This Day in History – November 5th, 1872

November 5th is perhaps most famous for being Guy Fawkes’s Day in Britain after the failed Gun Powder Plot of 1605 to blow up King James during the opening of Parliament. It was also the day that Nat Turner, whom we looked at on October 30th, was executed in 1831 for a fail rebellion. Today, however, we shall look at another rebel, and unlike the previous two mentioned, she was not executed; in fact she was awarded a dollar.

Susan B Anthony

Until 1920, only approximately half of the population was permitted to vote in government elections, but on November 5th, 1872 Susan B Anthony and about fifty other women just could not wait another 48 years to be told that she could vote. In the presidential election of 1872, 15 of them managed convinced the election inspectors to allow them to cast ballots, but the others were turned back. There had been earlier cases of women attempting to vote, and even some cases of success, but the reaction of the authorities had been muted. When Anthony voted, however, the reaction was different, and her case became a national controversy.

Anthony was arrested on November 18th, 1872, by a U.S. Deputy Marshal and charged with illegally voting. The other fourteen women were also arrested but released pending the outcome of Anthony’s trial.

Portrait_of_Susan_B._Anthony_on_her_50th_birthdayAnthony spoke in all 29 towns and villages of Monroe County, New York, where her trial was to be held, asking “Is it a Crime for a U.S. Citizen to Vote?” She said the Fourteenth Amendment gave her that right, proclaiming, “We no longer petition legislature or Congress to give us the right to vote, but appeal to women everywhere to exercise their too long neglected ‘citizen’s right'”. Her speech was printed in its entirety in one of the Rochester daily newspapers, which further spread her message to potential jurors.

Worried that Anthony’s speeches would influence the jury, the district attorney arranged for the trial to be moved to the federal circuit court, which would soon sit in neighboring Ontario County. Anthony responded by speaking in every village in that county also before the trial began. Responsibility for that federal circuit was in the hands of Justice Ward Hunt, who had recently been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hunt had never served as a trial judge; originally a politician, he had begun his judicial career by being elected to the New York Court of Appeals.

Susan BAnthony’s trial was a major step in the transition of the women’s rights movement into the women’s suffrage movement. The trial began on July 17th, 1873, and was closely followed by the national press. The New York Times caught the tone of the proceedings by reporting that, “It was conceded that the defendant was, on the 5th November, 1872, a woman.”

Following a rule of common law at that time which prevented criminal defendants in federal courts from testifying, Hunt refused to allow Anthony to speak until the verdict had been delivered. On the second day of the trial, after both sides had presented their cases, Justice Hunt delivered his opinion, which he had put in writing. In the most controversial aspect of the trial, Hunt directed the jury to deliver a guilty verdict.

On the third day of the trial, Hunt asked Anthony whether she had anything to say. She responded with “the most famous speech in the history of the agitation for woman suffrage”, according to Ann D. Gordon, a historian of the women’s movement. Repeatedly ignoring the judge’s order to stop talking and sit down, she protested what she called “this high-handed outrage upon my citizen’s rights … 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.”


She castigated Justice Hunt for denying her a trial by jury, but stated that even if he had allowed the jury to discuss the case, she still would have been denied a trial by a jury of her peers because women were not allowed to be jurors. When Justice Hunt sentenced Anthony to pay a fine of $100, she responded, “I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty”, and she never did!

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