December 1, 1911, to the Editor of The Manchester Guardian, Woman Suffrage and the Government: Militant Methods
Another exchange between Davison and the editor of The Guardian that turns on radically different perceptions of the role of violence in politics and social reform, the history of its success, and the fidelity of the Liberal Government to its promises about a Woman Suffrage bill. In citing the Franchise Riots of 1866 and the English Civil War, Davison is not only recalling “righeous violence” that succeeded by virtue of the justice of its cause, but also men’s use of violence to achieve their goals. Is this extreme route, a last resort, she implies, to be denied to women who also know their cause to be just? The day this letter appeared was the day that Davison determined to end her current employement as the first step to her militant acts of arson aimed at pillar, or mail, boxes.
Sir, — In your comment on Miss Christabel Pankhurst’s straightforward letter on militancy you say: ‘Miss Pankhurst is certainly now definite enough and wrong enough. She cannot achieve what she proposes by the means she designs and she ought not to.’ Will you allow me to say to this, ‘Wait and see’? All English history gives the congtradiction to your assertion. In our history we read of many deeds of violence done to win reform. The whole Civil War was such an example. But the blame for the violence lies not on those who do it, but on those who drive the agitators to such extremes. The truth of this is proved by the famous scene between Mr. Beales and Mr.Walpole, the House Secretary, on the day after the Hyde Park riots.
You object to the use of militancy because you assert that if militancy succeeds ‘anybody else could obtain their ends, quite irrespective of their merits, by similar means.’ May I here quote some words from Molesworth’s History of England, vol. 3, in the description of the Franchise Riots of 1866?–
‘Wise and thoughtful men saw that these gatherings and disturbances were the expression of a strong feeling that could not safely be despised. They knew that neither Mr. Beales nor any of his associates could stir these multitudes as they had done unless there were real and deeply felt grievances at the bottom of the demand for reform made in this violent and unpleasant manner.’
No undeserving cause could succeed by violence. The success of violence is the test of the righteousness of the cause, and the militancy of the W.S.P.U. has justified itself at every turn of events. The utterances of Mr. Asquity or Mr. Lloyd George are proof enough if there were not also the great and growing feeling in the country.
Are you sure that it is ‘an incomparably more difficult task’ to expel from the Cabinet the Prime Minister and the minority opposed to woman suffrage than ‘to carry women’s suffrage under existing conditions’? In order to do either Mr. Lloyd George would have ‘to stand or fall’ by the course he adopted if he meant to win. The bolder, the easier and also the more heroic, way would be for him to threaten his resignation from the Cabinet (which could not afford his loss) unless the Government offered a Government measure giving equal franchise rights to women as well as men. Yours, &
Emily Wilding Davison
31, Coram Street, London, W.C.
[The really ludicrous position is that Mr. Lloyd George is fighting to enfranchise seven million women and the militants are smashing un-offending people's windows and breaking up benevolent societies' meetings in a desperate effort to prevent him. To compare that with any great popular uprising of the past is too absurd a plea to require a confutation.--ED. 'GUARD.']