After Susan. B. Anthony and several other women voted in the election of 1872 (Episode 28), Rochester, NY salt manufacturer and “Democratic” poll watcher, Sylvester Lewis, filed a complaint charging illegal voting. (This is the 1872 old conservative version of the Democratic Party— both major party platforms have changed greatly over time as explained in Episode 23. That’s why it’s in quotations.)
United States Commissioner William C. Storrs addressed the complaint by following the Enforcement Act Law of 1870 and signed a warrant for Anthony’s arrest. On November 18th a U.S. deputy marshal came to her house and politely asked her to go to Commissioner Storrs' office to be arrested. She demanded to be properly arrested in her house like a man would be.
The 14 other women who voted and the election officials who counted the votes were also arrested. They all paid bail except for Anthony. Only Anthony’s case was ever brought to trial mostly because she made sure it would be.
Anthony wanted to sit in jail until her trial so she could take it to the U.S. Supreme Court, but her lawyer Henry Selden, a highly-respected former judge, bailed her out. He explained to an angry Anthony that he could not stand to see someone he respected sitting in jail. Undaunted, she took another tactic of using the time before trial to give lectures in her defense within Monroe County where her trial was to be held. Worry of a tainted jury pool caused the case to be moved to a different county so she gave her famous “Is It a Crime for a U.S. Citizen to Vote?” speech there too. See sources for link to full lecture.
United States v. Susan B. Anthony began on June 17, 1873, in Canandaigua, NY and was closely followed by the national press. See sources for link to full proceedings.
Judge Ward Hunt, who was known to be against suffrage, should have put aside his personal views to oversee the case without prejudice. He shocked everyone by refusing to let Anthony testify and outright instructed the all-male jury that it was their duty to find her guilty. Anthony’s lawyer protested that it is up to the jury to decide in a criminal case. Judge Hunt ignored him and ordered the clerk to record a verdict of guilty before the jury even voted. (Jurors would later admit that they felt she was not-guilty.) Because the judge was required to ask, "Has the prisoner anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced?" Anthony used the opportunity to make a speech on the stand. Although this final statement was interrupted by Judge Hunt several times telling her to be silent, she made a powerful case for women’s rights.
Sentenced to pay a $100 fine (about $2,100 today), Anthony replied: "May it please your honor, I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.… 'Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.'"
If the judge had ordered her to sit in jail until it was paid, she could have appealed her case to the Supreme Court, so he did not, thus closing off any more legal routes for her to challenge her conviction. The fine was never paid nor was collection of it pursued. Anthony’s comportment and eloquence at the blatantly unfair trial earned a great deal of sympathy and respect from the general public and propelled the suffrage movement into becoming a national political issue.
This week’s song pick:
“I Don’t Care” by Shakespears Sister
#SuffragetteCity100 #SufferingForSuffrage
Episode 30 Sources:
Newspaper Illustration about the trial by “The Daily Graphic” titled ‘The Woman Who Dared’
“Is It a Crime for a U.S. Citizen to Vote” speech by Susan B. Anthony
Full Court Record of the Trial
Susan B Anthony’s house is now a museum in Rochester, NY​​​​​​​
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