Looking back on today, November 5th, an important event took place in 1872. It paved the way for the 19th Amendment to pass 48 years later. A United States citizen committed a crime, and was arrested for doing so.
Susan B. Anthony
Voter registration office in Rochester, New York.
She voted in the United States presidential election. Ulysses S. Grant (a Republican, victorious Civil War general) was opposing Horace Greeley (popular newspaper editor). Anthony voted for Grant.
Interestingly enough, she was released on bail and toured the surrounding towns giving speeches on women's rights. "It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union," she proclaimed. "And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government-the ballot."
ABOUT THE TRIAL
Anthony's attorney argued that she didn't knowingly commit a crime, since she believed she had the right to vote. The 14th Amendment, she believed, protected her right to vote as a citizen, regardless of gender. He also supported the women's suffrage movement in her defense.
The Judge Ward Hunt ruled that she violated the Amendment because it did not guarantee women the right to vote. He did not allow her to testify in her own defense or have a jury. Basically she was convicted of a crime for being a female.
She was sentenced to pay a fine of $100.00 plus the prosecution costs. She never did.
Susan B. Anthony was a dedicated advocate for women's rights, mainly suffrage or the right to vote. She also supported temperance and abolitionist movements. She began her career as a teacher and learned well that male teachers even with less experience than her were paid more generously. This was irritating enough to begin to bring attention to the plight of women. After her conviction she wrote a speech that is famous for its inspiration and motivation. It is:
Friends and fellow citizens: I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen's rights, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution,
beyond the power of any state to deny.
The preamble of the Federal Constitution says:
"We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people - women as well as men. And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government - the ballot.
For any state to make sex a qualification that must ever result in the disfranchisement of one entire half of the people, is to pass a bill of attainder, or, an ex post facto law, and is therefore a violation of the supreme law of the land. By it the blessings of liberty are forever withheld from women and their female posterity.
To them this government has no just powers derived from the consent of the governed. To them this government is not a democracy. It is not a republic. It is an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy of sex; the most hateful aristocracy ever established on the face of the globe; an oligarchy of wealth, where the rich govern the poor. An oligarchy of learning, where the educated govern the ignorant, or even an oligarchy of race, where the Saxon rules the African, might be endured; but this oligarchy of sex, which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters, of every household - which ordains all men sovereigns, all women subjects, carries dissension, discord, and rebellion
into every home of the nation.
Webster, Worcester, and Bouvier all define a citizen to be a person in the United States,
entitled to vote and hold office.
The only question left to be settled now is: Are women persons? And I hardly believe any of our opponents will have the hardihood to say they are not. Being persons, then, women are citizens; and no state has a right to make any law, or to enforce any old law, that shall abridge their privileges or immunities. Hence, every discrimination against women in the constitutions and laws of the several states is today null and void, precisely as is every one against Negroes.
She helped to write the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. It was ratified after her death, in 1920. It reads like this: Section 1. The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. It guarantees American women the right to vote.
Looking back on this day of November 5th, 1872, I think it was probably a good thing that Susan B. Anthony committed a crime. If she hadn't furthered the advocacy of women's rights by acting on her convictions,and setting an example to other like-minded women it may have taken much longer for the yoke of prejudice towards women to unleash a bit.
Another little known amended act was the result of the Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coin Act (1978). The amendment changed the size, weight, and design of the dollar coin from the Coinage Act of 1965. The coins honoring her are still circulating, just like her courageous acts from her life.