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Sally Olivas
Dr. Don Kraemer
English 584
9 June 2014
The Genius of Advantages and Disadvantages
Abstract: Susan B. Anthony, after being arrested for voting in the 1872 federal election, wrote
and gave her iconic Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote? speech. A
rhetorical analysis using Aristotle, Burke, Cixous, among others, shows how Anthony turned
what appeared to be disadvantages into advantages, ultimately leading to successfully gaining
the right to vote for women in the United States.
On November 1, 1872, Susan B. Anthony, and many other women, voted in the federal
election. Anthony was arrested two weeks later because officials said she did not have the right
to vote. Her trial was set for June 17, 1873. In between the time she voted and her trial date,
Anthony toured New York and gave her Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to
Vote? speech in the hopes of turning the opinion of the state, of the nation, and of prospective
jurors that women should be able to vote. Anthony was one of hundreds of suffragists who for
many decades worked hard to secure women the right to vote, ultimately leading to the
Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, 14 years after Anthonys death. In those long decades, women
and men used their rhetoric to persuade lawmakers to allow women to vote. In this particular
speech, Anthony used what appeared to be disadvantages to her advantage, as she attempted to
secure the right to vote for women. By using the theories of Aristotle, Kenneth Burke, Helene
Cixous, Richard Enos, and Angela Ray, one can see the genius in Anthonys speech because she
used every possible disadvantage to her advantage.
In A Grammar of Motives, Burke describes his Dramatism theory. This theory is one that
positions certain ideas with and against each other in order to analyze peoples motives,

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particularly the motives of rhetoricians, What is involved, when we say what people are doing
and why they are doing it? (1298). His pentad consists of the Act, Scene, Agent, Agency, and
Men may violently disagree about the purposes behind a given act, or about the
character of the person who did it, or how he did it, or in what kind of situation he
acted; or they may even insist upon totally different words to name the act itself.
But be that as it may, any complete statement about motives will offer some kind
of answers to these five questions: what was done (act), when or where it was
done (scene), who did it (agent), how he did it (agency), and why (purpose).
While these terms and what they mean are important, how they interact with one another is even
more important, and Burke combined them into what he called ratios (1302). Anthony could be
said to have used a ratio of Act-Scene-Agent. This particular ratio is essential to understanding
her speech because what she did vote is key to it all; when and where it was done in the late
1800s in the United States when women could not vote is essential because without these two
elements there would be nothing to argue; and who did it a woman is precisely the point.
In these Burkean terms, the Act Anthony engaged in was voting. Sounds simple enough.
She wanted a voice in her government, which taxed her and held her liable under every other
law, so she followed the logic of the Founding Fathers that said if she were going to be taxed,
she should have representation and be able to choose said representation:
But is urged, the use of the masculine pronouns he, his and him, in all the
constitutions and laws, is proof that only men were meant to be included in their
provisions. If you insist on this version of the letter of the law, we shall insist that

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you be consistent, and accept the other horn of the dilemma, which would
compel you to exempt women from taxation for the support of the government,
and from penalties for the violation of laws . . . I would that the women of this
republic, at once, resolve, never again to submit of taxation, until their right to
vote be recognized. Amen. . . There is no she, or her, or hers, in the tax laws.
Thus, the very Act of paying taxes and
Anthony is using the strategy of Interrogation here.
She sums up the mens argument and reinforces it
but she does so in a manner that makes
the argument beneficial to women.

not voting of women not voting - was

the crux of the whole problem.
The goal of Helene Cixous

The Laugh of the Medusa is for women to see themselves differently, to see themselves as
powerful and strong. She wants women to take control of their lives. Knowing this, Cixous
would have fully supported women in this Act, in this fighting for their right to vote, Women
should break out of the snare of silence. They shouldnt be conned into accepting a domain
which is the margin or the harem (1528). Further, she would have been right there with
Anthony in her whirlwind tour of this particular speech, In womens speech, as in their writing,
that element which never stop resonating, which, once weve been permeated by it, profoundly
and imperceptibly touched by it, retains the power of moving us (1528).
The speech did, in fact, do just that
Aristotles concept of Pathos fits nicely here;
Anthony pushes her audiences emotions
to move them to action.

it moved the society at the time, and

society still honors it today when
women voting is not a problem.

However, in the late 1800s, it most certainly was a problem. Women had never voted, and there

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were many who liked it that way. However, there were many more who did not. In the year
1872, things were different on the political landscape. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth
Amendments had recently been
Id expand this a bit to include Aristotles idea of
Logos, including court cases and
other laws Anthony cited.

ratified, in 1868 and 1870 respectively.

