American Equal Rights Association: A Broken Union

Table of Contents

Equal Rights Association

In operation from 1866-1869, the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) sought to “secure Equal Rights to all American citizens, especially the right of suffrage, irrespective of race, color, or sex.”

The members of the American Equal Rights Association found it difficult to agree on whether Black or Women suffrage should come first, or whether it should happen simultaneously. Thus, the organization failed to achieve much collectively despite its collective power. The Zero Theft Movement, along with our growing community, is working to eliminate the rigged parts of the U.S. economy in order for the healthy, ethical parts to thrive. For good businesses and the many good, hard-working American citizens. 

The failure of the AERA serves as an example of how to reform must be organized and focused for it to succeed efficiently. In this article, we will document what we have learned from the turbulent merger between the abolitionists and the women’s rights activists.

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The Origins of the American Equal Rights Association

Before and After the American Civil War

In the mid-1800s, the women’s rights movement started to crop up as an offshoot of the abolitionist movement. Women had not had opportunities to participate in social activism, so the campaign against slavery opened many of their eyes to a future where they have equal rights to men. The planning committee of the first National Women’s Rights Convention (1850) represented the significant overlap between the supporters of the abolitionist and women’s rights movements.    

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), women’s rights activists all but suspended their efforts for gender equality, dedicating their resources and focus campaigning against slavery. In 1863, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the Women’s Loyal National League, the first national women’s political organization, petitioning for the “emancipati[on] [of] all persons of African descent held to involuntary service or labor in the United States.”

photograph of Susan B. Anthony (right) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (left)

A photograph of Susan B. Anthony (right) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (left)

image source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The 14th Amendment

The women’s rights movement came back when proposals for the 14th Amendment started circulating. Some of the proposals suggested, for the first time, the inclusion of the word “male.” In a letter, Stanton predicted that if the exclusionary term became a part of the Constitution’s language it would take “a century at least to get it out. She, Anthony, and Lucy Stone campaigned to substitute all instances of “male” to “persons,” and in 1866, a version of the amendment with the inclusive wording passed the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate.  The final version that got enacted in 1868 included the term “male” thrice. 

Women’s rights activists, however, were not the only group to take issue with the 14th Amendment. The Anti-Slavery Society, after achieving the abolishment of slavery with the 13th Amendment in 1865, shifted its focus to gaining political rights for black people. The organization viewed the 14th Amendment as a half measure; it would only grant African Americans citizenship, not voting rights. 

A Failed Merger

In January of 1866, at a meeting for the American Anti-Slavery Society, Anthony and Stone proposed for the organization to merge with the women’s rights movement. This new organization would campaign to achieve equal rights (including suffrage) for African Americans and women alike. The president of the Anti-Slavery Society, Wendell Phillips, rejected the idea. He believed advocating for voting rights for African American men and women would just make it harder for both sides. To him, suffrage for African American men took precedence. 

Wendell Phillips

The Formation of the American Equal Rights Association

In May of that same year, during the Eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention, the American Equal Rights Association was formed.       

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, an African American abolitionist and poet, delivered a powerful speech calling for the unification of the two causes. A part of both communities, Harper said, “You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man, and every man’s hand against me.”

With renewed vigor, the convention voted to transform the organization into one that would advocate for the rights of African Americans and Women. The newly formed AERA elected Lucretia Mott to be its president, with Anthony, Stanton, and Stone included in the executive committee. The organization hoped to establish enough support to eventually persuade the Anti-Slavery Society to join the fight for universal suffrage. Photograph of Lucretia Mott

Photograph of Lucretia Mott

Image source: Library of Congress

By the first anniversary of AERA, though, divisions between members who prioritized women’s suffrage over black suffrage and vice-versa had already started to root. 

New York Campaign

In June 1867, the state of New York intended to revise its constitution. AERA leadership viewed this as an opportunity to get universal suffrage fully enacted. The group campaigned by organizing numerous meetings and circulating a petition that would grant women’s suffrage and eliminate property requirements that disproportionately prevented African Americans from voting. 

Horace Greeley, a venerated news editor and supporter of AERA, chaired the committee in charge of deciding on suffrage. Greeley, nevertheless, argued that the New York Campaign should prioritize getting suffrage for black men. Anthony and Stanton denounced his stance, leading to a bitter and petty fallout that saw the property requirements on black voters removed while women’s suffrage remained out of the New York State Constitution. Once an advocate for women’s voting rights, Greeley criticized the movement, going as far as to claim the best women he knew did not even care to vote. 

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Kansas Campaign

Kansas, in the same year as New York’s revision of its constitution, placed two separate referenda up for vote: suffrage for black men and suffrage for women. The AERA sought to advocate for both, but soon found that a much stronger support existed for the winning voting rights for African American males. With much of the financial backing (from the Hovey Fund) and a political ally in the Republican party, the Anti-Slavery Society, still headed by Phillips, refused to help out the AERA. 

