Susan B. Anthony Given a Presidential Pardon to Mark Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage

President Donald Trump signs a proclamation recognizing the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Tuesday, in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Coinciding with the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage, President Donald Trump on Tuesday posthumously pardoned Susan B. Anthony in connection to her arrest for voting some 148 years ago.

Trump wiped the slate of the storied and controversial American feminist foremother with only 78 days left to shore up votes for his reelection as the Democratic National Convention gets underway. The incumbent appears focused on solidifying his historically loyal base of white women who showed up in droves to vote for him in 2016. 

“She was never pardoned. Did you know that? She was never pardoned,” Trump said this morning from the Blue Room of the White House. “What took so long?”

The president was flanked by several guests including Marjorie Dannenfesler, president of the anti-abortion network Susan B. Anthony List and Cleta Mitchell, a longtime conservative attorney who once represented the National Rifle Association.

Notably, Mitchell was one of the individuals whom lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee sought to interview in their probe on Russian interference in the 2016 election. McClatchy reported in 2018 that Mitchell once expressed concern that the NRA and Russia coordinated to funnel cash into Trump’s first presidential bid. Mitchell flatly denied the allegations but offered to cooperate with inquiring lawmakers.

Trump’s favorability among women — to whom he has recently and more frequently referred to as “suburban housewives” during press events and speeches — is lagging when compared with his numbers in 2016.

An ABC-Washington Post survey this spring recorded an 11-point drop from 61% to 50% in support from noncollege educated white women. Among black women, a powerful voting block in America, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found Trump’s approval at an abysmal six percent.

“That’s what this is all about here. Honest voting,” Trump said of the posthumous pardon Tuesday before riffing for several minutes on his grievances with mail-in voting and suggesting without evidence that the 2020 election will be rigged against him if mail-in ballots are permitted among the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

A line of women rally for women’s suffrage in New York in September 1916. (AP Photo)

Susan Brownell Anthony is widely considered a leader of the women’s rights movement in the U.S. though historians in more recent years have pointed to a lack of nuance around the record of her exclusion of black women from the fight for suffrage. 

Raised a Quaker, she did not support slavery and, in her lifetime, was a close associate of the great abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass. In the later years of their lives, however, the two would clash over such issues as the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote while women still could not. Anthony did not support the amendment’s ratification.

It was November 1, 1872, when Anthony, accompanied by three of her sisters, strolled into a Rochester, New York, barbershop and asked in short order if she was in the right place to register to vote.

The shop, converted into a registration office for the impending election between Ulysses Grant and Horace Greely was manned, quite literally, by election officials Beverly Jones, Edwin Marsh and William Hall.

In his testimony at Anthony’s two-day trial, Jones recalled the historic exchange.  

He did not think he could register her because only men had “the right of franchise” to vote, he said. To this, Anthony cited the passage just six years earlier of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which said “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” were American citizens, and therefore allowed to vote.

“She wanted to know if under that she was a citizen and had a right to vote,” Jones recalled.

A supervisor on site then turned to Jones and said: “Young man, how are you going to get around that? I think you will have to register their names.”

In a portion of his testimony from the 1872 trial of Susan B. Anthony, election official Beverly Jones recalls his encounter with Anthony after she appeared at a voter-registration center and insisted on registering though it was illegal for women to do so at the time. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives, Northeast Region, Record of District Courts of the United States via Courthouse News)

Fourteen women, Anthony included, were successfully registered that day but when Anthony appeared at the polling booth four days later to cast her ballot, she was arrested, tried, convicted and found guilty of illegal voting. A judge slapped Anthony with a fine and asked her if she had anything to say to the court. 

The proceedings “trampled underfoot every vital principle of the U.S. government,” Anthony remarked, noting as well the all-male jury pool meant to be her “peers.”

She refused to pay the $100 fine and blatantly told the judge it was an “unjust penalty.” 

The three election inspectors who allowed Anthony and the accompanying women to register were also indicted, convicted and fined. Their fines were just $25 each. They too refused to pay.

While the president has pardoned Anthony and celebrates women’s suffrage Tuesday, there is no indication that the Republican-controlled Senate will move anytime soon on approving ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

In February, the House voted 232-183 to remove a longstanding deadline that blocked the path to ratification.

Thirty-eight states have approved the amendment, meeting the requirement for ratification. Long before the Covid-19 pandemic subsumed most congressional activity, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters seeking a timeline on Senate ratification: “Oh, I haven’t thought about that.” 

“I’m personally not a supporter, but I haven’t thought about it,” McConnell remarked.

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