The Fourteenth Amendment states,
All persons born or naturalized in the

United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the
state wherein they reside (Anthony). The Fifteenth Amendment continues this idea, The
citizens right to vote shall not be denied by the United States, nor any state thereof; on account
of race, color, or previous condition of servitude (Anthony). This is what Burke would call
Scene, and its vital to this discussion: Where and when it was happening remains key to
Anthonys argument. Prior to 1868, suffragists had a harder time arguing for the right to vote.
After 1870, they had more ammunition. Timing was everything. This can be seen in that U.S.
Attorney Richard Crowley, the prosecutor, requested the trial be moved from Monroe County to
Ontario County, and presiding Judge Ward Hunt granted the motion (Linder). Whereas it would
appear Anthony had many disadvantages in that time and in that place, she used both to her
advantage. As Ida Husted Harper says in Beth Innocenti Manolescus essay, The force of the
speech for its contemporary audience is apparent based on comments about the speech and its
results. Contemporary accounts report that Anthony converted almost all who listened to her
(qtd. Manolescu 147). Malcolm Gladwell based his latest book David and Goliath: Underdogs,
Misfits, and the Art of Conquering Giants on this idea of turning disadvantages into advantages.
This theory holds true in many facets of contemporary life, and it applies, too, to many historical
events, as Gladwell points out in analyzing how David beat the giant Goliath. Following this,

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Anthony certainly took on a big giant and eventually won using her disadvantages to her
advantage. Anthony drew large crowds and many favorable responses as she defended her vote
to audiences throughout Monroe and Ontario counties (Richards 200).
In relation to Burkes theory of Scene comes Richard Leo Enos theory of reconstruction.
This is the second layer in his rhetorical sequencing, which is described in The Archaeology of
Women in Rhetoric. In reconstruction, We must model or recreate what Lloyd Bitzer calls the
rhetorical situation or what James Kinneavy terms kairos. That is, we must reconstruct the
conditions that induce and explain why rhetoric and composition were brought into existence
(75). This rhetorical situation, this
Aristotle would say Anthony is creating her Ethos
here by using documents that are well-respected in
our country and society. By citing our countrys
founding documents, she builds
her character and, thus, her credibility.

kairos Anthony found herself in, was

ripe for change. These are our
historys moments of kairos or
rhetorical situations. They are

questions of value or preferences in conflict (76). Anthony did, indeed, reconstruct the values of
the time to her liking in that she turned the United States founding documents into her allies.
She reconstructed them, some would say; others would say she simply read them correctly:
All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable
rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure
these, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the
consent of the governed. (Anthony)
She used the most famous and most loved quote from Declaration of Independence to prove her
point that voting was not a right given by the government but instead it was an unalienable

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right given by God that the government could not take away under the U.S. Constitution. Here
is no shadow of government authority
Aristotles idea of Ethos is shown when Anthony
quotes several men whose views
seem to align with her own.

over rights, nor exclusion of any from

their full and equal enjoyment. . . And
here, in this very first paragraph of the

declaration, is the assertion of the natural right of all to the ballot (Anthony). Enos would say
she is reconstructing the United States values to fit the Scene. Likewise, Cindy Koenig Richards
would say Anthony utilized the value of tradition that is held high in the United States to her
In Anthonys address, appeals to consistency and tradition situated progressive
assertions upon stable political ground . . . her claim that existing law affirmed
woman suffrage implied that Anthony need only vindicate the status quo, rather
than provide warrant for change. (199)
Cixous, too, wanted women to forge ahead and escape, so to speak, their unwelcome lives,
They [women] have wandered around in circles, confined to the narrow room in which theyve
been given a deadly brainwashing. You can incarcerate them, slow them down, get away with
the old Apartheid routine, but for a time only (1525). That time ended with Anthony.
The last part of Burkes Act-Scene-Agent ratio is the Agent, the Who. This, by far, is the
most important element of the triad in this context because the Who is women. Women wanted
to secure the right to vote for themselves; men already had this right secured even AfricanAmerican men at this point in time. Anthony argued that women already had the right to vote
because women were citizens. This idea did not originate with her, but rather with Francis and
Virginia Minor who developed this idea in what they called the New Departure. Specifically, the

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Minors claimed that since section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment defined U.S. citizens as all
persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, then
citizenship was national in character and extended fully to all born or naturalized Americans.
Anthony uses this rhetoric to show what appeared to be a disadvantage to its full
advantage by bringing up what the
Again, Anthony is using Interrogation as she
sums up what the court clerk did and uses
it to reinforce her own argument.

