Russell and Duenes

Dred Scott v. Sandford

with 3 comments

In 1856, in a nation deeply riven with strife, half of its territory guiltily wading in the blood of man’s inhumanity to man, where, as Lincoln would soon say, there were “persons in one section or another who seek to destroy the Union at all events and are glad of any pretext to do it,” the nation’s fifth Supreme Court Chief Justice, Roger Brooke Taney, wrote these words:

The question is simply this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen?

His answer:

We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens‘ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.

Thus, Justice Taney concluded:

It is very clear . . . that no State can, by any act or law of its own, passed since the adoption of the Constitution, introduce a new member into the political community created by the Constitution of the United States. It cannot make him a member of this community by making him a member of its own. And for the same reason it cannot introduce any person, or description of persons, who were not intended to be embraced in this new political family, which the Constitution brought into existence, but were intended to be excluded from it.

That is, no State has the power to consider an African a “person,” or a “new member of the political community,” when the Constitution would, by law, exclude the African from being a legal person.

The Dred Scott case, so deeply rooted in our nation’s lore, if perhaps largely left unread by most of her citizens, is a cautionary tale. It’s tale we have not heeded.

We think ourselves above such brazen racist ideologies. We’ve left all that behind in our enlightened, urbane, sophisticated social progress. But for all that, we do worse. For we not only define a class of persons as subhuman and inferior, but we literally define them out of existence. We muddy things up and assuage our consciences by telling us that there are “some lives not worth living” and that making abortion illegal would only drive women into the back alleys, as though abortion clinics now are paragons of love, safety, care and health. We have been told by our current Supreme Court that a nine-month old baby is not a “person” under the Constitution, and that no State can make that baby a person “by making him a member of its own.” No, we have said that precious unborn humans are “a subordinate and inferior class of beings,” who can legally be ripped limb-from-limb at the behest of their mothers and “doctors.” We have decided they don’t count, and thus, we may do to them what we want. They are not enslaved. They are dead. And the race of African-Americans is at this moment perhaps in its greatest peril and danger of non-existence.

The hearts of men are not changed by the passages of time, nor by the machinations of any political doctrines. They are changed by repentance and submission to the One who came as an unborn child, and who gave His life so that we might truly live, forever. Lord, help us see. Soften our hearts, and take away our shame and dishonor through the washing power of your Son, our Lord Jesus. Amen.


Written by Michael Duenes

September 26, 2012 at 3:14 pm

3 Responses

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  1. In addition, when Dred Scott was deemed property by this ruling, it caused an even greater rift between northerners and southerners due to the inevitable expansion of western slavery. Southerners, having consistently pushed for the westward expansion of slavery, had been stopped by the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and much of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Once Taney ruled on Scott, it negated these prior agreements which stated that slavery couldn’t be expanded. With the Scott ruling, southerners felt they were now legally justified to move west with their slaves because it wasn’t expanding slavery as much as it was simply moving west with their property- a kin to moving with your shovel, horses, blankets, or shoes. In other words, slavery wasn’t “slavery” anymore. So, aside from African-Americans being denigrated so overtly by this U.S. law, Scott allowed for the expansion of slavery without the rule of popular sovereignty and against a wealth of legal precedence. In a real sense, Taney’s racism in Scott pushed the country into war quicker than anything else.

    russell and duenes

    September 27, 2012 at 10:13 am

    • R, it’s a good point you make, and a point that is also applicable to abortion. In the 1992 Casey case, the Court believed they were providing a ruling on abortion that would tamp down the furor on both sides of the debate, and that both sides needed to accept their ruling. As we know, it only inflamed and further polarized both sides.


      russell and duenes

      September 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm

      • Another good point as well…

        russell and duenes

        September 28, 2012 at 8:56 am

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