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Dred Scott (Williams, 2006)

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Robert C. Williams, Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 191.
In March 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of slavery in the case of a slave named Dred Scott. Scott claimed his freedom because his owner had moved him from a slave state (Missouri) to a free state (Illinois). U.S. Chief Justice Roger Taney held that a slave, ex-slave, or descendant of a slave was not an American citizen, but the property of an owner. Because Congress was constitutionally required to protect property, it could not prohibit slavery in the territories. Thus the slave owner’s constitutional rights to liberty and property under the law superseded the freedom of the slave, who was not a citizen, but a thing. Anti-slavery men and women everywhere were outraged.

[Horace] Greeley wrote that Taney’s decision carried as much moral weight as a majority vote in “any Washington bar room.” The decision was bad law, “southern sophism cloaked with the dignity of our highest court.” Slaves might be sold on Bunker Hill and in front of Faneuil Hall in Boston, while slave ships might now “land their dusky cargo at Plymouth Rock.” The Dred Scott decision was a collection of “false statements and shallow sophistries” put together to support a foregone conclusion, and a “fatal blow to the rights and liberties of all.” Even the individual states could only establish and strengthen slavery within their borders. The Dred Scott case, wrote Greeley, meant that “the Star of Freedom and the stripes of bondage are henceforth one. American Republicanism and American Slavery are for the future synonymous.”

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