Dred Scott & The Supreme Court

Today in History, March 6, 1857:

The Dredd Scott Decision.

Dredd Scott was a slave whose owner had traveled and lived in “free states” and had promised him his freedom. When his owner died, Scott sued for his freedom, because he had lived in “free” states.

The case worked it’s way up the chain to the Supreme Court, which at that time was loaded with Southerners.

Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote the majority opinion that declared that no slave could possibly be a citizen, therefore they had no standing to sue. Also that the Federal Government had no right to regulate slavery in the states and territories.

Obviously a biased, politically motivated opinion, the decision, in part, led to the horrific, devastating American Civil War.

So our lesson is complex. The Supreme Court, while our highest court, is not infallible. It’s bad decisions lead to horrific consequences for the nation. It DOES make political decisions. And this theory does not end with Dredd Scott.

The Cabots & North America

Today in History, March 5, 1496:

English King Henry VII issues letters patent to Italian navigators John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) and his son Sebastian, sponsoring them for explorations.

“…free authority, faculty and power to sail to all parts, regions and coasts of the eastern, western and northern sea, under our banners, flags and ensigns, with five ships or vessels of whatsoever burden and quality they may be, and with so many and with such mariners and men as they may wish to take with them in the said ships, at their own proper costs and charges, to find, discover and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians.”

John would find Newfoundland in North America, initiating future settlements in North America. The Vikings and Columbus came before the Cabots, but their explorations bore fruit for England.

D. C. Donnybrook

Today in History, March 4, 1829:

A real Donnybrook.

It was a tradition to have an “open house” after a Presidential Inauguration. Newly elected President Andrew Jackson continued the tradition, but there was a problem.

Every President has tried to portray himself as a “man of the people”, but in Jackson’s case, it was true. He was a frontiersman, and a combat veteran of the War of 1812.

Rather than a few blue bloods showing up for the open house, upwards of 20,000 common citizens showed up to visit the Executive Mansion.

They entered through windows, stood on the furniture, and were only drawn outside by an inventive White House staffer that filled troughs with juice and liquor on the White House lawn.

The President himself fled to the hotel he had been residing in prior to the election. The carpet “smelled like cheese” for months, but not due to a sampling of cheese…the production of a huge block of cheese to the President actually happened near the end of his term.

1st Joint Navy & Marine Amphibious Op…in 1776

Today in History, March 3, 1776:

The Continental Navy transports a contingent of Continental Marines to Nassau, Bahamas where the Marines make their first amphibious landing. The mission was to raid and capture gunpowder and munitions stored at the British possession for use in the American Revolutionary War. The Continental Navy and Marines are of course the origins of the US Navy and US Marines.

Kicking the Abolition Can Down the Road…

Today in History, March 2, 1807:

The US Congress passes a law abolishing the transatlantic slave trade in the US, “An Act to prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States, from and after the first day of January, in the year of our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight.”

Congress began the habit of “kicking the can down the road” from the very beginning. When the Constitution was ratified, a clause was included that prohibited any laws affecting slavery for 20 years, or 1808.

The clause was included to ensure that southern states would sign off on the union.

By 1794 abolitionist groups were already forming to push for action once the time was up; in 1805 Senator Stephen Row Bradley of Vermont announced his intention to present the bill described here, and did so. The British also outlawed the slave trade in 1807.

However the importation of slaves continued in Central and South America, especially in Brazil where it had begun, until 1860 (officially).

Even this step by US lawmakers was a bit of a cynical compromise…the South signed off on the new law easily because they had enough slaves already in the country that they didn’t feel they needed to import them anymore.

The Reichstag Fire Decree and the Surrender of Freedom

Today in History, February 28, 1933:

The Reichstag Fire Decree. On the night of February 27, 1933, the German Parliament, or Reichstag, was burned by arsonists.

The very next day (strike while the iron is hot) German President Paul Von Hindenburg, on the “advice” of Chancellor Adolph Hitler, issues the Reichstag Fire Decree “for the protection of the people and the state.”

The order suspended basic civil liberties guaranteed by the German Constitution.

The fire was blamed on the Nazi’s enemies, Communists. However it is likely the fire was contrived to justify the order, which began Hitler’s dictatorship.

The same type of maneuver would be used by the Nazis in September, 1939, to justify the invasion of Poland.

“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

Cooper Union – The Speech that Propelled Lincoln to the Presidency and Proves He Was an Abolitionist

Today in History, February 27, 1860:

“One of the most happiest and most convincing political arguments ever made in this City … No man ever made such an impression on his first appeal to a New-York audience.” — Horace Greeley in his paper regarding “The Cooper Union Speech” by Abraham Lincoln.

A former Congressman and Illinois lawyer, Lincoln had been launched to the national stage by his debates with Stephen Douglas over the slavery question 2 years before, but he was still mostly unknown in the east.

A young Republicans group in New York invited him to speech at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. The hall was not filled for the speech, but the text of it was given to Greeley’s and other’s papers; from there it was broadly published across the nation in pamphlet form.

Lincoln made convincing arguments that the Founding Fathers were against the expansion of slavery and desired it’s eventual end. At the same time he tried to convince Southerners that the Republican party did not wish to interfere in their affairs.

While in New York he had his photo taken by Matthew Brady, and the photo was used along with the pamphlet to broaden his recognition. It is widely believed that the speech is what launched him into the Presidency.

He closed with a message to his colleagues:

“Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”