Thursday, June 23, 2011

Susan B. On Trial

While I was sitting here re-reading a little article in NAHO published in the Spring of 1984, I realized that last week was the 138th anniversary of Susan B. Anthony's trial for illegal voting.

Susan B. (who lived with her family in Battenville & Center Falls here in the Town of Greenwich before becoming a teacher) decided to test the waters of the newly ratified 14th Amendment by voting in the interim elections of 1872. The 14th Amendment contains a citizenship clause that essentially overturned the Dred Scott decision of 1857 (which stated that slaves or decedents of slaves were not, nor could ever be citizens on the US). The citizenship clause says "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of the citizens of the United States." This amendment laid the groundwork for the 15th Amendment that states the right to vote cannot be denied based on race.

Nothing in the 14th or 15th Amendment said anything about sex. So, Anthony & some like-minded ladies of the suffrage movement decided to take a chance. They wanted to vote because they were citizens of the US. They were able to cast their ballots in the interim election of 1872, but were arrested. Would their votes be valid? A court would decide.

Susan B. Anthony in 1877
On June 17, 1873, after 2 days, Judge Ward Hunt instructed the jury to find Miss Anthony guilty. Judge Hunt's interpretation of the citizenship clause was that the right to vote was a State Constitutional issue & since NY did not allow women to vote, she could not vote. He fined her $100 which she refused to pay,  saying "May it please your Honor, I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty."

It would take another 44 years for New York (male) voters to grant equal suffrage to women. The nation would follow suit with the passage & ratification of the 19th Amendment (nicknamed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment) in 1920.

Little known fact- The last state to ratify the 19th Amendment was Mississippi in 1984!

Books to check out:
The Trial of Susan B. Anthony with an Introduction by Lynn Sherr- 9781591020998
An account of the proceedings on the trial of Susan B. Anthony at the Presidential election
in Nov. 1872- 9781425518288

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