Extending the ‘Right of Election’: Men’s Arguments for Women’s Political Representation in Late Enlightenment Britain

  • Arianne Chernock


In recent years, historians have presented a more optimistic vision of enlightened gender relations in late eighteenth-century Britain. Where we once spoke of the consolidation of ‘separate spheres’ for men and women, we now identify flux, fluidity and substantial possibilities for creativity. As Barbara Taylor notes in this collection, ‘[B]y the mid eighteenth century, men and women of the British middle ranks were becoming more like each other — in social attitudes and behaviour, in educational and professional aspirations, in conversational codes, even in their reading matter — than at any previous point in history.’1 There is one area of discussion, however, that has not as yet been subject to this same critical revaluation: notions of citizenship. While we happily acknowledge women’s involvement in eighteenth-century political life as canvassers and advisors, we continue to insist that the concept of citizenship itself, associated as it so often was with ‘masculine’ qualities of rationality, virility and independence, resisted feminist interpretation.2 Even Mary Wollstonecraft could only ‘hint’ at the prospect of women one day serving as electors or parliamentarians — surely a benchmark for the most radical enlightened views.3


Political Participation Political Representation Separate Sphere English Constitution Universal Suffrage 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 3.
    Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (London: Everyman, 1995 [1792]), p. 167.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett, 1992 [1791]), p. 39.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    Joan Wallach Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 8.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    Hilda Smith, All Men and Both Sexes: Gender, Politics, and the False Universal in England ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002), p. 3. Smith further defines the ‘false universal’ as the’ social phenomenon of not seeing or perceiving women in certain contexts’ and not conceiving of women as ‘having inherent qualities or relevant experiences for the categories from which they are omitted.’Google Scholar
  5. 18.
    Alexander Jardine, Letters from Barbary, France, Spain, Portugal, & C. 2 vols (London: T. Cadell, 1788) Vol. I, p. 311.Google Scholar
  6. 32.
    Albert Goodwin, The Friends of Liberty: The English Democratic Movement in the Age of the French Revolution (London: Hutchinson and Co, 1979), p. 31.Google Scholar
  7. 33.
    George Dyer, The Complaints of the Poor People of England (London: J. Johnson, 1793), p. 197.Google Scholar
  8. 34.
    James A. Epstein, Radical Expression: Political Language, Ritual, and Symbol in England, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 23.Google Scholar
  9. 36.
    James Vernon, ‘Notes toward an introduction’ in Re-Reading the Constitution, ed. James Vernon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 2.Google Scholar
  10. 37.
    George Dyer, ‘On the Best Means of Promoting the Fundamental Principles of the English Constitution,’ reprinted in The Pamphleteer, 24 (1818), p. 438. This article was taken from an original print published in a ‘miscellany’ some years earlier. Emphasis his.Google Scholar
  11. 54.
    G.J. Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. xvii–xviii.Google Scholar
  12. 55.
    See John Dwyer, Virtuous Discourse: Sensibility and Community in Late-Eighteenth-Century Scotland (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1987), p. 136.Google Scholar
  13. 58.
    See Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992) and Anne K. Mellor, Mothers of the Nation: Women’s Political Writing in England, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  14. 60.
    Susan Kingsley Kent, Gender and Power in Britain, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 158.Google Scholar
  15. 81.
    William Stafford, ‘Shall We Take the Linguistic Turn? British Radicalism in the Era of the French Revolution,’ in Historical Journal 43 (2000), p. 588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 85.
    Samuel Ferrand Waddington, ‘Vindication of Female Political Interference,’ The Republican Vol. I, no. 3 (September 10, 1819), p. 45.Google Scholar
  17. 89.
    Barbara Taylor, Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Pantheon, 1983).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Arianne Chernock 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arianne Chernock

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations