WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Tuesday that he would pardon Susan B. Anthony, the women’s suffragist who was arrested after voting illegally in 1872 and fined $100, as he tried to appeal to female voters on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving them the right to vote.
Delivered during a heavily political event at the White House at which Mr. Trump again disparaged mail-in voting ahead of the November election, the president’s announcement also appeared to be an effort to distract from the Democratic National Convention and narrow the historically large gender gap that has him trailing Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the White House race.
“She was never pardoned. Did you know that? She was never pardoned,” Mr. Trump said. “What took so long?”
[Read more about the women’s suffrage movement.]
Mr. Trump teased the pardon as he traveled on Air Force One on Monday, telling reporters he was going to erase the conviction of someone “very, very important.”
Anthony was tried for illegally voting and protested the fine she was charged.
“She was guilty for voting,” Mr. Trump said on Tuesday, “and we’re going to be signing a full and complete pardon.”
Unlike other people the president has pardoned, Anthony is not someone whose work Mr. Trump has spoken of during his campaign or his presidency.
She is also an increasingly divisive figure, adopted by anti-abortion forces and criticized for relegating Black suffragists to the sidelines. On Tuesday, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion political group, and Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who represents conservative groups, were in attendance as Mr. Trump made his announcement.
He has pardoned or granted clemency to a number of people whom he personally knows or whose cases resonate with him, such as Rod R. Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor who was serving a prison sentence related to a conviction on corruption charges. Mr. Trump recently granted clemency to his longtime political adviser Roger J. Stone Jr., who was convicted on several charges stemming from the investigation into possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
The pardon for Anthony would be the 26th of his presidency and, like most others Mr. Trump has issued, it drew criticism from Democrats, including Kathy Hochul, the lieutenant governor of New York.
“As highest ranking woman elected official in New York and on behalf of Susan B. Anthony’s legacy we demand Trump rescind his pardon,” Ms. Hochul wrote on Twitter. “She was proud of her arrest to draw attention to the cause for women’s rights, and never paid her fine. Let her Rest In Peace, @realdonaldtrump.”
Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly been accused of sexual harassment or assault and who has often made degrading comments about women, is facing a deep gender gap in his campaign against Mr. Biden. On Tuesday, surrounded by several female supporters, Mr. Trump declared that “women dominate the United States” and complained that the coronavirus pandemic had darkened the economic picture for women.
The announcement also provided Mr. Trump with another opportunity to preemptively question the results of the election in November should Americans opt for mail-in voting. Recent polls show that political views on the process are sharply divided: More than half of Republicans say mail-in voting cannot be trusted, while nearly half of Mr. Biden’s supporters plan to vote by mail, according to an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll published on Monday.
When asked by reporters about the concept of mail-in voting, Mr. Trump attacked the practice, falsely claiming that dogs and cats received ballots to vote en masse. Mr. Trump also floated the idea that the 2020 election would need to be redone should Americans rely on a system that would let everyone vote by mail.
“You can’t take millions of ballots, send them haphazardly all over the country or all over the state, and expect it to come out properly,” Mr. Trump said. “Universal is going to be a disaster, the likes of which our country has never seen. It will end up being a rigged election or they will never come out with an outcome. They’ll have to do it again, and nobody wants that, and I don’t want that.”
He then invited Ms. Mitchell, whom he called “one of the great lawyers,” to the lectern to speak.
“All of us can name multiple times when we’ve sent a letter across town and it either didn’t get there or came back undeliverable,” Ms. Mitchell said. “We should have Election Day, we shouldn’t have election three months and we sure should be able to know by election night who won.”
People close to the president said Mr. Trump was seeking to create a news story during the Democrats’ convention, where Mr. Biden will be nominated. Advisers believed that unlike some of Mr. Trump’s other pardons or grants of clemency, it will be harder to criticize one benefiting a woman whose actions helped lead to women’s right to vote.
Whether that is the case remains to be seen. Mr. Trump’s support from a key group of female voters — suburban women — has eroded his presidency, and his response to the coronavirus pandemic has not helped him.
But during the event on Tuesday, Mr. Trump turned his attention to the Democratic convention, criticizing the former first lady Michelle Obama for her prerecorded speech the evening before in which she said that Mr. Trump “cannot meet this moment” and that his presidency threatened the future of the country.
“She was over her head, and frankly she should have made the speech live, which she didn’t do,” Mr. Trump said. “I thought it was a very divisive speech, extremely divisive.”
If President Barack Obama had done a better job, Mr. Trump said, then he would not have been elected four years ago and would be “building buildings someplace” and “having a good time.”
He then claimed that the Obama administration had received “very bad reviews” on its handling of the H1N1 flu outbreak, though roughly two-thirds of Americans polled at the time said the administration had responded well.