opposition was saying that all the

founding documents and the
amendments since contained the

pronoun he. This was seen earlier when discussing the issue of taxation and other laws that were
applied to women. However, Anthony takes this even further when she brings up what the Clerk
of the Court did. She points out that none of the documents served on her when she was arrested
and indicted had the pronoun she:
But to make them applicable to me, the Clerk of the Court made a little carat at
the left of he and place an s over it, thus to making she out of he. Then the
letters is were scratched out, the little carat under and er over, to make her out
of his, and I insist if government officials may thus manipulate the pronouns to
tax, fine, imprison and hang women, women may take the same liberty with them
to secure to themselves their right to a voice in the government. (Anthony)
Manolescu interprets this as one of Anthonys presentational strategies, pointing out Anthonys
attention to detail amplifies the ease with which the laws were altered and how effective the
use of first person is for Anthonys argument, The fact that such references are rare in the
argument[;] vivid description and chiasmus bring her to the fore as a character who may be

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contrasted with the clerk. . . the clerk was not speaking wisdom copiously as Anthony was while
delivering this speech (156). Further, this point of pronouns ends up being a tool Anthony uses
for her fight, when, in fact, it originally appeared as a huge obstacle. In sum, Anthony offered
an interpretation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments that made them gender-neutral
endorsements of privileges and immunities of citizenship, which included the vote (Richards
199). Anthony was not the only woman who voted; scores of women were voting not waiting
for the law to change as they now saw the law in a different light:
At the same time they defied the preexisting myth of popular sovereignty, by
revealing the profoundly gendered nature of cultural assumptions about who
constituted the people and by forcing authorities publicly to articulate their own
premises in serious forensic discourse rather than dismissive ridicule. (Ray 2)
Women made history because they saw the far-reaching benefits of voting, as Cixous encouraged
them to do, In woman, personal history blends together with the history of all women, as well as
national and world history. As a militant she is an integral part of all liberations. She must be
farsighted . . . (1529). It certainly can be said that Anthony was able to see far beyond her time.
This idea of women joining forces to secure the right to vote lends itself to Burkes
theory of identification seen in his book A Rhetoric of Motives. A is not identical with his
colleague, B. But insofar as their interests are joined, A is identified with B. Or he may identify
himself with B even when their interests are not joined, if he assumes that they are (1325). The
suffragists, who also included some men, were joined by the interest of securing the right to vote.
There were certainly divisions within the movement; at one point in time, it became two
movements. However, the root of the cause and then causes never altered the right for women
to vote. The suffragists identified with each other on this one, clear goal:

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In being identified with B, A is substantially one with a person other than
himself. Yet at the same time he remains unique, an individual locus of motives.
Thus he is both joined and separate, at once a distinct substance and
consubstantial with another. (1325)
If the women had not been consubstantial, nothing would have changed. It goes without saying,
there is strength in numbers, and for decades, beginning in 1848, women worked together to
secure this right. Hansen defines Burkes theory of identification as an end in itself as when
people earnestly yearn to identify themselves with some group or other. Thus, from his
perspective on rhetoric, communication is a means for establishing and maintaining social life
(qtd. Hansen 52). For Anthony, it was a means for establishing a new social life a new social
order in the life of women. Anthony negotiated for hers and all womens identity within the
political and social context, which is one thing Hansen says Burke wants readers to do, The
Burkean theory of rhetoric as a means of identification, coupled with his approach to aesthetics,
may contribute to our understanding of ways in which people establish and negotiate their
identity within a social context . . . (54). While being a woman was a disadvantage at this time,
women turned it into an advantage when they came together to fight for the one cause. When
they identified with one another, they were not a weakness. When they were consubstantial with
one another, they were a strength. The disadvantage of being a woman became an advantage
when one woman became many women.
Continuing with the idea of identification, Enos theory of rhetorical sequencing shows
how in the first layer discovery the social and cultural conditions are identified by looking at
the political structure, the social patterns, and the cultural hierarchies of values (75). It was
within the political structure that the suffragists identified and united. Anthony tells of several

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women who refused to pay taxes until they got the right to vote, . . . and all over the country,
women property holders are waking up to the injustice of taxation without representation, and
ere long will refuse, en masse, to submit
Here, I would integrate Anthonys questions about
the difference between a monarch and a democracy,
as she is using Hypophora.

