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The Political Thought of America's Founding Feminists$
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Lisa Pace Vetter

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781479853342

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479853342.001.0001

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Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Rhetoric of Ridicule and Reform

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Rhetoric of Ridicule and Reform

(p.166) 6 Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Rhetoric of Ridicule and Reform
The Political Thought of America's Founding Feminists

Lisa Pace Vetter

NYU Press

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, considered the “philosopher” of the early women’s rights movement, has also been criticized for her elitism and racism. This chapter examines an early manuscript in which Stanton presents a set of fundamental principles that shape her life’s work, along with precursors to her controversial comments. These arguments pre-date social Darwinism, which critics often cite as the basis of her racism. They also precede Stanton’s objections to the prospect of enfranchising freed black men before women, many of which included racist and elitist comments. Using Adam Smith’s discussion of Jonathan Swift and the moral rhetoric of ridicule in the Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres as an interpretative frame, this chapter explores the possibility that Stanton’s early remarks are part of a rhetorical strategy that uses ridicule and sarcasm to expose hypocrisy and advocate for reform—while consistently arguing for universal equality. Stanton may have ultimately harbored racist sentiments, but she might have also been continuing her rhetorical strategy of appropriating popular ideas, and even prejudices, to suit her purposes.

Keywords:   Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Adam Smith, Jonathan Swift, early women’s rights, racism, Reconstruction amendments, rhetorical strategy, social Darwinism

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