Did Susan B. Anthony Get A Fair Trial In Federal Court?

On November 1st 1872 Susan and three of her sisters went to the polling place in a nearby 8th Ward barbershop to register to vote. There the election inspectors named Edwin Marsh and Beverly W. Jones at first refused, but Anthony cited the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It reads "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States .” Anthony reasoned the right to vote was one of those privileges. The two inspectors acquiesced. Eventually fifty women had registered to vote in Rochester at various polling places. On election day, November 5, 1872 , Anthony voted for the first time. Sylvester Lewis, who was a Democratic poll watcher and Rochester salt manufacturer, filed a complaint against Anthony questioning her registration and charging her with voting illegally. A few days later on November 18, U.S. Deputy Marshal Elisha J. Keeney arrested Anthony at her home.

On June 17 and 18, 1873 Anthony was tried in federal court which back in those days was located in nearby Canandaigua , New York . Federal judge Ward Hunt presided, U.S. district attorney Richard Crowley was the prosecutor and Henry Selden of Rochester was the defense attorney. Crowley read the government’s charge that Anthony had “voted for a representative in the Congress of the United States, to represent the 20th Congressional District of the State, and also for a representative at large for the State of New York, to represent the State in the Congress of the United States,” and being a woman, she violated the voting law since women were not allowed to vote. After some testimony Judge Hunt said, "The Fourteenth Amendment gives no right to a woman to vote, and the voting by Miss Anthony was in violation of the law. Assuming that Miss Anthony believed she had a right to vote, that fact constitutes no defense if in truth she had not the right. She voluntarily gave a vote which was illegal, and thus is subject to the penalty of the law." Judge Hunt then said, "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." Defense attorney Henry Selden objected to no avail and the following day argued for a new trial on the grounds that Anthony's constitutional right to a trial by jury had been violated, but Judge Hunt denied the motion. Judge Hunt then determined that Anthony’s sentence was a $100 fine and her response was, “May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty,” which she never did.  

How did she get away without paying the fine? Well, Judge Hunt said to her, “Madam, the court will not order you to stand committed until the fine is paid.” This statement cleverly not only let Miss Anthony go without paying the fine, but also left Anthony without grounds for a federal appeal. The election inspectors who were involved in the incident were also fined $25 each and also not forced to pay for the same reason.