During the 1800s, women did not have the right to vote and were denied many other rights held by men. Susan B. Anthony was a prominent leader in the womens rights movement. She, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, founded the National Womens Suffrage Association, which advocated for giving women the right to vote.
In November 1872, Anthony voted in the presidential election. Two weeks later, she was arrested. After her indictment, Anthony gave her famous On Womens Right to Vote speech. In the speech, Anthony invoked the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, pointing out that it addresses We, the people, and not We, the male citizens. She argued that those countries that denied women the right to vote were oligarchies. At the end, she challenged her detractors to answer this question: Are women persons?
During her trial, Anthony was unable to testify on her behalf, since womens testimony was not considered to be competent. Instead, her lawyer presented her arguments. She was convicted of casting an illegal vote and fined $100. Anthony refused to pay the fine, stating, May it please your honor, I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.
The trial allowed Anthony to disseminate her arguments in support of womens suffrage to a much larger audience. Her speech and her continued advocacy for womens rights paved the way for Congress eventual ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which finally gave women the right to vote.
Friends and fellow citizens: I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. 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 rights, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any state to deny.
The preamble of the Federal Constitution says:
"We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people - women as well as men. And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government - the ballot.
For any state to make sex a qualification that must ever result in the disfranchisement of one entire half of the people, is to pass a bill of attainder, or, an ex post facto law, and is therefore a violation of the supreme law of the land. By it the blessings of liberty are forever withheld from women and their female posterity.
To them this government has no just powers derived from the consent of the governed. To them this government is not a democracy. It is not a republic. It is an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy of sex; the most hateful aristocracy ever established on the face of the globe; an oligarchy of wealth, where the rich govern the poor. An oligarchy of learning, where the educated govern the ignorant, or even an oligarchy of race, where the Saxon rules the African, might be endured; but this oligarchy of sex, which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters, of every household - which ordains all men sovereigns, all women subjects, carries dissension, discord, and rebellion into every home of the nation.
Webster, Worcester, and Bouvier all define a citizen to be a person in the United States, entitled to vote and hold office.
The only question left to be settled now is: Are women persons? And I hardly believe any of our opponents will have the hardihood to say they are not. Being persons, then, women are citizens; and no state has a right to make any law, or to enforce any old law, that shall abridge their privileges or immunities. Hence, every discrimination against women in the constitutions and laws of the several states is today null and void, precisely as is every one against Negroes.