Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Crime To Vote

Title: Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote?
Speech By: Susan B. Anthony
Date: 1873
Location: Monroe and Ontario Counties, New York
Occasion: Response to indictment for voting in a federal election
Quick question - when did women first vote in a Presidential election?

Was it in 1920, after passage of the Nineteenth amendment? How about two years after the admission of Wyoming to the Union in 1890? Or perhaps it was Susan B. Anthony's solitary act of defiance in 1872? We'll return to that question later.

Having cast a ballot in the 1872 Presidential election, Anthony was indicted a few weeks later for - having voted illegally in a federal election. She responded by delivering this speech.

She gave it in every Town and Village in Monroe County and twenty-one Towns in Ontario County  fifty locations in all! Her question to her listeners was - Is it a crime for a citizen of the United States to vote?

At more than ten thousand words, it is a fairly long speech - probably at least an hour in length.

It is also one of those speeches that might well be considered a “Contra speech,” in that it had an effect that wasn’t considered when it was given. It turned out to be so effective that the federal prosecutor had the trial moved to Canandaigua, to avoid prejudice in the jury pool. Generally, that’s a move the defense makes, not the prosecution.

In the end, Anthony was fined $100 - a fine she never paid.

As for the question at the beginning of this post - when did women first vote in a Presidential election? It was in New Jersey during the election of 1800, the contest between President John Adams, and his Vice  President - Thomas Jefferson. The women who voted were either widows or old maids. Why “widows and maids?” New Jersey had a residency requirement, but its constitution made no mention of any gender restrictions. Like most states of that era, New Jersey required voters  to own a certain amount of property, and married women could not own property independent of their husbands - while adult women who were not married, could.

By 1807, New Jersey’s election laws had been clarified to reflect the original understanding - that women were not meant to vote. That right had been taken away from them.

The lesson? No right is guaranteed to any of us, unless we speak powerfully in its defense.

Text Posted: Famous American Trials
Length (Words): 10,122

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom


  1. Nice it just goes to show who ever is in charge makes the rules. It is the little things that can change a nation..

  2. True enough. Thing is - in a democracy, we are the ones who make the rules. That's why it's so important to be a fully participating member of that democracy!

    Thanks for commenting.