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U.S. v. Susan B. Anthony: 1873

"i Have Been & Gone & Done It!", Stumping Before The Trial, Trial Begins June 17

Defendant: Susan B. Anthony
Crime Charged: Unlawful Voting
Chief Defense Lawyers: Henry R. Selden and John Van Voorhis
Chief Prosecutor: Richard Crowley
Judge: Ward Hunt
Place: Canandaigua, New York
Dates of Trial: June 17-18, 1873
Verdict: Guilty

SIGNIFICANCE: This was one of the first in a series of decisions—including two rendered by the Supreme Court—which found that Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution did not expand or protect women's rights, an interpretation which remained unchanged for almost 100 years.

Several cases in the 1870s, including U.S. v. Susan B. Anthony, grew out of women's attempts to gain full rights of citizenship through the judicial system. Had this strategy worked, women would have been spared what followed: a 60-year-long, state-by-state legislative campaign for suffrage and 100 years in which the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause was not applied to sex discrimination cases.

In July 1868, exactly 20 years after the Seneca Falls Convention and American women's first public demand for suffrage, the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted. Section 2, intended to encourage states to grant suffrage to African-American men, angered women's rights leaders because it introduced the word "male" into the Constitution and, some thought, called into question the citizenship of females. Francis Minor, an attorney and husband of Virginia Minor, the Woman Suffrage Association of Missouri's president, thought women were looking at the wrong clause. Section 1, he pointed out in 1869, declared:

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.

Minor wrote that this clause confirmed the citizenship of women and concluded, "provisions of the several State Constitutions that exclude women from the franchise on account of sex, are violative alike of the spirit and letter of the Federal Constitution."

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton published Minor's analysis in their newspaper, the Revolution, and urged women to go to the polls. In 1871 and 1872, in at least 10 states, women did so. Most were turned away, but a few actually managed to vote.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882