Critics pressure Trump to rescind Susan B. Anthony pardon

Historians say a pardon validates her alleged crime, against her wishes.

August 19, 2020, 4:15 PM

President Donald Trump faced mounting pressure Wednesday to rescind his posthumous pardon of Susan B. Anthony, a leader in the women's suffrage movement, as a number of Democrats and historians argued a presidential pardon undermines Anthony's wishes.

Anthony did not believe she committed a crime by simply voting.

"This was brought up a week ago, and I was so surprised that it was never done before," Trump said of a pardon for Anthony Tuesday at a White House event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. "What took so long?"

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks prior to signing a proclamation on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution during a ceremony at the White House, Aug. 18, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks prior to signing a proclamation on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution during a ceremony at the White House, Aug. 18, 2020.
Carlos Barria/Reuters

Anthony was charged with voting illegally -- as a woman -- in the 1872 presidential election in her hometown of Rochester, New York. She was ultimately tried by an all-male jury -- which the judge directed to find her guilty-- and fined $100, which she refused to pay.

"It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen's right, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the national Constitution, beyond the power of any state to deny," Anthony asserted in a speech at the time.

While Fox News host Sean Hannity and others have criticized calls to rescind Trump's pardon, some experts argue it's necessary to protect her legacy.

Deborah Hughes, president and CEO of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House in Rochester -- whose organization was given no advance notice of the pardon -- told ABC News Wednesday that Anthony was quite familiar with the pardon process and "absolutely would not have wanted it for herself."

"Anthony was very clear. She felt she had a right to vote as a citizen. She felt that the trial was the greatest miscarriage of justice, as did her lawyers, and to pardon it is to validate the trial," Hughes said.

PHOTO: Women's Suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony, circa late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
Women's Suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony, circa late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
Photoquest/Getty Images

Historian Ann Gordon, a former Rutgers University professor and editor of “The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony," expressed her disapproval with the pardon on Twitter and questioned what action Trump might take next on Women's Equality Day on Aug. 26.

Elected officials are calling on Trump to rescind the pardon because, as Gordon argue, it overrides Anthony's wishes.

At a press conference outside the Susan B. Anthony Museum and Home Tuesday, New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul emphasized that notion, saying Anthony was "guilty of nothing."

"I was deeply troubled to learn that Trump went ahead and treated her like a criminal," Hochul said. "She was proud of her arrest to draw attention to the cause for women's rights, and never paid her fine. Let her Rest in Peace."

Following Hochul, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren agreed that Anthony wouldn't have wanted the pardon and called on Trump to rescind his action.

Even Trump later Tuesday appeared to acknowledge that Anthony may not have wanted a pardon, noting that she secured pardons for election inspectors who aided her, but not herself.

"I actually asked the other day and they were talking about Susan B. Anthony, and she did that for other people and she didn't want herself included. She wasn't included in the pardon from many years ago," Trump said in Arizona. "It's been very, very popular."

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks prior to signing a proclamation on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution during a ceremony at the White House, Aug. 18, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks prior to signing a proclamation on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution during a ceremony at the White House, Aug. 18, 2020.
Patrick Semansky/AP

At least one House Democrat called out Trump for the symbolic gesture that appeared aimed, at least in part, at female voters he is looking to court ahead of the election -- as polls show the demographic currently prefers former Vice President Joe Biden.

"Pathetic," Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., wrote Tuesday on Twitter. "Trump pardons a woman who has been dead for over 100 years to show his commitment to women. Suburban women aren't dumb. We are all insulted."

Honoring Anthony

While Hughes agreed that Trump should consider rescinding the pardon, she said a better way to honor Anthony is through combatting voter suppression and passing the Voting Rights Act.

PHOTO: Members of the American National Woman Suffrage Association marching from Pennsylvania Terminal to their headquarters, Aug. 28, 1920.
Members of the American National Woman Suffrage Association marching from Pennsylvania Terminal to their headquarters, Aug. 28, 1920.
Bettmann Archive

"We would be much more interested in using this moment -- or having the president use this moment -- to talk about voting rights and the way that people are still being denied access to the ballot," Hughes said. "Rather than putting our energy into asking the president to rescind his action, what if we instead called attention to voter suppression across the United States? That would presumably be a better way to honor Anthony's legacy."

She said it's "irony on irony" that Anthony's pardon comes amid Trump's relentless claims, without evidence, of widespread fraud if there is universal mail-in voting in November's election.

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