Commentary: From Lucretia to Alice to Hillary

Jamie Stiehm

is a Creators Syndicate columnist

Congratulations, Philadelphia, you've done it again.

American revolutions happen in Philadelphia in July. That's our story, our bedrock narrative of making change.

The beautiful simple brick Independence Hall housed the revolutions of 1776 and 1787, when a certain Declaration and the Constitution were produced by a providential meeting of minds and men who argued, crafted, and labored to create the first democracy. Walking the plush places that celebrate the signers, you can still feel the wonder.

Now there's a new stirring in the nation's birthplace, one a long time coming. There is exuberance out on the streets, enlivened by the company of the Democratic delegates. I've never seen the city so vibrant, celebrating its rich diversity and spirit as a third social revolution is happening - right now, as my niece exclaims.

Hillary Clinton's shining moment - a victory for American women and an inspiration for all - could not be better placed. The Quaker city of brotherly love and sisterly affection has made this moment in the light happen. In fact, the egalitarian Quakers have produced two home-court champions for women, Lucretia Mott and Alice Paul. No city deserves the honor more.

History's arc, crossing over from Mott to Paul to Clinton, is lifting many up in a new day and birth of democracy. Clinton's historic nomination last week and her quest to become the first female president stems from a largely unknown story that started with the Quaker City's greatest Quaker. Clinton well knows this political heritage, the long struggle for suffrage, and has honored the legacy of Mott, who rests at Fair Hill Burial Ground in North Philadelphia. In 1880, thousands, both black and white, marched at her funeral.

Mott, the radical visionary, first brought rights to bear on both women and slaves. Her radiant voice traveled wherever she addressed people in antebellum America. She was a spontaneous speaker, moved by the spirit. Senators and congressmen heard her in Washington, invited by John Quincy Adams, the aging ex-president and a House member. Because she was known as a speaker, not a writer, her gift is somewhat lost to us. When she preached emancipation, as she did before Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frederick Douglass, her words rose from her Quaker and Enlightenment belief in universal equality - for everyone.

Remember, when the founders wrote on parchment, "All men are created equal," that's what they meant. The airtight room where it happened, to borrow from the musical Hamilton, locked out women and blacks. The white men insiders (literally) were rich and educated, including James Madison of Virginia, father of the Constitution. They were essentially English gentlemen - many of them "planters" who enslaved people. They liked it that way. Madison intentionally kept the word slavery out of the Constitution. (By the way, his much younger wife, Dolley, partly raised in Philadelphia, was expelled from the Quakers for marrying the Virginian who owned 100 slaves. That was in the 1790s.)

Mott founded the women's rights movement in 1848 at a convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. - in July. She was the main speaker, and already a fearless abolitionist, known beyond the walls of the Quaker City. When a pro-slavery mob went to burn the Mott family house down in the 1830s, that did not silence or scare her. Luckily, the mob got lost along the way.

Paul, who followed Mott as a suffrage leader, was arrested, abused, and force-fed by police authorities in Washington and Virginia. She and other women of the nonviolent right-to-vote movement of a century ago, were treated brutally. Woodrow Wilson, the president, did nothing to stop it.

Nothing was a given in the difficult journey for women's rights. Mott and Paul possessed uncommon daring in confronting the dim status of women in their times. They were revolutionary bookends from 1848 to 1920 - the year women won the vote - the passports to democracy. (And please note, revolutions are not led by goody-goodies. Paul was descended from William Penn, the colonial governor who was a revolutionary in the king's England.)

Clinton shares many things with these revolutionaries who opened the long-locked door for her presidential aspirations. Like Mott and Paul, Clinton has shown remarkable pluck and perseverance in overcoming more than her share of political fury in the public square. And her candle power is right up there with the serious Paul, who went to Swarthmore College and held several graduate degrees. If she takes anything from them into the coming campaign, let Clinton take to heart how clear and charismatic Mott was, like a lighthouse in a dark era in American history leading up to the Civil War.

Also, she should keep in mind what a Friend said of Mott: "Lucretia has outlived her enemies."

Jamiestiehm@verizon.net