The Trial of Susan B. Anthony
In 1872 Susan B. Anthony registered to vote in Rochester, New York and voted in the general election, claiming that the Fourteenth amendment to the Constitution guaranteed her right to do so. Anthony used the threat of suing the voting registrars personally if they attempted to prevent her from registering. On November 14 an arrest warrant for Anthony was issued, since she had taken an oath that she was qualified to vote, and she was arrested. Before voting Anthony had visited a local newspaper and the resulting publicity had led several women to register and attempt to vote. Most had been turned away. The registrars who had allowed Anthony to register were also arrested.
Fourteen other women had succeeded in being allowed to vote, all were subsequently arrested. All were released on bail. Anthony refused to post bail, and an order for her to be held in the Albany County jail was issued, however Anthony remained free on her own recognizance. Anthony embarked on a speaking tour in Monroe County New York, where she was to be tried, to generate as much publicity as possible. Anthony argued that the Fourteenth amendment guaranteed that all persons born in the United States are citizens and that no state could deny the rights of citizens without due process of law. Anthony claimed the issue was whether or not women were persons.
Anthony’s case was complicated in several ways, she was to be tried in Federal court though she had allegedly violated a state law. The federal judge, Ward Hunt, heard the case alone, it was usual practice for two judges to consider a case. Both sides presented their cases to Judge Hunt, who denied Anthony the opportunity to testify, as was the practice in federal court at the time, and Anthony’s case was presented by attorney Henry Selden. Judge Hunt, after hearing both sides, ordered the jury to find Anthony guilty. The directed verdict was ordered because of the fact that according to the judge Anthony had conceded the facts of the case as correct.
Judge Hunt announced in his written verdict that a trial by jury is only guaranteed when there exists facts in the case being disputed by the contending parties. The only issue in the Anthony case was one of law, since Anthony had admitted registering and subsequently voting. Hunt also found in his verdict that the Constitution allowed states to prohibit certain persons from voting. When Selden asked the judge if would be allowed to poll the jury to determine what their verdict might have been he was denied. There has ever since been debate over whether Hunt wrote his verdict before the trial was even held.
Anthony was sentenced on the third day of the trial, after being given the opportunity to address the court. After several minutes of listening to her remarks the judge ordered her to sit down. She refused and continued to condemn the entire trial. She also mentioned that she had not been allowed a jury of peers since women were not allowed at the time to serve on juries. After her remarks she was fined one hundred dollars, which she announced she would not pay. Hunt refused to issue an order holding her in custody, a legal move which denied her the right to file a writ of habeas corpus, which could have taken her case to the Supreme Court. She never paid the fine.