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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 people in the courtroom gasped. Selden jumped to his feet. “That is a direction no court has the power to make in a criminal case,” he said incredulously.
Ignoring him, Hunt turned to the clerk. “Take the verdict, Mr. Clerk.”
The clerk addressed the jury: “Hearken to your verdict as the court has recorded it. You say you find the defendant guilty of the offense whereof she stands indicted, and so say you all?”
Not a juror responded.
Selden demanded the jury be polled, but Hunt shut him off, saying, “No, gentlemen of the jury, you are discharged,” and he adjourned the court. The finale was acted out so quickly that it seemed rehearsed.
The twelve jurors sat stunned and confused in the box. During the entire proceedings they had uttered not a word, but now, quizzed by the defense and the press, they voiced frustration and outrage. Many complained this was not their verdict at all; they had not responded to the clerk simply because they didn’t know they could. It was clear that the sentiment of the panel was to acquit.
Hunt’s arbitrary action altered the entire character of the trial. No longer was the issue women suffrage alone; it was now the question of the fundamental right to trial by an impartial jury. Many newspapers across the country that would not support the women’s cause condemned Hunt. They would have far preferred a decision they disagreed with to a judicially forced verdict and the dangers that implied. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle called it a “grand over-reaching assumption of authority” by a man who believed “he is scarcely lower than the angels so far as personal power goes.”
The New York Sun attacked Hunt for violating “one of the most important provisions of the Constitution. The right to trial by jury includes the right to a free and impartial verdict.” Otherwise the jury would be “twelve wooden automatons, moved by a string pulled by the hand of the judge.” The Utica Observer approved Hunt’s interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment but nonetheless condemned his seizure of jury power, with which he had “outraged the rights of Susan B. Anthony.” The Legal News of Chicago charged Hunt with committing a worse offense against the Constitution than Anthony had by “voting illegally,” for “he had sworn to support the Constitution and she had not.” The Canandaigua Times editorialized that despite Anthony’s “crime,” there is “serious question” of the propriety of a proceeding in which the proper functions of the jury are dispensed with. “If this may be done in one instance, why may it not in all?”
On the morning of the day after the verdict, Selden appealed for a retrial, describing the “jealous care [with which] the right of trial by jury has been guarded by every English speaking people from the days of King John, indeed from the days of King Alfred.” He cited a recent New York murder trial which had continued and ended with a conviction even after a juror had become ill. The court of appeals had returned the case for retrial, as “even by a showing of consent” by the defendant, it was not a proper jury. There could never be fewer than twelve people on a true constitutional jury.
Hunt now asked if “the prisoner has anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced.” She replied she had many things to say and began by accusing him of “trampling underfoot every vital principle of our government. I am degraded from the status of citizen to that of a subject [as] all of my sex are by your honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjugation under this so-called form of government.”
Hunt tried to stop her, but she persisted for some time. Finally, Hunt said, “The court cannot allow the prisoner to go on… the prisoner must sit down… the court must insist.” Anthony sat down after complaining she had “failed, even to get a trial by jury not of my peers. I ask not leniency at your hands, but rather the full rigors of the law.”
Hunt then fined her one hundred dollars and costs, but she defied him by announcing she would “never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty” but would continue to “rebel against your manmade, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law that tax, fine, imprison and hang women while they deny them the right of representation in the government.”
“Madam,” Hunt responded, “the court will not order you committed until the fine is paid.” His apparent compassion was misleading. By not pressing for payment or imprisoning her, he had avoided criticism for “reversible errors” from higher courts. He had blocked her chance of appeal.
The judge was ready to commit more legal offenses in the trial of the three inspectors that afternoon. It was a different jury—again not identified in the record—and Hunt had arranged that they sit through the morning sessions so as to witness his methods.