Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Saturday Snapshot: Missouri justice

     Miscarriage of justice is nothing new in Missouri.
     After the state last week became the latest to enact an abortion ban—for all intents and purposes—denying half of American citizens the basic human right of enjoying sovereignty over their own bodies, faithful reader Tony Galati offered this timely contribution to the blog, these stunning photographs of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, where the infamous Dred Scott case was first heard in 1847 and 1850 on its way for its infamous date with the United States Supreme Court.
     Scott was a slave, born in Virginia about 1799, taken to Missouri in 1830 with his owners, the Peter Blow family. He was sold to an army surgeon, Dr. John Emerson, who took him to the Illinois and Wisconsin territories, which were designated free by the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
      Upon his return in 1842 to slave-owning Missouri, abolitionist friends encouraged Scott, who was illiterate, to petition the court, arguing that his time as a free man in the territories made him free permanently. 
     Scott's case was filed in the then-unfinished St. Louis courthouse on April 6, 1846. He lost the first trial on a technicality, but was allowed to petition again. The Missouri courts, in a bit of ominous foreshadowing for proponents of the latest law depriving Americans of liberty, sided with the notion of "once free, always free," and Scott won his freedom in this building in 1850. 
     But the case was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court by the widow of the surgeon.
     The U.S. Supreme Court, to its undying shame, decided in 1857 that no black person could be a citizen of the United States, a ruling whose wrongness is echoed today in the notion that no woman can decide when she wants to have a baby. It took the Civil War to correct the court's error; who knows what national fissure will be required to put this question to rest? Future generations will no doubt view the current machinations—the dying gasp of compulsory religion in this country—with the same sense of sorrowful bafflement that Americans today view the Dred Scott case.
     Unless they don't. The side of justice always assumes it will win in the end but, if we look around at the world today, we can see that just isn't so. 


  1. Good blog and reminder about the tragic Dred Scott case.

  2. Rereading Proust and was surprised by how much time he spent on the Dreyfus controversy, which in many aspects resembles our present situation. Proust even discusses Nationalists, Republicans and of course anti-Semites... at great length of course. The Republicans of France were more or less liberals, favoring representative government rather than monarchy, and were looked upon with disfavor by the fashionable people of Proust's acquaintance, who tended to look down their noses at those who couldn't trace their ancestry to pre Napoleon nobility. The rift between Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards is reminiscent of that between the pro-life and pro-choice factions of today.


    1. The case was also an illustration of the power of the pen. A letter sent to the President of the Republic from Emile Zola, famously titled "J' Accuse," pointed out the flimsiness of the case against Dreyfus and charged a coverup by the Army General Staff. It was published in the press and became a rallying cry. Actually, things didn't turn out too badly for Dreyfus. His commission was eventually restored, and he served with distinction in WW II.


  3. I do not know that we will ever settle the issue as to when we have a human being deserving of the protection of the law. Opinions range from conception all the way through several years after birth. I do know, however, that later generations will condemn us for turning abortion into a way to raise cash and get votes for politicians. You'd think that it would make sense to do all that we could to prevent unplanned pregnancy and avoid the issue altogether. But, no, it's politics.

  4. Abortion opponents constantly claim that the Dred Scott case proves their point, because if the Supreme Court could be wrong about one thing, it could be wrong about anything. I guess. Logic isn't their strong suit. Nor is history, which is why they react with fury whenever it's suggested that maybe it's in bad taste for people who have consistently opposed civil rights to claim that an effort to abolish slavery somehow vindicates them.


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