Sunday Pages: Susan B. Anthony

Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.

Dear Reader,

This week, Donald John Trump attempted to pander to women by issuing a pardon for the women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony, who in 1872 cast a ballot in the election—a crime for which she was tried and convicted a year later. What’s next, Mr. “President?” Replacing Mike Pence on the ticket with the reanimated corpse of Victoria Woodhull?

That the head of a political party hellbent on voter suppression would issue a pardon for a champion of women’s suffrage is particularly rich. If Trump could kill the Nineteenth Amendment by executive order, he’d do it tomorrow. Also, if Susan B. Anthony were alive, she’d never, ever, ever accept the pardon. I mean, ever. I mean, I wish she could come back from the dead for a few hours, just to hear her eviscerate Trump. Finally, there’s zero chance that Trump knows who Susan B. Anthony is (although I’m sure he was delighted to find out that she voted a straight Republican ticket). He probably thinks it’s Carmelo Anthony’s wife.

But I’m glad that Trump did this, as I learned something. American history treats its disgusting institutionalized misogyny in much the same way as its odious racism: by glossing over it. I did not know about Anthony’s “crime” and her trial.

The full story can be read here. Below is the final exchange between the presiding judge, Justice Ward Hunt, and Anthony, after the guilty sentence was pronounced:

JUDGE HUNT: Has the prisoner anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced?

SUSAN B. ANTHONY: Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled under foot 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.

JUDGE: The Court cannot listen to a rehearsal of arguments the prisoner’s counsel has already consumed three hours in presenting.

SBA: May it please your honor, I am not arguing the question, but simply stating the reasons why sentence cannot, in justice, be pronounced against me. Your denial of my citizen’s right to vote, is the denial of my right of consent as one of the governed, the denial of my right of representation as one of the taxed, the denial of my right to a trial by a jury of my peers as an offender against law, therefore, the denial of my sacred rights to life, liberty, property and—

JUDGE: The Court cannot allow the prisoner to go on.

SBA: But your honor will not deny me this one and only poor privilege of protest against this high-handed outrage upon my citizen’s rights. May it please the Court to remember that since the day of my arrest last November, this is the first time that either myself or any person of my disfranchised class has been allowed a word of defense before judge or jury—

JUDGE: The prisoner must sit down. The Court cannot allow it.

SBA: All of my prosecutors, from the Eighth Ward corner grocery politician, who entered the complaint, to the United States Marshal, Commissioner, District Attorney, District Judge, your honor on the bench—not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even then I should have had just cause of protest, for not one of those men was my peer; but, native or foreign born, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, awake or asleep, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence, in no sense, my peer. Even, under such circumstances, a commoner of England, tried before a jury of Lords, would have far less cause to complain than should I, a woman, tried before a jury of men. Even my counsel, the Hon. Henry R. Selden, who has argued my cause so ably, so earnestly, so unanswerably before your honor, is my political sovereign. Precisely as no disfranchised person is entitled to sit upon a jury, and no woman is entitled to the franchise, so none but a regularly admitted lawyer is allowed to practice in the courts. And no woman can gain admission to the bar—hence, jury, judge, counsel, must all be of the superior class.

JUDGE: The Court must insist—the prisoner has been tried according to the established forms of law.

SBA: Yes, your honor, but by forms of law all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, in favor of men, and against women; and hence, your honor’s ordered verdict of guilty; against a United States citizen for the exercise of “that citizen’s right to vote,” simply because that citizen was a woman and not a man. But, yesterday, the same man made forms of law, declared it a crime punishable with $1,000 fine and six months imprisonment, for you, or me, or you of us, to give a cup of cold water, a crust of bread, or a night’s shelter to a panting fugitive as he was tracking his way to Canada. And every man or woman in whose veins coursed a drop of human sympathy violated that wicked law, reckless of consequences, and was justified in so doing. As then, the slaves who got their freedom must take it over, or under, or through the unjust forms of law—precisely so, now, must women, to get their right to a voice in this government, take it; and I have taken mine, and mean to
take it at every possible opportunity.

JUDGE: The Court orders the prisoner to sit down. It will not allow another word.

SBA: When I was brought before your honor for trial, I hoped for a broad and liberal interpretation of the Constitution and its recent amendments, that should declare...equality of rights—the national guarantee to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. But failing to get this justice—failing, even, to get a trial by a jury not of my peers—I ask not leniency at your hands, but rather the full rigors of the law!

JUDGE: The sentence of the Court is that you pay a fine of one hundred dollars and the costs of the prosecution.

SBA: May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a $10,000 debt, incurred by publishing my paper, The Revolution, four years ago, the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your man-made, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprison and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the government; and I shall work on with might and main to pay every dollar of that honest debt, but not a penny shall go to this unjust claim. And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”

She never paid the fine. But her portrait adorns a special $1 coin, struck from 1979-81, and again in 1999. Something like a billion Susan B. Anthony dollars were minted.