Statue Honoring Dred Scott Unveiled Today
Today at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation will unveil a statue honoring one of the central figures in the antebellum crisis surrounding slavery.
I suspect that my readers will know already the story of the Dred Scott decision, so I will not delve into it too deeply. For more information on this landmark Supreme Court decision, click HERE.
In the decision, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney made two rulings that we need to keep in mind. First, Scott had no right to sue because neither slaves nor free blacks were citizens of the United States. Taney noted that at the time the Constitution was ratified that black were regarded “as beings of an inferior order with no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Second, Taney ruled that excluding slavery from the territories violated the fifth amendment prohibiting seizure of property without due process. Here is an excerpt from the ruling that will shed a little light on the atmosphere around the Supreme Court concerning slavery:
The right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution. The right to traffic in it, like an ordinary article of merchandise and property, was guaranteed to the citizens of the United States, in every state that might desire it, for twenty years. And the government in express terms is pledged to protect it in all future time if the slave escapes from his owner. This is done in plain words–too plain to be misunderstood. And no word can be found in the Constitution which gives Congress a greater power over slave property or which entitles property of that kind to less protection than property of any other description….
Upon these considerations it is the opinion of the Court that the act of Congress which prohibited a citizen from holding and owning property of this kind in the territory of the United States north of the line therein mentioned is not warranted by the Constitution and is therefore void; and that neither Dred Scott himself, nor any of his family, were made free by being carried into this territory; even if they had been carried there by the owner with the intention of becoming a permanent resident.
The 1857 Supreme Court decision was an effort to solve the slavery question once and for, but in effect galvanized both sides of the issue and caused further strife between the sections. But what I ultimately find most fascinating is that in just over a decade, the 14th amendment (adopted in 1868) guaranteed citizenship for all persons born or naturalized in the United States (that means black people too, ya’ll, former slaves as well). That is quite a jump in policy – illustrating that a civil war can change some things very quickly indeed.
I look forward to reading more about the Scott statue and the unveiling ceremony.