On August 18th, 2020, President Donald Trump pardoned Susan B. Anthony for voting illegally in an election on February of 1873:

Today, President Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) posthumously to Susan B. Anthony, a peerless advocate for women’s suffrage, for a wrongful and unjust conviction stemming from the only vote she ever cast in an election. As we commemorate the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment—known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment—this grant of full clemency recognizes and pays tribute to the advocacy, perseverance, and leadership of a truly remarkable woman and an American hero.

In response, the Susan B. Anthony museum and house in the words of Victoria Brzustowicz appeared to decline the pardon on Susan B. Anthony's behalf, stating that it would validate the criminal proceedings she underwent in much the same way that her paying the $100 fine would validate said proceedings:

Anthony wrote in her diary in 1873 that her trial for voting was “The greatest outrage History ever witnessed.” She was not allowed to speak as a witness in her own defense, because she was a woman. At the conclusion of arguments, Judge Hunt dismissed the jury and pronounced her guilty. She was outraged to be denied a trial by jury. She 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 Nature of Pardons

According to the Department of Justice Website, a pardon does not signify innocence but removes civil disabilities as written below:

A pardon is an expression of the President’s forgiveness and ordinarily is granted in recognition of the applicant’s acceptance of responsibility for the crime and established good conduct for a significant period of time after conviction or completion of sentence. It does not signify innocence. It does, however, remove civil disabilities – e.g., restrictions on the right to vote, hold state or local office, or sit on a jury – imposed because of the conviction for which pardon is sought, and should lessen the stigma arising from the conviction. It may also be helpful in obtaining licenses, bonding, or employment. Under some – but not all – circumstances, a pardon will eliminate the legal basis for removal or deportation from the United States.

However, even though a pardon does not signify innocence, I don't see any formal memorandum or court ruling that states the corollary: that a pardon signifies guilt. Nor do I see any formal memorandum or court ruling that also states the issue in my question: that a pardon validates the criminal proceedings of the corresponding crime. The silence on the latter issue is what prompted my question.


Would the acceptance of Susan B. Anthony's pardon by the relevant authority validate the criminal proceedings she underwent?

  • 1
    From the legal perspective, what do you mean by "validate"?
    – user6726
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 22:48
  • 2
    Legally, validation of an over 200 year old conviction of a now deceased person is meaningless. The validation referred to in the quote is purely a moral one, not a legal one. However the Supreme Court has stated that a pardon cannot be forced on someone and that accepting one would a confession of guilt. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burdick_v._United_States Susan B. Anthony is dead so can't accept or refuse the pardon, nor can she be prosecuted for any crime, so the pardon is meaningless.
    – Ross Ridge
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 23:06

2 Answers 2


Only guilty people can benefit from a pardon

Only a person who has (or will/may be) convicted of a crime can gain the benefit of a pardon. For an innocent person (that is, one not convicted of a crime) a pardon is a nullity.

A pardon does not overturn a conviction- the conviction stands but the consequences of that conviction are nullified.

So yes, acceptance of a pardon implies an acceptance of the guilty verdict.

Now, an amnesty which decriminalized the act would not leave such an acceptance but that would be an ex-post facto law and these are specifically prohibited by the US Constitution. (An amnesty preventing future prosecution of a past act is not ex-post facto but Susan’s conviction is in the past).

  • 3
    For a person who is innocent but wrongly convicted, a pardon particularly one which says the conviction was wrongful, is by no means a nullity. Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 23:18
  • @DavidSiegel I'm using innocent here as a legal definition as a person not convicted of a crime
    – Dale M
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 23:21
  • How does your answer square with the fact of Nixon's pardon? Nixon was innocent, by your definition.
    – user6726
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 23:50
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    @Dale M But Anthony was convicted. She and many others believe she was wrongly convicted, and if the pardon now means anything at all it means the Trump agrees. Such a pardon at this date is of course only symbolic, but I would say it symbolizes a belief that her conviction was improper and should not stand on the record longer. Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 0:50
  • 1
    @Questor it also wouldn’t be possible. Courts cannot hear moot cases - that is, a case where their judgement would be of no practical effect. SBA is dead - she is beyond the reach of the courts as the law is presently understood.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 23:59

First, you have no choice whether to accept or refuse a pardon, and this includes people who are alive.

Second, the pardon doesn't imply in any way that the person was guilty or innocent. It would make sense if a president pardoned someone who they believe to be innocent. And police or a judge probably know better than the president whether someone is guilty or innocent.

In this particular case, it seems that the lady in question did what she was accused of, and admitted it, and was convicted according to the law that was then valid - except she claimed the law was unjust, and today we all fully agree with her. I think there is no doubt her conviction was lawful (it took 46 more years until voting became legal for white women), but there is also no doubt that the law it was based on was unjust, and the pardon doesn't change that.

  • 5
    Your first sentence is simply wrong - SCOTUS has held that pardons must be accepted to be valid
    – Dale M
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 23:14
  • "you have no choice whether to accept or refuse a pardon" In Burdick v. United States (1915), the Supreme Court ruled that pardons must be accepted to be valid, and that a pardon cannot be forced upon someone who rejects it.
    – user102008
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 3:32
  • 1
    @gnasher729 Sorry for the necro... But, her conviction was lawful, as she wasn't tried by her peers because the judge dismised the jury, she wasn't allowed testimony in her deffence, etc.... Was a sham trial, really.
    – Questor
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 23:44

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