Parades, Pickets, and Prison: Alice Paul and the Virtues of Unruly Constitutional Citizenship
24 J. L. & Pol. 339 (2008)
95 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2013
Date Written: February 28, 2013
In recent years, constitutional scholars interested in “popular constitutionalism” have examined the role of citizens in interpreting and transforming the Constitution. This article analyzes the campaign for the Nineteenth Amendment led by Alice Paul's Congressional Union and National Woman's Party (NWP). To evaluate the impact of Paul's unyielding campaign of wartime picketing and prison protests in convincing President Wilson to endorse the federal amendment and to work on its behalf, the article scrutinizes the relationship between Paul's more militant tactics and the conciliatory posture adopted by her rival Carrie Chapman Catt and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The article offers an interdisciplinary analysis of Paul's strategy that incorporates the insights of research on American political development, social movements, and presidential leadership, and draws on the archival records of the NWP, presidential papers, and contemporary newspaper coverage.
Paul's more contentious, unruly methods played a decisive role in obtaining the necessary congressional votes in the House and Senate during Wilson's second term. Paul refused to merely to play the role of the insider lobbyist. She instead perfected the an outsider strategy by appealing directly to voters and the public — first through parades, deputations, petitions, and other well-publicized events, and later through much more oppositional activities, such as anti-incumbent campaigns, pickets, and prison protests. Paul had an astute sense of the power of emotional appeals, and it was this feature of her outsider strategy that made the NWP such a formidable force in the suffrage movement. A kind of insider-outsider dynamic — with Catt eventually serving as the more cooperative suffrage leader, and Paul as the contentious outsider — appears to have been the crucial combination needed to gain Wilson's help in pushing suffrage through Congress in 1918-19. Paul's most controversial tactics — the picketing and protests in 1917 — were implemented with such ruthless determination that Wilson and other opponents in Congress began searching for a way to end the standoff. Paul's resort to civil disobedience may have appeared unruly to her political opponents and the public, but it was in reality a tactic, like all of her strategies, chosen and deployed after a careful consideration of its political impact. That Wilson gave Catt and NAWSA all of the public credit for the shift should not obscure the crucial role that Paul's campaign played in creating this pressure. Given this success, Alice Paul deserves more recognition as a leading exemplar of the transformative model of constitutional citizenship.
Keywords: legal history, popular constitutionalism, Nineteenth Amendment
JEL Classification: K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation