Primary Source: Trump Pardons Susan B. Anthony
But does she accept it?
Happy Election Day! With the Big Decision on the country’s mind today, it’s time for an election-themed update to an old story.
Two months ago I published an entry celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment — also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment — which guaranteed universal suffrage for women. In the timeline from the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 to today’s Texas ID laws, I included the story of Susan B. Anthony’s civilly-disobedient foray into voting in 1872. Nearly 150 years later, the story has a new twist . . . in more ways than one.
A famous suffragist tells off a judge. (1873)
The decades after the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 were arduous for women’s rights. Reformers picked up support for their cause but hit wall after wall of opposition. The movement also suffered a split after the Civil War when some reformers thought it politically prudent to wait until after the passage of the 15th Amendment — which granted African American men the right to vote — to push for women’s suffrage. Others, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, wanted to push forward immediately.
In the 1872 presidential election, Anthony did just that. She forced the Rochester, New York registrar’s office to register her, then voted to reelect Ulysses S. Grant. “Well I have been & gone done it!” she wrote to Stanton. “Positively voted the republican ticket — strait — this A.M. at 7 o’clock & swore my vote in at that.”
She was arrested weeks later and put on trial which, by all accounts, was a farce by Judge Ward Hunt. After he directed the jury to find her guilty, Hunt asked Anthony if she had anything to say.
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, 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 Republican government.
After many attempts at silencing her, Judge Hunt announced that Anthony would be fined $100. Anthony responded.
May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. . . . 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.”
The president issues a pardon. (2020)
Universal suffrage was approved 47 years after Anthony’s conviction (and 14 years after her death). For decades after that, she was honored in myriad ways: in bas-relief at the Washington headquarters of the National Woman’s Party, as commemorative stamps in 1936 and 1958, as a National Women’s Hall of Fame inductee, as a bridge in Rochester with Frederick Douglass, and as a dollar coin, among others. But missing from that list was an official pardon. On August 18, 2020, on the 100th anniversary of the passage of universal suffrage, President Donald Trump issued her a posthumous full pardon. The White House announced it to the press the same day.
Today, President Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) posthumously to Susan B. Anthony, a peerless advocate for women’s suffrage, for a wrongful and unjust conviction stemming from the only vote she ever cast in an election. As we commemorate the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment — known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment — this grant of full clemency recognizes and pays tribute to the advocacy, perseverance, and leadership of a truly remarkable woman and an American hero.
In a ceremony at the White House, the president said, “She was never pardoned! Did you know that she was never pardoned? What took so long?” The text of the pardon reads:
The Susan B. Anthony Museum says, “Objection!” (2020)
Not everyone was pleased with President Trump’s action. Defenders of Anthony’s legacy pushed for him to rescind it, saying that by issuing the pardon, it equated her to a criminal. “Her name should not be marred by being associated with other [individuals who’ve been pardoned],” New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said. “Nor should she be granted a pardon because she did nothing wrong.” Deborah Hughes, President and CEO of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, responded to the president the same day as his issued pardon.
Objection! Mr. President, Susan B. Anthony must decline your offer of a pardon today.
Anthony wrote in her diary in 1873 that her trial for voting was “The greatest outrage History ever witnessed.” She was not allowed to speak as a witness in her own defense, because she was a woman. At the conclusion of arguments, Judge Hunt dismissed the jury and pronounced her guilty. She was outraged to be denied a trial by jury. She proclaimed, “I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.” To pay would have been to validate the proceedings. To pardon Susan B. Anthony does the same.
If one wants to honor Susan B. Anthony today, a clear stance against any form of voter suppression would be welcome. Enforcement and expansion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would be celebrated, we must assure that states respect the 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments to the United States Constitution. Support for the Equal Rights Amendment would be well received. Advocacy for human rights for all would be splendid. Anthony was also a strong proponent of sex education, fair labor practices, excellent public education, equal pay for equal work, and elimination of all forms of discrimination.
But whether or not Susan B. Anthony would have accepted this pardon — were she alive today — the important message is this: Exercise your Susan B. Anthony Amendment rights and vote!
I am currently working on Gold in the Fire, a book about Ah Toy, the first Chinese brothel madam in gold rush San Francisco.
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