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Chief Justice Taney And Slavery Essay

1922 words - 8 pages

The Art of Avoidance; Chief Justice Taney and the Question of Slavery


“Their present decision is equivalent to a repeal of law and the making of law. This is not adjudication, it is mere usurpation. It is the substitution of mere arbitrary will in the place of the solemn and responsible functions of an impartial judicature.”[1]

The 1857 Dred Scott decision proved that Chief Justice Roger Taney’s sadistic racism could be eclipsed only by his unbounded arrogance. Using outright lies regarding the intentions of the Framers, he temporarily sacrificed the entire African race, and directed the Supreme Court to move in and illegitimate and supercede the powers vested to Congress by the Constitution. Dred Scott brought the integrity of the court into question as Taney twisted and misrepresented precedent and the Constitution to fulfill the wishes of his own biased mind and those of his political party, leading one contemporary lawyer to ask, “If the opinions of these judges were as much calculated to do their party injury as they are to do it a benefit, do you, on your conscience, believe that those opinions ever would have been delivered?”[2] The opinion by Taney, and its’ outcome, were equally convoluted, and equally disastrous to many factions of Americans and the controversy it incited strongly contributed to divisions among the Democrats and Whigs that led to the 1860 Republican victory by Abraham Lincoln, and ironically the Civil War.

The first task the Court set out on was to bring into question the jurisdiction of Scott’s case under the Federal Courts, both the Supreme and the Circuit. Taney argued correctly that a case brought before a Federal Court must involve a discrepancy over Federal statute brought by citizens of the nation; in the case of Scott the question was whether his rights as a citizen had been denied by his continued slave status despite the fact that he had resided in a free territory, Illinois, for a number of years. Scott’s assertion was that he had become a free black as a result of his residency in Illinois, and as such he could legally sue for his freedom in the state of Missouri after his owner, John Sandford, “laid his hands upon said plaintiff, Harriet, Eliza and Lizzie, and imprisoned them, doing in this respect, however, no more than what he might lawfully do if they were of right his slaves at such times”.[3] Scott sought redress in the federal courts as a citizen of the United States, not as an abused slave, an important distinction.

According to the Constitution, only a citizen, as defined by the aforementioned document, could seek an audience with the federal court, but a slave was not considered a citizen, but property. Yet in an almost complete contradiction to himself on over question of the term citizen, Taney stated, “Undoubtedly, a person may be a citizen, that is, a member of the community who form the sovereignty, although he...

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