Remarks by Susan B. Anthony in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of New York
On 19 June 1873, a day after Justice Ward Hunt found Susan B. Anthony guilty of the federal crime of voting without the right to vote, the judge denied her lawyer’s motion for a new trial. Then before pronouncing sentence, Hunt asked Anthony a routine legal question. Her reply has become one of the best-known texts in the history of woman suffrage. Three different reports of her remarks survive, and in the absence of a transcript of the trial, their authenticity cannot be determined. All three reports are included here. The first one, embedded in the Associated Press’s dispatch of 19 June from Canandaigua, appeared in scores of newspapers across the country. A day later, Matilda Gage recorded a more elaborate exchange in an extensive analysis of the trial that she wrote for the Kansas Leavenworth Times. The longest and most familiar report appeared first in the Account of her trial prepared by Anthony late in 1873.
The court made the usual inquiry of Miss Anthony if she had anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced. Miss Anthony answered she had a great many things to say, and declared that in her trial every principle of justice had been violated; that every right had been denied; that she had had no trial by her peers; that the court and jurors were her political superiors and not her peers, and announced her determination to continue her labors until equality was obtained and was proceeding to discuss the questions involved in the case when she was interrupted by the court with the remark that these questions could not be reviewed. Miss Anthony replied she wished it fully understood that she asked no clemency from the court, that she desired and demanded the full rigor of the law. Judge Hunt then said: “The judgment of the court is that you pay a fine of one hundred dollars and the costs of the prosecution,” and immediately added, “there is no order that you stand committed until the fine is paid.”
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 20 June 1873.
As a matter of outward form the defendant was asked if she had anything to say why the sentence of the court should not be pronounced upon her.
“Yes, your honor,” replied Miss Anthony, “I have many things to say. My every right, constitutional, civil, political and judicial has been tramped upon. I have not only had no jury of my peers, but I have had no jury at all.”
Court—”Sit down Miss Anthony. I cannot allow you to argue the question.”
Miss Anthony—”I shall not sit down. I will not lose my only chance to speak.”
Court—”You have been tried, Miss Anthony, by the forms of law, and my decision has been rendered by law.”
Miss Anthony—”Yes, but laws made by men, under a government of men, interpreted by men and for the benefit of men. The only chance women have for justice in this country is to violate the law, as I have done, and as I shall continue to do,” and she struck her hand heavily on the table in emphasis of what she said. “Does your honor suppose that we obeyed the infamous fugitive slave law which forbade to give a cup of cold water to a slave fleeing from his master? I tell you we did not obey it; we fed him and clothed him, and sent him on his way to Canada. So shall we trample all unjust laws under foot. I do not ask the clemency of the court. I came into it to get justice, having failed in this, I demand the full rigors of the law.”
Court—”The sentence of the court is $100 fine and the costs of the prosecution.”
Miss Anthony—”I have no money to pay with, but am $10,000 in debt.”
Court—”You are not ordered to stand committed till it is paid.”
Matilda Joslyn Gage to Editor, 20 June 1873, Kansas Leavenworth Times, 3 July 1873, SBA scrapbook 6, Rare Books, Library of Congress
Judge Hunt—(Ordering the defendant to stand up), Has the prisoner anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced?
Miss Anthony—Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, 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. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this, so-called, form of government.
Judge Hunt—The Court cannot listen to a rehearsal of arguments the prisoner’s counsel has already consumed three hours in presenting.
Miss Anthony—May it please your honor, I am not arguing the question, but simply stating the reasons why sentence cannot, in justice, be pronounced against me. Your denial of my citizen’s right to vote, is the denial of my right of consent as one of the governed, the denial of my right of representation as one of the taxed, the denial of my right to a trial by a jury of my peers as an offender against law, therefore, the denial of my sacred rights to life, liberty, property and
Judge Hunt—The Court cannot allow the prisoner to go on.
Miss Anthony—But your honor will not deny me this one and only poor privilege of protest against this high-handed outrage upon my citizen’s rights. May it please the Court to remember that since the day of my arrest last November, this is the first time that either myself or any person of my disfranchised class has been allowed a word of defense before judge or jury
Judge Hunt—The prisoner must sit down the Court cannot allow it.
Miss Anthony—All of my prosecutors, from the 8th ward corner grocery politician, who entered the complaint, to the United States Marshal, Commissioner, District Attorney, District Judge, your honor on the bench, not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even then I should have had just cause of protest for not one of those men was my peer; but, native or foreign born, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, awake or asleep, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence, in no sense, my peer. Even, under such circumstances, a commoner of England, tried before a jury of Lords, would have far less cause to complain than should I, a woman, tried before a jury of men. Even my counsel, the Hon. Henry R. Selden, who has argued my cause so ably, so earnestly, so unanswerably before your honor, is my political sovereign. Precisely as no disfranchised person is entitled to sit upon a jury, and no woman is entitled to the franchise, so, none but a regularly admitted lawyer is allowed to practice in the courts, and no woman can gain admission to the bar hence, jury, judge, counsel, must all be of the superior class.
Judge Hunt—The Court must insist the prisoner has been tried according to the established forms of law.
Miss Anthony—Yes, your honor, but by forms of law all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, in favor of men, and against women; and hence, your honor’s ordered verdict of guilty, against a United States citizen for the exercise of “that citizen’s right to vote,” simply because that citizen was a woman and not a man. But, yesterday, the same man-made forms of law, declared it a crime punishable with $1,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment, for you, or me, or any of us, to give a cup of cold water, a crust of bread, or a night’s shelter to a panting fugitive as he was tracking his way to Canada. And every man or woman in whose veins coursed a drop of human sympathy violated that wicked law, reckless of consequences, and was justified in so doing. As then, the slaves who got their freedom must take it over, or under, or through the unjust forms of law, precisely so, now, must women, to get their right to a voice in this government, take it; and I have taken mine, and mean to take it at every possible opportunity.
Judge Hunt—The Court orders the prisoner to sit down. It will not allow another word.
Miss Anthony—When I was brought before your honor for trial, I hoped for a broad and liberal interpretation of the Constitution and its recent amendments, that should declare all United States citizens under its protecting aegis that should declare equality of rights the national guarantee to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. But failing to get this justice—failing, even, to get a trial by a jury not of my peers—I ask not leniency at your hands—but rather the full rigors of the law.
Judge Hunt—The Court must insist
(Here the prisoner sat down.)
Judge Hunt—The prisoner will stand up.
(Here Miss Anthony arose again.)
The sentence of the Court is that you pay a fine of one hundred dollars and the costs of the prosecution.
Miss Anthony—May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a $10,000 debt, incurred by publishing my paper—The Revolution—four years ago, the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your man-made, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprison and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the government; and I shall work on with might and main to pay every dollar of that honest debt, but not a penny shall go to this unjust claim. And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”
Judge Hunt—Madam, the Court will not order you committed until the fine is paid.
An Account of the Proceedings on the Trial of Susan B. Anthony on the Charge of Illegal Voting,. . . (Rochester, N.Y., 1874), 81-85.