to the imposition. So, it was not one

woman; hundreds, perhaps thousands,
identified with each other to change the

political structure and social patterns. Furthermore, the characterizations of womens (my
emphasis) efforts to register and vote in the 1860s and 1870s offer a particularly compelling
example of the appropriation of the cultural performance of a ritual for rhetorical ends (Ray 3).
Giving a new definition of a woman and of how women identified with one another,
Cixous tells women to come together as a universal woman, When I say woman, Im speaking
of woman in her inevitable struggle against conventional man; and of a universal woman subject
who must bring women to their senses and to their meaning in history (1524). She wants
women to be consubstantial; she wants women to identify with one another to find their rightful
place in history and in society. Essentially, she wants the same thing the suffragists did, We no
longer petition Legislature or Congress to give us the right to vote. We appeal to the women
Anthony questions whether or not women are
defined as persons, using the strategy of
Reasoning by Questioning.

everywhere to exercise their too long

neglected citizens right to vote
(Anthony). Along these same lines,

Cixous encourages perhaps demands women to envision a different life, What I say has at
least two sides and two aims: to break up, to destroy; and to foresee the unforeseeable to project
(1524). Both Anthony and Cixous and Burke know these changes will never come about if
women do not identify with each other and become consubstantial.

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Not only does Burke develop the idea of identification, but he also originates the theory
of terministic screens, Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature
as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a
deflection of reality (1341). It can be argued that the powers-that-be in the late 1800s the men
used more terministic screens than Anthony did; in fact, Anthony used them as a response to
what the men did. The men who did not want women to vote reflected a reality that kept them in
power. For example, as mentioned previously, they said women could not vote because of the
pronoun he in the founding documents and amendments. Additionally, they created a society
which compels [women] to obey laws to which they have never given their consent, that
imprisons and hangs them without a trial by a jury of their peers, that robs them, in marriage, of
the custody of their own persons, wages and children. . . (Anthony). In so doing, Burke would
say, men were selecting the womens reality. They chose the kind of life women had. This was a
deflection of the kind of life women wanted to have, as Anthony showed, And it is on this line
that we propose to fight our battle for the ballot all peaceably, but nevertheless persistently
through to complete triumph, when all United States citizens shall be recognized as equals
before the law. Anthony deflects what all men have said in the past and selects only her point
equality. Everything else is null and void.
In her speech Is It a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote?, Anthony
envisioned a country in which women had a voice. She saw a very different America than the
one in which she lived. Manipulating the laws to her benefit, she used rhetoric to sway the
opinion of the country of both men and women. In the end, in fact, she used mens rhetoric
against them. Cixous says, The future must no longer be determined by the past. I do not deny
that the effects of the past are still with us. But I refuse to strengthen them by repeating the past .

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. . (1524). Anthony did just that she recognized the past, and instead of strengthening it, she
grabbed it and strangled it until it molded into an advantage. Then, she added to those the
supposed disadvantages and rhetorically manipulated them until they became advantages. She
was a master. A genius. And it is through her life, her rhetoric, her spirit, American society is, in
fact, fair and equal.

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Works Cited
Anthony, Susan B. Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote? University of
Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Web. 15 May 2014.
Burke, Kenneth. From A Grammar of Motives. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from
Classical Times to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. 2nd ed. Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin, 2001. 1298 1324. Print.
Burke, Kenneth. From Language as Symbolic Action. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from
Classical Times to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. 2nd ed. Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin, 2001. 1340 - 1347. Print.
Burke, Kenneth. From A Rhetoric of Motives. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from
Classical Times to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. 2nd ed. Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin, 2001. 1324 - 1340. Print.
Cixous, Helene. The Laugh of the Medusa. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from
Classical Times to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. 2nd ed. Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin, 2001. 1524 - 1536. Print.
Enos, Richard Leo. The Archaeology of Women in Rhetoric: Rhetorical Sequencing as a
Research Method for Historical Scholarship. Rhetoric Society Quarterly 32:1 (2002).
Web. 25 May 2014.
Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Conquering Giants.
New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013. Print.

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Hansen, Gregory. Kenneth Burkes Rhetorical Theory within the Construction of the
Ethnography of Speaking. Folklore Forum 27:1 (1996): 50 58. Web. 2 May 2014.
Harper, Ida Husted. The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony. Vol. 2. Indianapolis: Hollenbeck
Press, 1898.
Linder, Douglas. The Trial of Susan B. Anthony for Illegal Voting. University of Pittsburgh
School of Law. Feb. 2001. Web. 23 May 2014. <>
Manolescu, Beth Innocenti. Norms of Presentational Force. Argumentation and Advocacy 41
(2005): 139 52. Web. 23 May 2014.
Ray, Angela G. The Rhetorical Ritual of Citizenship: Womens Voting as Public Performance,
1868-1875. Quarterly Journal of Speech 93:1 (2007): 1 26. Web. 24 May 2014.
Richards Koenig, Cindy. Susan B. Anthony, Is It a Crime for a U.S. Citizen To Vote? Voices
of Democracy 2 (2007): 189 209. Web. 23 May 2014.