Last week, Perinton and Pittsford filled the halls to hear my “Failure is Impossible” reenactment of Susan B. Anthony. One of the highlights of that talk is a discussion of her arguments about why she should vote. It was great to have a full house and especially fun to entertain people’s thoughts and questions afterwards. Thanks to everyone who attended!
She probably would not have attempted voting had not the U.S. recently passed two equal rights amendments within the previous decade. Let’s talk about them now.
Today is the anniversary of the 1868 adoption of the 14th amendment, the one that Susan B. Anthony claimed gave her the right to vote as a woman. Following on the boots of the Civil War, this law amendment gave African-Americans the rights of citizenship and decreed that all citizens should have their rights protected. Two years later, the 15th amendment passed, giving African-Americans the right to vote.
What the Amendments Say
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” which included former slaves recently freed. In addition, it forbids states from denying any person “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
However, the fine print said that adult male citizens should be protected; it did not specifically say that adult females should.
The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”.
Why Susan B. Anthony Argued That She Should Vote
Studying these two amendments carefully with a noted Constitutional scholar, Susan deduced that they meant this:
- Under the 14th amendment, she was a citizen and should have her rights protected.
- The 15th amendment specifically protected her citizen’s right to vote. It did not say that she, as a woman, could not vote.
Unfortunately, as we know, the judge who ruled on her case did not agree with her interpretation, and found her “guilty of the crime of voting as a woman.”
Soon you can read all about it in my newly-revised book, Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All. I’ll be posting order information on this Suffrage Centennial edition of my 1994 biography of Susan.