegates to the 1787 Constitution Convention were consciously writing for the ages. They surely realized that female suffrage could spread beyond New Jersey. Politics being what it is, the power to vote would encourage women to run for political office as well. The framers therefore made the document agnostic on the subject of gender. Any restrictions based on sex would have to be imposed at the state level, because the Constitution did not impose them.

The records of the convention show that gender neutrality was the dominant assumption from its early days. The Virginia Plan, the outline used to kick off the debates, was gender neutral. Judge William Paterson’s competing New Jersey Plan followed his state’s basic law by referring to participants in public affairs as “citizens,” “inhabitants” and “persons.” Only once in the New Jersey Plan did “man” or “men” appear, and that was in the phrase “body of men” to describe a presumably armed band of men defying federal law.

From the beginning, moreover, the framers accepted that representation in the lower house of the national legislature would be based on state population or wealth, rather than according to the number of males, as in states such as New Hampshire and New York.

Later in the convention, the framers did consider some gender qualifications—only to reject them. For example, in late July and early August, 1787, a Committee of Detail fashioned the convention’s resolutions into a first draft of the Constitution. Committee member James Wilson suggested that electors be limited to “freemen,” as in his own state of Pennsylvania. And his colleague Edmund Randolph’s initial outline listed “manhood” as a possible suffrage qualification.

But the committee rejected both proposals as “not justified by the [convention’s] resolutions.” When the committee draft emerged, it avoided the singular word “man” and referred to the president as a “person.”

In the interim, though, some gender specificity crept in. The Committee of Detail draft described the national legislature as consisting of “two separate and distinct Bodies of Men.” It also granted the president the title of “His Excellency,” with no provision for any “Her Excellency.” And later in the convention Pierce Butler of South Carolina proposed, and the convention adopted, a clause with a one-time appearance of the phrase “He or She.” Of course, such a phrase might suggest that where the Constitution employed only “he” (as everywhere else in the document) it meant only males.

Later in the convention, though, the delegates dropped “He or She,” thereby clarifying that “he” encompassed persons of the both sexes. The convention also delegated final drafting to a Committee of Style. Committee member Gouverneur Morris did most of the actual writing. With respect to gender, he followed the New Jersey model. The final version of the Constitution made the following changes from earlier drafts and resolutions:

  • It omitted the phrase “Bodies of Men” in describing the national legislature.
  • It avoided all use of “man” and “men.”
  • It employed only gender-neutral terms such as “person,” “citizen,” “inhabitant,” and titles such as “officer” and “elector.”
  • It deleted the power of Congress to override state laws on voter qualifications, thereby fully empowering states to enfranchise women for federal as well as state elections.

This gender neutrality was not lost on the wider public. It may have been one reason more women worked for the Constitution than against it. But gender neutrality also came under fire from the Constitution’s opponents. One essayist writing under the pseudonym “Cato” objected to the document’s allocation of Representatives by “inhabitants” rather than by male freemen. Another writer, satirizing opposition arguments, criticized the Constitution because it did not limit the president to a person “of the male gender.” The satirist pointed out that “Without [such an] exclusion” Americans might “come to have an old woman at the head of our affairs.” Of course, those sexist arguments did not prevail.

Sex-based restrictions were left to the states, and over time states gradually abolished them?a development the Constitution’s gender neutrality made possible.

A version of this article appeared in the December 27, 2020 issue of the Epoch Times.

The post Despite What They Tell You: The Constitution Never Discriminated Against Women first appeared on Tenth Amendment Center.

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Today in History: Constitution Finalized and Signed

Today in 1787, representatives in Philadelphia signed the finalized United States Constitution. This occurred after a summer filled with contrasting proposals and rigorous debate.

The convention decided upon a league of states rather than a national government, settling on “a more perfect union.” Throwing monarchy to the wayside, the body embraced the separation of powers doctrine, ensuring one center of power could not become too dominant over the others. The document incorporated federalist maxims and recognized that all powers not enumerated would be reserved to the states and the people.

Some were adulated. Prominent delegates that were supportive of the final version included Roger Sherman, Oliver Wolcott, Charles Pinckney, Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson, James Iredell, Gouvernor Morris, John Rutledge, Rufus King, and John Dickinson. These individuals worked within their respective states to sell the document to the masses, declaring that all powers transferred to the general government were expressly delegated.

However, not all were so impressed. George Mason – who shunned the finalized Constitution because it lacked a bill of rights and would not allow for the elimination the international slave trade for twenty years – departed the city in disdain and refused to sign the document. “Colonel Mason left Philadelphia in an exceeding ill humor indeed,” James Madison wrote.

