The black slave whose failed bid for freedom led to the American Civil War

This is the ninth of my posts based on a recent tour of the eastern half of the USA. I visited a number of sites relevant to African American history. To mark Black History Month, I am relating some of the things I saw, in the order I saw them.

I enjoyed a visit to the wonderful US Capitol “Visitor Center”. At presumably astronomical expense, a fantastic underground visitors’ entrance has been built on the east side of the Capitol. You enter it and are taken on a tour of the US Capitol where you go up inside the centre of the building.

The old central bits of the building are steeped in history. My photo above shows the Old Supreme Court Chamber. From 1810 until 1860 it was in use as the USA’s premier court.

In this room, the historic case of Dred Scott was decided. Wikipedia states:

Dred Scott (c. 1799 – September 17, 1858) was an enslaved African American man in the United States who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom and that of his wife and their two daughters in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case of 1857, popularly known as the “Dred Scott Decision”. Scott claimed that he and his wife should be granted their freedom because they had lived in Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory for four years, where slavery was illegal. The United States Supreme Court decided 7–2 against Scott, finding that neither he nor any other person of African ancestry could claim citizenship in the United States, and therefore Scott could not bring suit in federal court under diversity of citizenship rules. Moreover, Scott’s temporary residence outside Missouri did not bring about his emancipation under the Missouri Compromise, which the court ruled unconstitutional as it would “improperly deprive Scott’s owner of his legal property”.

While Chief Justice Roger B. Taney had hoped to settle issues related to slavery and Congressional authority by this decision, it aroused public outrage, deepened sectional tensions between the northern and southern U.S. states, and hastened the eventual explosion of their differences into the American Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and the post-Civil War Reconstruction Amendments—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments—nullified the decision.

Yes, you read that correctly – in this room (photo above) the Supreme Court of the United States decided that an African American was his owner’s property. It is quite astonishing to read that nowadays. I have to admit that I was very moved to have set foot in such an historic place.

The docent who guided us around the Capitol reminded us that there were forty years of fierce debate, trying to avoid conflict, before the Civil War broke out. Part of this forty years of debate was the amazing story of the caning of Charles Sumner, which gives us some idea of the heightened tensions. Here’s Wikipedia again:

(this) occurred on May 22, 1856, in the United States Senate when Representative Preston Brooks (D-SC) attacked Senator Charles Sumner (R-MA), an abolitionist, with a walking cane in retaliation for a speech given by Sumner two days earlier in which he fiercely criticized slaveholders including a relative of Brooks. The beating nearly killed Sumner and it drew a sharply polarized response from the American public on the subject of the expansion of slavery in the United States. It has been considered symbolic of the “breakdown of reasoned discourse” that eventually led to the American Civil War.

In fact, Charles Sumner was so badly injured in the caning that it took him three years to recover enough to return to Congress.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

Read more by or more about , , , , , or .
This entry was posted in LDVUSA.
Advert

4 Comments

  • A great series of articles, Paul. Thank you.

    One of our greatest memories of Washington is standing on the exact spot on the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King made his great ‘I have a Dream’ speech – and doing it on the morning that Barack Obama was first elected. You could feel the joy and electricity in the air that morning.

    Presidents come and go – I hope I live long enough to see the Trump person go and be forgotten – and that we avoid too many horrors in the mean time.

  • Paul,
    What is astonishing is how recent all this was.
    Lord Mansfield freed James Somerset, in 1772, in a ruling held to mean an end to slavery in Britain in a judgement which included the words
    “It is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it,”
    It took nearly a century for the same sentiment to reach the Southern US

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Oct '17 - 3:34pm

    Paul,
    Really fabulous, an unbelievable chapter described, of the history of that horrifying aspect of the US , in which you illustrate how the D and R labels reversed only later, bit by bit the regional and philosophical changes happening to make the Democrats become the advocate for progress that the Republicans were and are rarely now !

    David

    I too was in the USA that day, but in New Jersey, seems a little while ago in the Trump era we are in ! Whenever I see Obama, most recently with Prince Harry at Invictus, I miss him !

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarDavid Raw 12th Dec - 10:35am
    Is it too Machiavellian to suggest that Mrs May was the 48th Tory MP to send in a letter ?
  • User AvatarAndrew Melmoth 12th Dec - 10:23am
    I hope she gets 52% of the vote.
  • User Avatarpmknowles 12th Dec - 10:15am
    That should have been "I will be out in Bedale on Saturday"!
  • User Avatarpmknowles 12th Dec - 10:14am
    I have been campaigning for a Peoples Vote and will be out in Became on Saturday morning. I don't want a Peoples Vote though because...
  • User AvatarMartin 12th Dec - 10:05am
    At any other time, a PM in this position would not be able to continue. Joe Otten's assessment that roughly three quarters of Conservative MPs...
  • User AvatarBill le Breton 12th Dec - 9:51am
    Am tempted to write, "It's the DUP, st*pid". I wouldn't like to predict this vote, but for Conservatives remaining in office is the absolute priority....