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Susan B. Anthony Cast Her Ballot For Ulysses S. Grant
For this crime, she was arrested, held, indicted, and put on trial. Judge Hunt presided.
December 1985 | Volume 37, Issue 1
The hearing had aroused so much interest that crowds of women came to witness it, and the proceedings were moved to a larger, cleaner room. One local newspaper described “these lawbreakers” as “elderly, matronly-looking women, with thoughtful faces, just the sort one would like to see in charge of one’s sick room, considerate, patient, kindly.” Actually Anthony was fifty-two, and many of the others were younger; all but three were married. They pleaded not guilty and, placed under bail of five hundred dollars each, were ordered to appear before a grand jury in Albany on January 22. On that date the twenty grand jurors swore that “the said Susan B. Anthony, being then and there a person of the female sex [which] she well knew… on the 5th day of November, 1872 … did knowingly and unlawfully vote,” which she “well knew” was unlawful. The indictment was signed by Richard Crowley, United States attorney.
The three inspectors were indicted for registering and later accepting the ballots, although William B. Hall, a Democrat, protested vainly he had been against it and should be excluded. Anthony asked Judge Selden to represent her, and he did without fee; he was joined by the attorney John Van Voorhis. A vindictive district judge, Nathan Hall, set Anthony’s bail at an abnormally high one thousand dollars. (At that time a family could live a whole year on a thousand dollars.) She refused to pay, electing jail, but Selden, unwilling to see his client go to prison, put up the money.
After she left the courtroom, Van Voorhis informed her that because she did not go to jail she had just lost the right to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Anthony rushed back into the courtroom and asked Selden to withdraw the bail, but it was too late. The bail had been recorded. A jury trial was set for June 17. 1873, in Rochester. The government decided to prosecute her alone as representative of the sixteen. And all three inspectors were ordered to trial on June 18, over William B. Hall’s protests.
Anthony now took her case directly to the people of Rochester’s Monroe County—her prospective jurors. In those pre-telephone days the district post offices were important gathering places where newspapers from other cities arrived first, where people came to gossip and exchange news, and where speakers could almost always find a crowd eager to hear their messages. Between her indictment and late May, Anthony appeared at all twenty-nine post offices in the county, sending posters on ahead to advertise each lecture. She told her audiences that “I not only committed no crime, but instead simply exercised my citizen’s right, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any state to deny.” Those “grand documents” —the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution—do not delegate to government the “power to create or confer rights” but “propose to protect the people in the exercise of their God-given rights.” The constitutions of every one of the then existing thirty-six states are “all alike” in that “not one of them pretends to bestow rights.” There is “no shadow of governmental authority over rights, nor exclusion of any class from their full and equal enjoyment.” She drew from the Declaration the phrase that rights are “unalienable” and that governments were formed only “to secure these rights,” not to grant what was inherent.
It was contrary to true constitutionalism, she asserted, that one-half of the people should be subjugated to the other half through a “hateful oligarchy of sex.” Women were compelled to pay taxes without representation; were brought to trial “without a jury of their peers,” imprisoned, and even hanged; were robbed in marriage of the custody of their own wages, their own children, their own persons. “We, the people” did not mean “We, the white male citizens” or even “We, the male citizens” but “We, the whole people,” and it “is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty” while they are denied the ballot.
Anthony covered the county so well that, by May, Prosecutor Crowley was worried that no Monroe County jury would convict her. He carried this complaint to Judge Nathan Hall in Albany and requested moving the trial to the more remote town of Canandaigua. Hall readily complied, and only twenty-two days before the trial date he imposed additional costs and burdens on the defendants by requiring the twenty-eight-mile journey from Rochester.
I direct you to find a verdict of guilty,” Judge Hunt told the jury. Selden protested incredulously, “That is a direction no court has the power to make in a criminal case.”
Nothing seems to have been recorded about whether Anthony or the inspectors remained in Canandaigua throughout the period or commuted. In any case, Anthony made twenty-one appearances before the trial speaking on the subject “Is It a Crime for a United States Citizen to Vote?” Her friend Matilda Joslyn Gage traveled with her and gave her speech, “The United States on Trial, Not Susan B. Anthony,” sixteen times. The two women appeared together on the evening of June 16. The next day, Susan B. Anthony went on trial.