Elbridge Gerry and Edmund Randolph also refused to sign. Two-thirds of the New York delegation had left in protest in July, and two delegates from Maryland left the proceedings as well. Many set out to dissuade their home states from ratifying the document almost immediately after the convention.

Both Madison and Alexander Hamilton, who later worked strenuously to secure ratification in their own states, were displeased by the Constitution but signed regardless. Hamilton disclosed that his ideas were “very remote” from the final version. This was a true admission – in Philadelphia Hamilton proposed a nationalist government where the executive served for life as a practical monarch, where senators served for life, where states were basically eradicated, and where the executive appointed state governors.

Madison signed the document but admitted to Thomas Jefferson that it did not suit his liking – he was especially concerned about the lack of a federal negative over state laws, the fact that all states would be equally represented by the Senate, the fact that the judiciary would be less powerful than was called for by his Virginia Plan proposal, and because the general government would be confined to enumerated powers rather than be equipped to exercise general legislative authority.

Madison felt the document was superior to the Articles of Confederation, but felt it had deficiencies. Still, Madison understood that the new framework “would give to the general government every power requisite for general purposes, and leave to the States every power which might be most beneficially administered by them.”

As a woman patiently waited in front of the locked doors at the Pennsylvania State House, many were left mystified as to which type of government would be proposed. By that time, most of the western world only knew monarchy. Emerging from behind the doors, Benjamin Franklin, a man knew by the pen name of Richard Saunders approached.

When asked by the woman what form the new government would take, Franklin answered astutely: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

While the Constitution was signed on this day, it had absolutely no legal effect until ratified. The ratification mechanism decided upon and articulated in Article VII, called for independent state conventions to determine each state’s endorsement. As such, the Constitution was a compact “between the States, so ratifying the same” according to Article VII.

The ratification struggle continued throughout the next few years, while the document remained incredibly controversial and faced tough barriers in some of the most important states, such as New York and Virginia.

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Freedom and Prosperity: The Importance of Sound Money

Sound money is a key to a free and prosperous society. That principle was clearly reflected in the monetary system that the Constitution established when it called the federal government into existence.

Our ancestors didn’t trust government officials with power. They believed that the greatest threat to their own freedom and well-being lay not with some foreign regime but rather with their own government. They understood that historically most people had lost their freedom and prosperity at the hands of their own governments rather than at the hands of some conquering foreign power.

That was why the American people lived for more than a decade under the Articles of Confederation, a governmental structure that provided for a federal government with extremely weak and limited powers. Under the Articles, the federal government didn’t even have the power to tax.

That was precisely how our American ancestors wanted it. For them, a weak federal government meant a federal government that was incapable of destroying their freedom and economic well-being.

When the delegates met at the Constitutional Convention, they were charged with the task of simply modifying the Articles of Confederation. Instead, the delegates came up with a proposal for a federal government that was very different from that under the Articles. Under this new governmental structure, the federal government would have much more power, including the power to tax.

Given their conviction that government was the main threat to their freedom and well-being, most Americans were not excited about the proposal. They could envision ending up with a federal government that would enslave them, confiscate their property, incarcerate them, torture them, impoverish them, and even kill them, all without due process of law.

The proponents of the Constitution emphasized that the federal government would be prohibited from doing such things to Americans because the Constitution itself set forth the limited powers that the federal government could exercise. If a power wasn’t enumerated, it couldn’t be exercised.

Historically, one of the most effective ways that political rulers would destroy the liberty and economic well-being of the citizenry was through control over the nation’s monetary system. That’s because governments would inevitably use that control as a way to finance ever-burgeoning expenses of the king, his court, and often his wars against foreign regimes.

To pay for such expenses, the king would tax his subjects. The king’s law required people to pay their taxes. If a person refused, the king’s soldiers or other agents would simply seize the person’s assets and arrest and incarcerate him. Nothing would be permitted to interfere with the process of seizing people’s assets or income to pay for the king’s expenses and debts.

However, kings knew that when taxes got too high, people would get angry. If the anger got deep enough, rebellion and revolution would become a possibility, which was certainly not in the kings’ best interests.

Thus, when a king’s taxes rose to the point where revolution became a possibility, he would resort to his control over the nation’s money to acquire the additional resources that he needed to fund his burgeoning expenses and debts.

The history of money

In commerce, people enter into trades with one another in order to improve their respective standards of living. A person with lots of apples, for example, trades with a person with lots of oranges. At the moment of the trade, both sides benefit because each is giving up something he values less for something he values more.

