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June 18, 2024 12 mins

On this day in 1873, American suffragist Susan B. Anthony was found guilty of voting illegally in the 1872 presidential election.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
This Day in History Class is a production of iHeartRadio.
Hello and welcome to This Day in History Class, a
show that tallies the wins and losses of everyday history.
I'm Gabe Lucier, and today we're examining the evidence in
the historic case of the United States versus Susan B. Anthony.

The day was June eighteenth, eighteen seventy three. American suffragist
Susan B. Anthony was found guilty of voting illegally in
the eighteen seventy two presidential election. Although most American women
wouldn't be granted the right to vote until nineteen twenty,
Susan B. Anthony and fourteen others cast their ballots in Rochester,

New York, nearly fifty years earlier. All fifteen of the
women were later arrested and charged, but Anthony's high profile
case was the only one that went to trial. At
a courthouse in upstate New York. The following year, she
was convicted by an all male jury and sentenced to
pay a fine of one hundred dollars plus court costs. Anthony,

who had been barred from testifying during the trial, was
allowed to make a final statement following her conviction, she
used the opportunity to deliver a fiery and now famous
rebuke of the nation's one sided legal system. She then
concluded by telling the judge that she would never pay
a penny of his unjust penalty, and true to her word,

she never did. Susan Brownell Anthony was a lifelong crusader
for a number of social causes, including temperance, abolition, and
labor rights, but she's best remembered today for her outsized
role in the women's suffrage movement of the mid nineteenth century.
Anthony devoted more than fifty years of her life to

trying to secure the right to vote for American women.
During the Reconstruction era, She and her allies in Congress
pushed for that right to be enshrined in either the
fourteenth or the fifteenth Amendments, but in the end both
were ratified without conferring suffrage to women. In the wake
of those setbacks, Anthony and fourteen others turned to civil

disobedience to help get their point across. On November fifth,
eighteen seventy two, they showed up at the polls to
vote in that year's presidential election between Republican incumbent Ulysses S. Grant,
and Democratic challenger Horace Greeley. The women's votes were symbolic gestures,
since none of them were actually counted, but for the record,

Anthony cast her ballot for President Grant. Two weeks later,
a US marshal approached Anthony and politely asked that she
surrender herself at the local precinct. The activists maintained she
had done nothing wrong, but insisted that if she was
going to be arrested, she at least be arrested properly,
in the same way as a man. The request was granted,

and Anthony was arrested there at her home, then taken
into custody and charged with illegal voting. Anthony's bail, as
well as that of her fourteen voting accomplices, was set
at five hundred dollars each, the equivalent of about thirteen
thousand dollars in today's money. All of the other women
paid up, but Anthony refused on principle and was ultimately

bailed out against her wishes by her lawyer, Henry Selden.
As you might imagine, the arrest of the women's movement's
most prominent figure created quite a stir in the press,
and Anthony was able to use that publicity to draw
more attention to her cause. In the lead up to
her trial, she gave public lectures in twenty nine different

towns calling for women's suffrage and posing the question is
it a crime for a citizen of the United States
to vote? In her speeches, Anthony argued that although the
fourteenth Amendment didn't specifically mention voting rights, it did prevent
the government from making or enforcing a law that deprives
a US citizen of their privileges, and in her view,

that meant that women had a constitutional right to vote
in federal elections because the amendment didn't say that the
privileges of citizenship only applied to men. Anthony, who pleaded
not guilty, was hoping to testify to the same effect
at her trial, but she was never given the chance.
The presiding judge, Ward Hunt, barred her from testifying, claiming

that she had already outlined her argument well enough during
her public appearances. Instead, she would have to rely on
her lawyer and other witnesses to do the talking for her.
The defense's main argument echoed Anthony's belief that she had
the right to cast a legal vote due to the
recently enacted Fourteenth Men. Furthermore, Selden argued that even if

the court decided that the amendment did not grant her
that right, Anthony had credible reason to believe that it did,
and therefore she couldn't be guilty of knowingly casting an
illegal ballot. Near the end of the first day of
the trial, once both sides had had their say, Judge
Hart did something that Anthony would later describe as quote

the greatest judicial outrage history has ever recorded. The judge
read a written statement, which he had apparently prepared before
the trial even began, laying out Anthony's supposed crimes and
dismissing the argument that she had cast her ballot and
good faith. To the shock of everyone in the courtroom
that day, Hunt concluded his statement by instructing the jury

to find Anthony guilty. He said, quote, upon this evidence,
I suppose there is no question for the jury, and
that the jury should be directed to find a verdict
of guilty. On the second day of the trial, June eighteenth,
Selden argued for a mistrial on the ground that Anthony's
constitutional right to a trial by jury had been violated.

