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Trump to posthumously pardon Susan B. Anthony

The president's move could appeal to female voters, who polls show prefer former Vice President Joe Biden in the upcoming 2020 election.
Image: Susan B. Anthony
The suffragist Susan B. Anthony was arrested after casting a ballot in Rochester, New York, in the 1872 presidential election.Bettmann Archive / via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced plans to grant a posthumous pardon Tuesday afternoon to women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony, who was charged with voting illegally in the 1872 presidential election.

“She was never pardoned. Did you know that?” Trump said at the White House before signing a proclamation marking the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

The president added: “She was never pardoned — for voting. She was guilty for voting. And we are going to be signing a full and complete pardon, and I think that's really fantastic.”

Trump's move could appeal to female voters, who polls show prefer former Vice President Joe Biden in the November election.

Anthony was arrested after casting a ballot in Rochester, New York, her hometown, in the 1872 presidential election.

At her trial, Anthony testified, “Your denial of my citizen’s right to vote is the denial of my right of consent as one of the governed … the denial of my sacred rights to life, liberty, property,” according to the Library of Congress.

Anthony was convicted but never paid the $100 fine or served jail time, according to the House Office of the Historian. Anthony died in 1906, and the 19th Amendment, which she fought for, was ratified 14 years later.

Trump’s announcement comes a day after he said he planned to pardon someone “very, very important” on Tuesday, adding that it wouldn’t be NSA leaker Edward Snowden or former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The choice to pardon Anthony may serve more than one of Trump’s core political strategies going into the 2020 election.

Anthony, a white proto-feminist and arguably the face of the American women’s suffrage movement, is likely held in a certain esteem by suburban white women, who Trump and his campaign have made clear they view as a key demographic in the election.

But in the battle for suffrage, Anthony also embraced white supremacist ideas, virtually ignored and at points excluded black women who were also engaged in the battle for suffrage.

During Reconstruction, the period just after the Civil War, a set of former abolitionists and those in favor of expanding Black Americans’ legal rights insisted that “women” should first prioritize Black and presumably male voting rights. Anthony famously grew indignant. Reports of her precise response vary, but Anthony’s authorized biography indicates that she said she would “sooner cut off her right hand than ask the ballot for the black man and not for woman."

Black Americans, at the time, two years out of legal bondage, were not in more urgent need of the right to vote, Anthony believed. Now, the politics of competitive racial power plays and social grievance are slated to feature at the 2020 Republican National convention. And as news of Trump’s choice to pardon Anthony filtered out Tuesday, reactions from women of color were, at best, mixed.