However, over time that barter system becomes impractical because often people with lots of apples want to trade with someone with lots of pears. Sometimes, however, the person with lots of pears wants oranges but not apples. And the person with lots of oranges wants apples but not pears.

Historically, to facilitate trades, people began using commonly used commodities. The most popular became gold and silver. The person with lots of apples would use a small quantity of gold or silver to buy some pears. The person with the pears would then use that gold or silver to purchase oranges. The person with oranges would use it to buy apples.

Over time, kings assumed the power to mint the gold and silver into coins. Their argument was that this process would ensure that people could trust the coins in circulation to be valid and legitimate. If the king’s coins said “One ounce of gold,” presumably people could rely on that representation because it was the king making it.

Kings, however, figured out a way to turn this power to their advantage. People would pay their taxes in, say, gold coins. Once the coins entered the government’s treasury, the king’s monetary agents would shave a small part of the gold from around the edges of the coin. The process came to be known as “clipping the coin.”

The king would then put the coins back into circulation. The problem, of course, is that while the coin said “One Ounce Gold Coin” on it, it now contained less than one ounce, owing to the king’s clipping of the coin.

Meanwhile, the king would melt the shavings down and create new coins with them, which obviously multiplied the number of coins at his disposal to pay for his ever-increasing expenses and debts. This inflation of additional coins, however, would debase the value of all the other coins in circulation.

This process of monetary debasement inevitably left people worse off. For example, a seller might receive from a purchaser of his wares a coin purporting to contain one ounce of gold but actually containing less than an ounce. When he went into the marketplace to buy something for one ounce of gold, he could encounter sellers who demanded his one-ounce coin plus a bit more, given that his one-ounce gold coin no longer contained one ounce of gold.

Thus the king’s clipping of the coin and his inflation of the money supply became a means by which he could secretly and surreptitiously tax people. Another reason that kings preferred this way of taxing people to the direct way was that most people didn’t realize what the king was doing. When prices rose across the realm, which is the way a debased currency manifests itself, the citizenry would blame it on sellers and producers rather than on the king.

Once the printing press was invented, the process became even more beneficial to political regimes. They would decree that paper bills and notes issued by the government, rather than gold and silver coins minted by the government, were now the official “legal tender” for the nation. That meant business would be transacted in “fiat” or paper money that was being printed and supplied by the government.

It didn’t take long for governments to realize that they could use the printing press to print up as much paper money as they wanted to pay for their ever-growing expenses and debts. No more clipping the coin, melting the shavings, and producing more coins with them. Just crank up the printing press and print up as much money as they needed.

Of course, the process would have the same destructive effect as debasing coins. As the inflated supply of paper money flooded the economy, the value of everyone’s money went down. That reduction in value was reflected in rising prices across society, which people inevitably blamed on producers and sellers, just as they did when coins were being debased.

Guaranteeing sound money

The delegates at the Constitutional Convention knew that the American people were well versed in the history of monetary debasement at the hands of government officials. They also knew that Americans had just recently experienced this phenomenon during the Revolutionary War, when the Continental Congress and state governments had resorted to the printing press to pay for the war effort. They ended up printing so much paper money that they destroyed the value of everyone’s money. That’s how the phrase “Not worth a Continental” came into existence.

Thus, the Framers knew that if they were to persuade the American people to abandon the Articles of Confederation in favor of the new governmental system, the Constitution would have to make it clear that the new federal government would lack the power to destroy people’s liberty and economic well-being through monetary debasement.

That’s how the American people acquired the most effective sound-money system in history, one that lasted for more than 100 years. It was a system that not only protected the citizenry from monetary debasement but also played a major role in the monumental increase in the standard of living of the American people throughout the 19th century.

The Constitution was a document that set forth the limited powers of the federal government and, at the same time, restricted some of the powers of the states. The idea was that if a power wasn’t expressly delegated to the federal government, it couldn’t be exercised. The idea also was that the states were authorized to exercise any power they wanted (subject to any limitations in state constitutions) except those powers that were expressly prohibited by the Constitution.

The Constitution delegated the power to coin money to the federal government. At the same time, it did not expressly delegate a power to the federal government to issue paper money, which, at that time, was referred to as “bills of credit.”

The Constitution also expressly prohibited the states from making anything but gold and silver legal tender. It further expressly prohibited the states from issuing “bills of credit” or paper money.

The Framers’ intent was clear: the U.S. economy would be based not on a paper-money monetary system, but rather on a gold standard. The official money of the American people would be both gold coins and silver coins.

