NPR published a story on the afternoon of August 20, 2020, one week before the 100th anniversary of the signing of the 19th amendment, (August 26th, Women’s Equality Day). The story seemingly lauded the actions of Deborah L. Hughes for ‘refusing the presidential pardon’ of Susan B. Anthony.
Susan B. Anthony was a leader in the Women’s Suffrage movement at a time when the political conversation was still difficult, and it wasn’t until the next generation of suffragists (Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Ida B. Wells, et.al.) that legislators formally accepted the importance of allowing women to vote.
In 1872, Anthony and a group of 14 suffragists convinced election officials in Rochester, NY, to allow them to vote. On November 18, she was arrested and then quickly released, pending her trial. This fueled a national conversation about voting rights for women, an important step in a slow journey to ratification of the 19th Amendment.
On the 100th Anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment (August 18, 2020), President Trump signed an official pardon for Anthony. The liberal response during this volatile election year, while not surprising, was alarming.
Deborah L. Hughes who runs the Susan B. Anthony House (dba National Susan B. Anthony Museum, one of multiple museums that showcase Susan B. Anthony’s story) wrote a statement in response to the pardoning of Susan B. Anthony in which she refused the pardon on behalf of Anthony. Hughes wrote in her statement that Anthony was outraged to be found guilty and that she felt as though paying the fine would legitimize the verdict.
Hughes quotes Anthony and then adds her own-cents:
[Anthony] proclaimed, ‘I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.’ To pay would have been to validate the proceedings. To pardon Susan B. Anthony does the same.
The reality is that Susan B. Anthony was indeed guilty of breaking the law. She did not have the legal right to vote in the country at that time and she voted anyway. She knew the law – after all that was the whole point!
Hughes used failed logic and has an ulterior motive for her outburst. Anthony’s life’s work was to share the notion that voting was indeed illegal but that it SHOULD BE legal. She made her point.
There are countless clemency cases in the nation where pardons have been given to those who were guilty and those who were not. The President’s pardon of Anthony is not a statement on her guilt, but rather an historic and symbolic statement acknowledging the importance of women’s voting rights. This seems obvious, but instead it was a Trump-bashing opportunity.
Intelligent folks understand that Hughes response to the pardon shows a lack of shrewdness and missed opportunity to support her own cause. She (presumably with permission from her Board), has harmed her organization’s ability to fulfill its mission and vision of ‘inspiring others through Susan B. Anthony’s work.’ She is blinded by her transparent disdain for the current President and did not effectively evaluate the historic pardon for the opportunity it presented.
A Presidential pardon of one of the most important figures in the fight for voting equality was an opportunity to say, “we as a nation recognize that Anthony’s actions should NOT have been illegal.” It is safe to say that Hughes would have fully embraced the pardon has it been signed by any other President. Trump is the first President to formally and legally sanction Anthony’s actions in 1872, a painful reality for Ms. Hughes. She has squandered several opportunities, including:
- to show social tolerance for all by supporting the reality that all Presidents do positive things (even if you are against having them in office);
- to raise awareness about women’s voting rights and the 19th Amendment as an important piece of American history; and
- to capitalize on the historic pardon to raise additional funds in support of women’s history and her organization. (Keep in mind that if you choose to donate to the Susan B. Anthony House, just over 11-cents of your dollar will go to directly support Hughes’ salary.)
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul publicly admonished President Trump for the pardon. As an elected official in one of the hardest hit states during the Covid-19 health crisis, and as an accessory to various atrocities against the elderly, all while the Governor was authoring a profit-driven book on his self-proclaimed success, it is not surprising that Hochul would be motivated by politics. She tweeted “we demand Trump rescind his pardon,” and then at a public celebration of the 100th anniversary, brought it up again.
Lovely Warren, Mayor of Rochester, also spoke at the same event saying, “we cannot continue to allow people to taint our legacy and the shoulders of those we stand on, this is not a political game.” Mayor Warren is clearly unaware of the hypocrisy of this statement, sacrificing needed positive attention for the Susan B. Anthony House in the favor of playing the ‘let’s get Trump’ game. (And when did it become Mayor Warren’s legacy instead of Susan B. Anthony’s legacy?)
Whether you like or dislike the President, all Presidents do positive things. Those who believe Trump has done many positive things will vote for him. There are even some reasonable people who believe he has done some positive things, but won’t vote for him. And none of them will be so inclined to donate to the Susan B. Anthony House.
By choosing blanket disapproval of everything done by Trump because they cannot see past their hatred, Hughes, Hochul, and Warren do their state, city, and organization a grave disservice. The real cognitive dissonance is that each one likely touts the importance of tolerance – a morally narcissistic outlook when not applied to politicians they don’t like. To accept people, to forgive people, to work to understand differing viewpoints are qualities we can attribute to Susan B. Anthony, but not those charged with caring for her story – these three women pale in comparison to the greatness of Susan B. Anthony in 1872 and those in 1917 who were willing to literally sacrifice their lives for women’s suffrage. On behalf of Susan B. Anthony and all those who believe in true tolerance and respect – your refusal of the pardon is hereby refused!
(photo: Susan B. Anthony, view from back, 1891, no restrictions on reproduction, Library of Congress)