Henry R. Selden

HRSelden1Born October 14, 1805
Birthplace Lyme, CT
Died September 18, 1885
Grave Site Mt. Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY
Contribution Attorney, judge and statesman. Defended Susan B. Anthony in her 1873 trial.

Henry Rogers Selden was born in 1805 in Lyme, Connecticut. He came to the Rochester, New York area in the 1820s, as did his older brother, Samuel Selden. The two studied law under older attorneys in the area. They eventually formed their own law partnership, along with Addison Gardiner. (In 1844, Gardiner became Lieutenant Governor of New York State.)

Selden settled in Clarkson, New York, and married Laura Anne Baldwin. One of their children, George Baldwin Selden (born in Clarkson on September 14, 1846) is remembered for filing the patent for “an improved road-engine” — the gas-powered automobile. A daughter was to marry Elwell S. Otis in 1870. Otis later became Military Governor of the Philippines.

By the 1840s, Selden had become a prominent member of the Rochester community. In 1845, along with his brother Samuel, he assisted Henry O’Reilly in organizing telegraph lines. Soon afterwards they formed, with Hiram Sibley, the New York & Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Co. In 1856, this company, in turn, gave birth to Western Union. The same year, Selden was named as Trustee to the city’s newly formed Industrial School, established to care for and instruct “homeless children.”

By the 1850s, Selden had achieved statewide prominence. He served as State Reporter for the New York State Court of Appeals during the early years of the decade. As an abolitionist, he participated in the establishment of the New York State Republican party in 1856. The same year, he ran for and became New York State’s first Republican Lieutenant Governor. He held this position for two years (1857-1858) before moving back to Clarkson in 1859.

On July 1, 1862, Selden was appointed an Associate Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals. He served in this position until his resignation on January 2, 1865. He was then elected to the New York State Legislature.

In 1872, after being involved in the Republican National Convention, Selden withdrew from political life and returned to his law practice, where he worked until his retirement. His most celebrated case during this decade was his defense of Susan B. Anthony when she was arrested for voting in the 1872 national election. Anthony had extensively researched her own case. She felt she had legal grounds to vote, but many of Rochester’s lawyers had refused to take the case. Selden listened to Anthony and agreed to review her research. After he and his brother Samuel had studied the papers she brought them, Selden told her that he believed she had a right to vote and he agreed to accept her case. On this advice, she voted, and was arrested. In a letter dated November 27, 1872, Selden reacted to the news of her arrest:

In my opinion, the idea that you can be charged with a crime on account of voting, or offering to vote, when you honestly believed yourself entitled to vote, is simply preposterous, whether your belief were right or wrong. However, the learned gentlemen engaged in this movement seem to suppose they can make a crime out of your honest deposit of your ballot, and perhaps they can find a respectable court of jury that will be of their opinion. If they do so I shall be greatly disappointed…

Selden was doomed to disappointment. The case of The United States of America vs. Susan B. Anthony was tried in Circuit Court, Northern District of New York on June 17-18, 1873, in the courthouse at Canandaigua, New York. At the trial, because Anthony was a woman, she was declared incompetent to be a witness in her own defense. Selden agreed to be a witness, testifying for Anthony that she had voted on his advice. His subsequent argument to the judge and jury lasted over three hours, but his efforts were to no avail. The judge, who had apparently written his opinion prior to hearing any arguments, directed the jury to declare Anthony guilty. When Selden requested that the jury be individually polled, the judge refused. And, when Selden later argued for a new trial, this was also denied by the judge.

In spite of the apparently pre-ordained loss, Selden provided what all agreed was a masterful defense of Anthony, and never presented her with a bill for his services. She respected him immensely and was grateful for his work on her behalf. However, Selden’s concern and respect for Anthony actually worked against her in some ways. When, on January 21, 1873, they appeared before a U.S. District Judge, Selden had supported Anthony’s demand for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that the charges were illegal, and asked that she be discharged. The judge denied Selden’s request and increased Anthony’s bail, which she refused to pay. At that point, Selden stepped in and paid the bond, because he “could not see a lady” he “respected put in jail.” Anthony later found out that his gesture of concern prevented her from taking her case to the Supreme Court.Grave site of Henry R. Selden

In 1879, the same year his brother Samuel died, Selden retired from his practice of law. He died in 1885 and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery. His portrait hangs in the New York State Appellate Division Law Library in Rochester, New York.

Bibliography of Suggested Books & Articles

  • American National Biography, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. New York : Oxford University Press, 1999. vol. 19, pp. 614-5 contains a bio of Selden’s son, George Baldwin Selden. This gives name of George’s mother, his birth/death dates, and his involvement with the auto patent.
  • Anthony, Susan B., et al. History of Woman Suffrage, v. II, Rochester, NY: Susan B. Anthony, 1881.
  • Barry, Kathleen, Susan B. Anthony: a biography of a singular feminist, New York: New York University Press, c1988.
  • Bates, Ralph and Blake McKelvey, “Lewis Swift: The Rochester Astronomer,” Rochester History, Vol. IX, No. 1 (January 1947).
  • Dow, Harriet Brown, “Influence of Women in the Life of Rochester, in Centennial History of Rochester, New York, Volume II…Edward R. Foreman, comp. & ed., Rochester, NY: 1932.
  • Harper, Ida Husted, Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, vol. 1. Indianapolis and Kansas City, The Bowen-Merrill Company, 1898-1908.
  • Harper, Judith E., Susan B. Anthony: A Biographical Companion, Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1998. (There’s a short bio of Henry Selden in here), p. 176.
  • McKelvey, Blake, “Civic Medals Awarded Posthumously, Rochester History, vol. XXII, No. 2 (April 1960). (pp. 9-10)
  • New York (State). Court of Appeals, Notes of cases decided in the Court of Appeals of the state of New York, Albany: W.C. Little & Co., 1878 (2nd ed.) (Henry Selden, State Reporter, is listed as the only personal author). (In NYS Library)
  • New York (State). Court of Appeals, Reports of cases argued and determined in the Court of Appeals of the State of New York (New York Reports), Albany, NY: Little & Co., n.d. 43 v. (H. Selden is listed as personal author)
  • Selden, Henry R., Right of Women to Vote: Argument of Henry R. Selden in behalf of Susan B. Anthony on Habeas Corpus, Before the Hon. N.K. Hall, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of New York, at Albany, January 21, 1873, [si,sn, 1873]. 16 pp., available at Univ. of Rochester library.
  • Selden, Henry R., Speech of Hon. Henry R. Selden, of Monroe, on the New York Central Railroad Fare Bill: in Assembly, April 4, 1866 [Albany? NY: sn, 1866]. (In NYS Library)
  • Van Zandt, Washington, defendant, A full report of hte trial and conviction of the Reverend Washington Van Zandt, of the Episcopal Church, Rochester, N.Y., for the seduction of Miss Sophia Murdock, (sixteen years of age,) a member of his church. To which is added: the speech of Hon. Mark H. Sibley of Canandaigua, for the defence, of Henry R. Selden of Clarkson, and Judge Sampson of Rochester, for the prosecution: Together with Judge Dayton’s charge, of Lockport, to the jury, [Rochester, NY]: M. Miller, 1842. (This 31 p. book, which notes state was “reported for the Rochester evening post,” is available in the NY Historical Society Archives and Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Rare Books. It is not available on Interlibrary Loan from these institutions.)
  • NB: Information on the marriage of the daughter of Henry Selden is found in Rochester History, vol. 12, no. 1, (Jan. 1950), p. 19.

Bibliography of Suggested Web Sites