June 18 – Susan B. Anthony Fined for Voting

Posted on June 18, 2014

For more than half of the existence of the United States, women weren't allowed to vote. (Women still can't vote – or even DRIVE!!! – in Saudi Arabia, although the king has promised that they will be allowed to vote in the 2015 local elections.)

On this date in 1873, the trial of Susan B. Anthony for casting a vote in the 1872 presidential election was ended. And not in a good way.

During the trial, Anthony had argued that women were guaranteed the right to vote by the all-new, shiny Fourteenth Amendment, which in its first section stated that “all persons born or naturalized in the Unites States...are citizens of the United States.” That section of the amendment goes onto state that “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”

Of course, those privileges include the right to vote. Obviously, this was a slam-dunk – Anthony had been born in the U.S., was a citizen, and could vote!


When the testimony and legal arguments were over in Anthony's trial, the judge took a piece of paper out of his pocket and read from it: “The Fourteenth Amendment gives no right to a woman to vote, and the voting by Miss Anthony was in violation of the law.” He then made a bunch more comments and specifically ordered the jury to find Anthony guilty.

This outraged Anthony. And her lawyer. And even some of the jurors.

But the jury did give a “Guilty” verdict.

The judge fined Anthony $100. That's about $2000 in today's money.

Anthony probably would have contested the verdict – maybe even taken it all the way to the Supreme Court – but the judge didn't have her imprisoned until she paid the fine. Apparently that took away any grounds for an appeal.

Anthony never did pay the fine.

On the day of her sentencing, when asked if she had anything to say, Susan B. Anthony told the judge:

Yes, your honor, 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 honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this, so-called, form of government.”

Anthony was very eloquent! She is
also one of the few real women ever
featured on U.S. money. (Lady Liberty
has appeared on lots of coins but is not
a real person!)

To be fair to the judge, the second section of the Fourteenth Amendment talks about voting, and it specifically uses the word male several times. It was the very first time the word male appeared in the U.S. Constitution. Anthony and others actually fought against the Amendment, wanting the language in Section 2 to be changed to language of universal suffrage – that is, voting rights for men and women, whatever their race – but many women's rights advocates fought for the amendment, certain that it was necessary to provide racial equality.

They were certain, also, that once black former-slaves were guaranteed equal rights, it wouldn't be long before women, too, were guaranteed equal rights.

However, it took almost another half century before women were guaranteed the right to vote in the U.S. And women still do not have an equal rights guarantee explicitly stated in the Constitution, since the Equal Rights Amendment proposed in 1923, finally passed in Congress in 1972, and ratified in 35 of the needed 38 states by 1977, foundered at that point and was never made a part of the Constitution.

Amazing, isn't it?

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