Susan B. Anthony: Celebrating "A Heroic Life"

Celebrating "A Heroic Life"


In the early 1870s Francis and Virginia Minor formulated the "New Departure" strategy. It was based on the premise that the Fourteenth Amendment’s definition of U.S. citizenship included women and states were therefore barred from depriving them of the privileges of citizenship. They also argued that the Fifteenth Amendment’s reference to the "right of citizens of the United States to vote" included women. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other suffragists enthusiastically embraced the "New Departure" and hoped to validate this interpretation of the amendments through an act of Congress or through a favorable decision in federal courts.

Anthony, Stanton, Isabella Beecher Hooker and others requested the opportunity to make a direct appeal to the Senate for an act that would declare that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments conferred upon women the right to vote. Their request was denied and they were referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee where they testified on January 12, 1872.

In this letter to her husband, Isabella Beecher Hooker reports that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted down their appeal by a margin of 86 to 95.

On November 1, 1872, Susan B. Anthony, her three sisters, and ten other Rochester women registered to vote after persuading the election inspectors that the Fourteenth Amendment gave them that right. Four days later they cast their ballots, and on November 18, Anthony was arrested for voting illegally.

Susan B. Anthony writes this January 6, 1873 letter to Isabella Beecher Hooker at the height of the scandal that involved an alleged affair between Hooker’s brother, the eminent clergyman Henry Ward Beecher and his parishioner Elizabeth Tilton, the wife of Theodore Tilton. Because of their association with all the parties--including Victoria Woodhull who first accused Beecher of adultery--Anthony and Stanton became embroiled in the scandal, but here Anthony writes of her determination not to be diverted from her life’s work of "breaking the political chain that binds all women in subjection to men." She sees little profit to being swept into the developing scandal. "We might as well ‘bay the moon’ as essay to establish an equal moral code for woman."

Anthony also reports that she will shortly appear before a judge to demand a writ of habeas corpus. "I hope, by this process to be able to reach the U.S. Supreme Court."

On January 21, 1873 Henry Selden, Susan B. Anthony’s defense lawyer, appeared before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York in Albany to argue that Anthony should be discharged because she had a right to vote and because the government had not established criminal intent on her part. The judge did not release her and on January 24 she was indicted by a federal grand jury. Anthony was arraigned and Selden paid her bail.

On Friday, January 24 Susan B. Anthony sent a proof copy of Selden’s argument to Francis S. Rew, the publisher of the Rochester Evening Express requesting that he print it in his newspaper the following Monday.

An Account of the Proceedings of the Trial of Susan B. Anthony on the Charge of Illegal Voting at the Presidential Election in Nov., 1872. Rochester, NY: 1874.

As part of Anthony’s plan to enlighten the men of Rochester so that no jury could be found to convict her, she spoke throughout Monroe County on why she had the right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment. Her efforts were foiled when the prosecuting attorney, Richard Crowley, successfully petitioned to have the case heard before the U.S. Circuit Court in Canandaigua, Ontario County. The trial began on June 17, 1873 with Supreme Court Justice Ward Hunt presiding. At the end of two days of testimony and arguments, Judge Hunt declared that the right to vote was not among the "privileges and immunities" protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. He further stated that Anthony knew that New York enfranchised only males and she, therefore, knowingly violated the law. Hunt concluded that there was no question for the jury to decide and he directed them to return a verdict of guilty. Selden insisted the jury had a right to decide the guilt or innocence of Anthony, but Hunt refused his request to poll the jury.

Before sentencing, Justice Hunt asked if Anthony had anything to say. Anthony certainly did, and her forceful indictment of the judicial system that arrested and convicted her are recorded in the proceedings of the trial that she had published. After her remarks, Hunt sentenced Anthony to a fine of $100 plus the cost of prosecution, both of which she refused to pay.

Henry R. Selden

Susan B. Anthony traveled throughout the country on the lecture circuit to pay off the debts she incurred while publishing The Revolution. She finally paid off the last dollar in May 1876. Until 1880 she lectured under the agency of Henry Slayton.

In 1876 women were ignored in the preparations for the centenary celebration of the nation. In response the National Woman Suffrage Association opened Centennial Headquarters in Philadelphia to make their presence known and to make it clear that women were still "denied the exercise of their natural right of self-government."

For the Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia on July 4, 1876, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote a Declaration of Rights to be read at the official proceedings, but their request to present it was denied. Undaunted, Anthony and four other women decided to go ahead with their plan. When the Declaration of Independence had been read, Anthony and the other women rose from their seats and marched down the aisle to the speakers’ rostrum. Here Anthony presented the Declaration to Vice-President Thomas W. Ferry. The women then proceeded back down the aisle while scattering printed copies of the Declaration to the audience. Then, in front of Independence Hall, Susan B. Anthony read the Declaration to a receptive crowd.

In 1877 Susan B. Anthony traveled to Colorado where a suffrage referendum was to appear on the ballot. The previous year her sister Hannah Anthony Mosher had gone to Colorado in hopes that the climate would improve her tuberculosis. The trip did not help and Hannah died on May 11, 1877 at their brother Daniel’s home in Leavenworth, Kansas. Four years earlier another sister, Guelma Anthony McLean, also succumbed to tuberculosis.

In this October 4, 1877 letter to her brother-in-law Eugene Mosher, Anthony writes from Colorado that she has met many of the people who knew Hannah while she was there and of her regrets that speaking obligations prevented her from accompanying Hannah to Colorado. Anthony also writes that her mother, who would die in 1880, is not well.

"FLOCKING FOR FREEDOM (They Saved the Ancient Capital; They Besiege the Modern)"

After the unsuccessful attempt to have the federal courts decide that women had the right to vote under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, the National Woman Suffrage Association returned to the strategy of petitioning Congress to pass a sixteenth amendment declaring that "The right of 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." Senator Aaron A. Sargent introduced the bill on January 10, 1878. The following week this satirical drawing appeared in Puck. It shows Anthony, Stanton, Isabella Beecher Hooker, Anna Dickinson and other suffragists all flocking to Washington in support of the new bill. Although Lucy Stone is included, it is highly unlikely, as leader of the rival American Woman Suffrage Association, that she would have joined the flock.

In 1880 Susan B. Anthony and other suffragists once again appeared before a Senate Judiciary Committee to speak on behalf of a sixteenth amendment. Anthony forcefully presented the reasons why women, as American citizens, should look to the Federal government for enfranchisement and not depend on the legislatures or voters of individual states.

The background on these pages was created from an image of a handkerchief that belonged to Susan B. Anthony.

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