The previous day. Unsurprisingly, Judge Hunt immediately denied the motion.
He then declared Anthony guilty of voting without the right
to do so. But before passing his sentence, he asked
at last if she had anything to say in her defense. Yes,
your honor, Anthony replied, I have many things to say,

for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled
underfoot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights,
my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights are
all alike ignored, robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship.
I am degraded from the status of a citizen to

that of a subject, and not only myself individually, but
all of my sex are, by your honors verdict doomed
to political subjection under this so called form of government.
The judge interrupted Anthony multiple times during her response, insisting,
despite all evidence to the contrary, that she had been

tried according to the established forms of law. Anthony responded again, saying, quote, yes,
your honor, but by forms of law all made by men,
interpreted by men, administered by men in favor of men
and against women, and hence your honors ordered verdict of
guilty against a United States citizen for the exercise of

that citizen's right to vote, simply because that citizen was
a woman and not a man. When I was brought
before your honor for trial, I hoped for a broad
and liberal interpretation of the Constitution and its recent amendments
that should declare equality of rights the national guarantee to
all persons born or naturalized in the United States. But

failing to get this justice, failing even to get a
trial by a jury not of my peers, I ask
not leniency at your hands, but rather the full rigors
of the law. At that point, Judge Hunt pronounced his sentence,
a fine of one hundred dollars and the costs of
the prosecution. Anthony wasn't invited to speak again, but she

did anyway, telling the judge quote, may it please your honor,
I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty,
Not a penny shall go to this unjust claim. And
I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women
to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim that
resistance to tyranny is obedience to God. Anthony's prompt refusal

to comply with the Judge's sentence wasn't just knee jerk defiance.
She was trying to goad Hunt into jailing her until
she had paid the fine, a move that under the
law of the day, would have enabled Anthony to appeal
the ruling to a higher court. However, Judge Hunt realized
that was her aim and didn't take the bait, thus

blocking her from appeal. The criminal trial may not have
gone her way, but Anthony was still the victor in
the court of public opinion. As one New York paper
observed in the aftermath, quote, if it is a mere
question of who got the best of it, miss Anthony
is still ahead. She has voted in the American constitution,

has survived the shock finding her one hundred dollars does
not rule out the fact that women voted and went
home and the world jogged on as before. It was
a similar case for the other parties involved as well.
The other fourteen women who had voted in Rochester were
allowed to go free without trial, and although the election

inspectors who had allowed them to vote in the first
place were briefly jailed following their own trials, they were
eventually pardoned by the newly re elected President grant. As
for Susan B. Anthony, she lobbied unsuccessfully for Congress to
cancel her fine, but she stopped short of seeking a
presidential pardon. This is likely because she would have viewed

accepting a pardon as an admission of guilt, and she
believed she did nothing wrong in the first place. That said,
On August eighteenth, twenty twenty, Anthony was posthumously pardoned by
President Donald Trump. Despite all the hard fought progress that
was made during her lifetime, Susan B. Anthony never got

the chance to cast a legal ballot. She passed away
in nineteen o six, nine years before New York State
granted women the right to vote, and fourteen years before
the Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified. Anthony once said that quote,
woman must not depend upon the protection of man, but

must be taught to protect herself. Her criminal trial bore
out the truth of that, and because the whole nation
watched it all unfold, many other women learned the lesson too.
As a result, more than eight million American women cast
their ballots in nineteen twenty, and now more than a
century later, tens of millions of women stand poised to

do the same. I'm Gabe Blues Gay and hopefully you
now know a little more about history today than you
did yesterday. If you'd like to keep up with the show,
you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at
TDI HC Show, and if you have any comments or suggestions,

feel free to send them my way by writing to
This Day at iHeartMedia dot com. Thanks to Kasby Bias
for producing the show, and thanks to you for listening.
I'll see you back here again tomorrow for another day
in History class.

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