Susan B. Anthony Votes and Gets Convicted

The following is posted on the November 2008 In Chambers blawg:

A number of years ago when I was prosecuting in Pima County one of the deputies came back from court one day and told us he had made a motion for the trial judge to direct a verdict of guilty. We all laughed at how ridiculous that was; you can’t do that. Then the other day I was browsing through an interesting series of books called American State Trials¦and I came across this:

At the Presidential election of 1872 (A Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, won it but lasted only one term), Susan B. Anthony, along with 13 women, voted in Rochester, New York. Almost immediately afterward they were arrested and indicted for the offense of knowingly voting without having a lawful right to vote in violation of the Act of Congress of 1870. Only Ms. Anthony went to trial.

At the trial her lawyer, Henry Selden, maintained that because she had consulted a lawyer (him) before voting and had a good faith belief that she was permitted to vote, she had committed no crime. After the government rested its case, Mr. Selden announced that he would call Ms. Anthony as a witness. The government objected, She is not competent as a witness in her own behalf, the prosecutor said, and the judge agreed; her evidence was incompetent, he said.

After closing arguments the judge summarized the evidence with a 7 page written address and concluded: Upon this evidence I suppose there is no question for the jury and that the jury should be directed to find a verdict of guilty. Wait a minute, said the defense, “thats always a question for the jury ” and if they find that she had a good faith belief that it was proper to vote, she isn’t guilty.

But the judge wasn’t swayed: “I cannot charge these propositions of course. The question, gentlemen of the jury, in the form it finally takes, is wholly a question or questions of law, and I have decided as a question of law, in the first place, that under the Fourteenth Amendment, which Miss Anthony claims protects her, she was not protected in a right to vote. And I have decided also that her belief and the advice which she took does not protect her in the act which she committed. If I am right in this, The result must be a verdict on your part of guilty, and I therefore direct that you find a verdict of guilty. And they did. She was sentenced to pay a fine of $100, but never did. And as far as I know, there was no appeal.

[I guess it takes all kinds even in the courthouse.]

[From American State Trials, Vol. 3, The Trial of Susan B. Anthony; you can also read a transcript of the trial at the Library of Congress web site –]

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