"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Harriet and Dred Scott

This dual portrait relief of Harriet and Dred Scott is part of an historical marker in front of the Frederick  City  Hall next to (and in reaction to) Urner's bust of Roger B. Taney.

The Dred Scott Decision

"At the dedication of the Roger Brooke Taney Bust in Frederick on September 26, 1931, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes concluded that 'it is unfortunate that the estimate of Chief Justice Taney’s judicial labors should have been so largely influenced by the opinion which he delivered in the case of Dred Scott [v Sandford].'

Dred and Harriet Scott were slaves who sued for their freedom after being taken from the slave state of Missouri into territory in which slavery had been prohibited by the Missouri Compromise. Remarkably, Dred and Harriet Scott managed to litigate for the emancipation of themselves and their two children, through two trials in the Missouri state courts, two appeals before the Missouri Supreme Court, a trial in the Federal Circuit Court in Missouri, and finally an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Taney announced the decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that African slaves and their descendants were not U.S. citizens and therefore could not bring suit in the Federal Courts. Chief Justice Taney predicated this ruling upon his assertion that at the time the U.S. Constitution was framed, the 'civilized portion of the white race' universally regarded 'negroes' as 'beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; .... - that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.'

One year later (1858), President Lincoln gave his famous speech entitled 'House Divided' in which he argued that the Dred Scott decision was the product of a concerted effort by pro-slavery forces including Chief Justice Taney and President Buchanan to establish the legal underpinnings of a Union in which the right to own slaves would be guaranteed in all of the States and territories. This truly set the stage for the Civil War.

A direct outcome of the Civil War was the 'Reconstruction Amendments' to the U.S. Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment (1865) abolished slavery in the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment (1868) specifically nullified the definition of citizenship set forth in the Dred Scott decision and later became the basis for the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which decision ended legal segregation. The Fifteenth Amendment (I870) prohibits the States as well as the Federal government from denying the right to vote on the basis of race.

The publicity generated by the case resulted in pressure that caused the owners of the Scott family to transfer ownership to Dred Scott’s original owners, who then (two months after the Dred Scott decision was announced) emancipated the Scott family. Dred Scott died nine months after being emancipated. Harriet Scott died in 1876.

The unenlightened racial view found in the pivotal Dred Scott Decision, the national debate that ensued, the bloodshed of the Civil War that followed - all make it important to comprehend the historical context of our past and to continue our progress towards racial equality.

Installed by the citizens of Frederick in the year 2008"
This pair of wood engravings attributed to Century Magazine 1887 seems to be the model for the relief.

But these pictures appeared earlier in  Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1857 in a article entitled A Visit to Dred Scott - His family - Incidents of his life - Decision of the Supreme Court.

This plaque was placed as mitigation of the Joseph Urner's controversial bust of Roger B. Taney that had been on the Courthouse and later City Hall lawn since 1931. The Frederick Mayor and Aldermen describe it this way:
"[I]n 2009, following appeals for the removal of the Taney bust, The City of Frederick collaborated with community members to create a supplemental plaque which provided historical context to inform and educate viewers about the Dred Scott decision, and this plaque was subsequently installed next to the bust;"

When the Taney bust was banished from the Courthouse lawn to Mt. Olivet Cemetery in March 2017, this Dred Scott plaque was removed, too. In June of 2017, it is sitting in storage at Mt. Olivet awaiting reinstallation next to the Roger Brook Taney bust.

 The Taney Bust and the Dred Scott plaque will be between the Francis Scott Key Monument and grave site and the Francis Scott Key Memorial Chapel.

Update, June 2021: The Dred Scott Decision marker has been installed next to Roger B. Taney's statue in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. 

No comments:

Post a Comment