Tag Archives: history

Dred Scott and Roger B. Taney – The human factor in history


Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page from Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story.

A Page From Our American Story

On March 6, 1857, in the case of Dred Scott v. John Sanford, United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney ruled that African Americans were not and could not be citizens. Taney wrote that the Founders’ words in the Declaration of Independence, “all men were created equal,” were never intended to apply to blacks. Blacks could not vote, travel, or even fall in love and marry of their own free will — rights granted, according to the Declaration, by God to all. It was the culmination of ten years of court battles — Dred Scott’s fight to live and be recognized as a free man.

The High Court’s decision went even further, declaring laws that restricted slavery in new states or sought to keep a balance between free and slave states, such as the Missouri Compromise, were unconstitutional. In essence, Black Americans, regardless of where they lived, were believed to be nothing more than commodities.

The Taney court was dominated by pro-slavery judges from the South. Of the nine, seven judges had been appointed by pro-slavery Presidents — five, in fact, came from slave-holding families. The decision was viewed by many as a victory for the Southern “Slavocracy,” and a symbol of the power the South had over the highest court.

The dramatic ripple effect of Dred Scott — a ruling historians widely agree was one of the worst racially-based decisions ever handed down by the United States Supreme Court — reached across the states and territories. It sent shivers through the North and the free African-American community. Technically, no black was free of re-enslavement.

Free Blacks, many of whom had been in Northern states for years, once again lived in fear of being hunted down and taken back to the South in servitude. Southern slave laws allowed marshals to travel north in search of escaped slaves. The ruling was such a concern to Free Blacks, that many seriously considered leaving the United States for Canada or Liberia.

The decision played a role in propelling Abraham Lincoln — an outspoken anti-slavery voice — into the White House. The slavery issue had already created a turbulent, volatile atmosphere throughout the nation. Dred Scott, like kerosene tossed onto a simmering fire, played a significant role in igniting the Civil War. The North became ready to combat what it viewed as the South’s disproportionate influence in government.

The court case lives in infamy today, but few people know much about the actual people involved. I suspect Scott and Taney never imagined they would play such powerful roles in our great American story.

Taney was from Maryland, a slave state, but had long before emancipated his slaves and reportedly paid pensions to his older slaves, as well. As a young lawyer he called slavery a “blot on our national character.” What turned Taney into a pro-slavery advocate is not clear, but by 1857, Taney had hardened, going as far as to declare the abolitionist movement “northern aggression.”

It is reported that Dred Scott was originally named “Sam” but took the name of an older brother when that brother died at a young age. Scott was born into slavery in Virginia around 1800 (birth dates for slaves were often unrecorded), and made his way westward with his master, Peter Blow. By 1830, Scott was living in St. Louis, still a slave to Blow. He was sold to Army doctor John Emerson in 1831 and accompanied him to his various postings — including stations in Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory (what is now Minnesota).

In 1836, Scott married Harriett Robinson. Reports vary on whether she was a slave of Emerson’s prior to the marriage or Emerson purchased her from another military officer after she and Scott had fallen in love. The series of events underscored the painful and difficult lives slaves led. Love, like everything else, was subject to the vagaries of their owners’ dispositions.

Emerson died in 1843, leaving the Scott family to his wife, Irene. Three years later, Scott tried to buy his freedom, but to no avail. Scott’s only recourse was to file suit against Mrs. Emerson. He did so on April 6, 1846, and the case went to a Missouri court the following year. He would lose this case, but win on appeal in 1850. Emerson won her appeal in 1852, and shortly afterward gave the Scotts to her son, John Sanford, a legal resident of New York. Because two states were now involved, Scott’s appeal was filed in federal court in 1854 under the case name of Dred Scott v. John Sanford, the name that came before Taney in 1857.

History is filled with dramatic and strange twists of irony and fate. Those factors can be found throughout Scott’s battle for freedom. Peter Blow’s sons, childhood friends of Scott’s, paid his legal fees. Irene Emerson had remarried in 1850. Her new husband, Massachusetts Congressman Calvin Chaffee, was anti-slavery. Following Taney’s ruling, the now-Mrs. Calvin Chaffee, took possession of Dred, Harriett and their two daughters and either sold or simply returned the family to the Blows. In turn, the Blows freed the Scotts in May, 1857.

Dred Scott, a man whose name is so deeply-rooted in our history, so linked to the war that would end slavery, would die just five months later of tuberculosis. However, he died a free man.

All the best,

Black History Month …a repost


by on Feb 9, 2012 still rings true

African American History Month honors the rich legacy of African Americans throughout our nation’s history. This year’s theme recognizes the unique contributions of African American women. February 9, 2012.

Audubon day … April 26


Birds of America
April 26 is
Audubon daymockingbird

by Slayer

John James Audubon (1785-1851) was America’s foremost ornithological illustrator. After studying drawing in Paris under the French painter Jacques Louis David, Audubon struggled for many years to make a living from his art, shuttling back and forth between Europe and the United States and supplementing his income by giving drawing lessons, turning out portraits, playing the flute or violin at local dances, and at one time running a general store.

In 1820 he began a flatboat excursion down the Mississippi River to seek out new varieties of birds to paint. Eventually he had enough bird portraits to publish in book form. Birds of America, produced with the help of engraver Robert Havell, Jr., contains 435 hand-colored plates and was published in “elephant folio” format to accommodate the life-sized portrayals of birds on which Audubon insisted.

After his death in 1851, Audubon’s wife Lucy returned to teaching to support herself. One of her students, George Bird Grinnell, became the editor of Forest and Stream magazine and in 1886 organized the Audubon Society for the study and protection of birds. Today there are many branches of this organization, known as the National Audubon Society, and it remains dedicated to the conservation of wildlife and natural resources. Its members honor Audubon on his birthday, April 26. In some states, Audubon Day and Arbor Day are celebrated together by planting trees in bird sanctuaries.

Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/audubon-day#ixzz1t9SHCcAV

On this Day … Nina Simone


On This Day: February 21
Nina Simone                           Born: February 21, 1933                           Died: April 21, 2003                           Age: 70 years old                           Birthplace: Tryon, NC, United States                           Occupation: Civil Rights Activist, Pianist, Singer, Journalist Read Nina Simone’s biography >>
Watch what else happened on this day >>