The Constitution also provided the federal government with the power to borrow money, a power that U.S. officials would exercise through the issuance of bonds, notes, and bills. While such instruments would often circulate and appear to be money, everyone understood that they weren’t money at all but instead promises to pay money.

Today, it is often said that the United States had a monetary system based on paper money that was backed by gold. That is incorrect. There is no way that our American ancestors would ever have accepted the Constitution if it was going to bring into existence a paper-money monetary system. The system the Constitution brought into existence was one based on gold coins and silver coins.

From the very beginning, the U.S government took charge of minting the coins. While it was theoretically possible for federal officials to begin “clipping the coin,” as rulers had done throughout history, they didn’t do that, possibly because they knew that Americans would never tolerate such political tampering with their money.

The result was a system of sound money, the likes of which the world had never seen. Given that people were assured that government lacked the power to destroy or harm them through monetary debasement, they were free to make long-term loans and investments, which contributed to the economic prosperity of the nation. People even felt safe buying 100-year bonds from private corporations, knowing that they (or their heirs) would not be paid back in cheapened, devalued money.


The finest monetary system in history came unraveled in the 20th century. In 1913, the Federal Reserve System was established, which was a government agency charged with centrally planning America’s monetary system. It proved to be a disaster, especially in 1929, when its monetary calculations went awry, resulting in the stock market crash that year, which was followed by the Great Depression.

U.S. officials, led by President Franklin Roosevelt blamed the crash and the Depression on America’s “free-enterprise system” rather than on the Federal Reserve, where the responsibility for the crisis lay. Roosevelt used the crisis as an excuse to destroy America’s gold-coin, silver-coin standard in favor of a paper-money standard that rulers throughout history had used to plunder and loot their citizens and subjects.

Keep in mind that the Constitution also provided for an amendment process should Americans wish to change any aspect of their constitutional system. The Constitution could not be amended by either presidential decree or legislative enactment.

Yet that is precisely what Roosevelt and Congress did. They destroyed the monetary system on which the nation had been founded through executive decree and congressional legislation. They used the crisis of the Great Depression as their justification, but they knew that the Framers had intentionally not included a crisis or emergency justification in the Constitution for the exercise of tyrannical powers.

And there is no better word than “tyranny” to describe what Roosevelt and Congress did. “Morally reprehensible” would be a close second. Roosevelt ordered every American to deliver his gold holdings to the federal government. If an American failed to do so and was caught with gold coins, he would be arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated for having committed a grave felony offense.

In return for their gold coins, Roosevelt gave Americans federal promissory notes, which effectively promised to pay them nothing. Soon after Roosevelt nationalized people’s gold, he devalued the paper debt instruments that he had delivered to Americans in exchange for their gold.

Roosevelt’s conversion of America to a paper-money monetary system, one managed by a central bank (the Federal Reserve), opened up the floodgates for federal spending and debt, which would increasingly grow as America moved toward a welfare-warfare state way of life. Decade after decade, as federal spending and debt grew, the feds would crank up the printing presses to augment the ever-increasing taxes they were collecting to pay for the welfare-warfare monstrosity.

Over time, all that “bad money” pushed silver coins out of circulation. People were discovering that they would be better off retaining their silver coins and using the alloyed coins and paper money with which U.S. officials were flooding the market decade after decade. The Lyndon Johnson administration accelerated the process by discontinuing the issuance of silver certificates in 1964, followed by the Coinage Act of 1965, which eliminated silver from dimes and quarters and reduced the silver content in half-dollars from 90 percent to 40 percent.

Today, countless Americans are financially strapped, barely making ends meet. Many people live paycheck to paycheck and are unable to save up a nest egg. The financial situation becomes worse with each boom and bust that periodically afflicts America’s economy.

Unfortunately, all too many of them fail to realize that one of the primary reasons for this phenomenon is America’s paper-money system and the ability that it provides federal officials to plunder and loot the American people.

Is the solution to this monetary mayhem a return to America’s founding monetary system? That certainly would be preferable to America’s paper-money, central banking system under which Americans have now lived for more than 100 years.

But the ideal is one set forth by the libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek in an essay he wrote, “The Denationalization of Money,” in which he advocated a complete separation of money and the state. Thus, just as the Constitution prohibits the federal government from intervening in religious affairs, a similar amendment would prohibit it from intervening in monetary affairs.

A necessary prerequisite for the achievement of a free, peaceful, normal, prosperous, and harmonious society is a monetary system based on sound money. A monetary system based entirely on free-market principles would go along way toward achieving such a society.

This article was originally published in the December 2019 edition of Future of Freedom.