The association had trouble raising money to fund the cause because most women did not have an independent source of income, and even if they could find employment, their salary, by law, had to go to their husbands. This harsh reality further proves how necessary it was for women to seize rights that should have been theirs from the beginning. 

Anthony and Stanton, witnessing the AERA’s dire straits, accepted help from George Francis Train, a wealthy and politically active businessman who was well known for his racist views against black people. This partnership, of course, expedited the dissolution of the group, creating an unbridgeable chasm even between those who primarily identified as women’s rights activists (Stone, most notably).

After all the disputes, neither black men nor women were granted suffrage in Kansas. Photograph of George Francis Train

Photograph of George Francis Train

Image source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The End of the AERA

With relations already strained, Anthony and Stanton objected to the 15th Amendment, which outlawed the rejection of voters based on their race or color of their skin. The two doubled down, proposing a 16th Amendment that would simultaneously achieve suffrage for black men and women. Their proposal did not gain any traction amongst the AERA members.   

Little more came out of the AERA, its annual meetings consistently ending in disputes between abolitionists and the suffragettes. Debates kept returning to the fundamental disagreement: women’s suffrage, black male suffrage, which deserved to come first? Neither side could reach an agreement throughout the life of the organization, which probably doomed the AERA from the start. 

In 1869, at the annual AERA meeting, tempers flared once again with Frederick Douglass condemning Stanton for her work in Kansas and association with Train. Animosity was about all that remained amongst the association’s members. They finally agreed to one thing: to end the organization for good.

With the dissolution of the group, the women’s rights activists could not find reconciliation among themselves and formed two separate groups—the women-only, radical National Woman Suffrage Association led by Anthony and Stanton and the American Woman Suffrage Association led by Stone.    

The American Equal Rights Association and the Rigged Layer of the Economy

The lack of funding for the American Equal Rights Association was a byproduct of a system rigged against women. Forced to serve as a housewife or pay their wages to their husbands, women faced a great financial obstacle that made championing their cause much more difficult. Even so, they scrapped and persisted, achieving much along the way. Unfortunately, sexism remains an issue, even in more developed societies. 

To this day, many women potentially suffer wage discrimination purely based on their sex. This targeted economic injustice, if it truly exists, would contribute to the rigged layer of our economy, allowing plutocrats to unethically profit off of competent, skilled women workers. These unethical practices could be ripping off millions of hardworking, honest citizens, often preventing them from living healthy and secure lives. By exposing bad actors, including crony capitalists and lawmakers who have succumbed to regulatory capture, we, the public, will benefit from higher wages across the board, markets that involve genuine competition for our business, and a government that legislates based on our interests rather than moneyed interests

We can achieve this, but we need you to join our movement for an ethical economy.

You, the citizenry, now have the opportunity to fight back against the corporatocracy and the rigged economy. The Zero Theft Movement offers a platform for all of you to author and vote on proposals. Citizens author theft proposals and the community decides whether that investigation has convincingly proven (1) theft is or isn’t occurring in a specific area of the economy, and (2) how much is being stolen or possibly saved. Through direct democracy, we can collectively decide where the problem areas are and start working on addressing them systematically. 

Explore the Problem Hierarchy

We have primers on potential problem areas of the economy. Before you start voting, it’s important you get a basic understanding of the issues at hand, so you can be as helpful as possible to other community members. Take a few minutes and come prepared.

Serve your fellow citizens as a citizen investigator

The success of our movement rests in your hands, the leaders willing to dedicate time to conduct investigations into potentially rigged areas of the economy. Lead the movement and help create an ethical economy.

Commitment to nonpartisanship

The rigged layer causes all of us to suffer, regardless of our political allegiances. If we wish to protect the ethical parts of the economy, we have to set aside our differences and band together against crony capitalists and corrupt officials. 


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Beyond Barriers to Entry…

An educated public is an empowered public. 

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Standard Disclaimer

The ZeroTheft Movement does not have any interest in partisan politics/competition or attacking/defending one side. We seek to eradicate theft from the U.S economy. In other words, how the wealthy and powerful rig the system to steal money from us, the everyday citizen. We need to collectively fight against crony capitalism in order for us to all profit from an ethical economy.   

Terms like ‘steal,’ ‘theft,’ and ‘crime’ will frequently appear throughout the article. ZeroTheft will NOT adhere strictly to the legal definitions of these terms (since congress sells out). We have broadly and openly defined terms like ‘steal’ and ‘theft’ to refer to the rigged economy and other debated unethical acts that can cause citizens to lose out on money they deserve to keep.