History has effects years and years later
ASHS Column for 03 01 07
Jerry Simmons

     A couple of Saturdays
ago while reading the
morning paper I saw a
quote from a prominent
educator in our area:
"History is not the past.
History is now." Now,
if I read my dictionary
correctly, saying
"history is not the
past" is a serious
misstatement and
might tend to
mislead young minds.
May not be a good
choice of words.
     I think another way
to state what the
educator may have
meant is that history
is not "just" the past.
She could have said
that we are making
history in the now.
What happens today
will influence what’s
said in the future
about these times
and probably will
radically impact
actions by thinking men and women.
    Scholars suggest that lessons can be learned from history. For example, think of these clear lessons: "When people have more children than they can feed, some children starve.Appeasement is not necessarily the best way to prevent war. Attempts to fix prices always result in a black market. Attempts to outlaw prostitution often result in corrupt police."
    I wonder what historians will write 50 years – a hundred years – from now about our conflict with terrorists?
    One of the factors influencing the outbreak of the War Between the States was the Dred Scott decision. Since February was Black History Month, it is appropriate for us to see if there’s not something to be gleaned from something that happened over a hundred and fifty years ago. I think we can see how the practice of slavery was unfair (to say the least) and how a judiciary system with a misguided philosophy has lasting effects, even to today.
    In the 1850s, a small percentage of white Southerners (but the most politically powerful part of the population) was overwhelmingly in support of slavery for economic reasons. They hardly considered the moral aspect. With the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott matter came greater support for slavery in the South while Northerners’ opposition to it became stronger than ever before.
    Dred Scott was a black slave from Missouri who claimed he was a free man because he’d lived extended periods of time in a free state and a free territory. Scott's beginnings were quite humble. He was born somewhere in Virginia and moved with his owner Peter Blow to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1830. He then was sold to Dr. John Emerson sometime between 1831 and 1833.
    Emerson, an Army doctor, was a frequent traveler, so between his sale to Emerson and Emerson's death in late 1843, Scott lived in Illinois, Wisconsin Territory, Louisiana, and in St. Louis. This meant Scott lived for a total of seven years in areas closed to slavery. Illinois was a free state and the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had closed the Wisconsin Territory to slavery. When Scott's ten-year fight for freedom began in 1846, he lived in St. Louis and was the property of Emerson's widow.
    Scott filed a declaration on April 6, 1846, stating that on April 4, Mrs. Emerson had "beat, bruised, and ill-treated him" before imprisoning him for twelve hours.
    Scott declared that he was free because of his residence in Illinois and Wisconsin. He had a strong case for this because the Supreme Court of Missouri had freed many slaves who’d traveled with their masters in Free states. In 1850, the case reached the Missouri Supreme Court, the same court that had freed an enslaved woman just fourteen years earlier.
    Bad news for Scott: the years in between had been important ones in terms of sectional conflict. By the early 1850's regional disagreement had arisen again and was uglier than ever, and most Missourians did not support freeing slaves. Plus, two of the three justices who made the final decision in Scott's appearance before the Missouri Supreme Court were proslavery and also the United States Supreme Court in 1851 set precedents unfavorable to Scott.
    As expected, the Missouri court ruled against Scott in 1852, with the third judge dissenting. Scott took his case out of the state judicial system and into the federal judicial system by bringing it to the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Missouri, then to the U.S. Supreme Court.
    When the predominately proslavery Supreme Court heard Scott's case and declared that not only was he still a slave but also that the main law guaranteeing that slavery would not enter the new midwestern territories of the United States was unconstitutional, it sent America into fits.
The court’s decision was read in March of 1857 by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney -- a staunch supporter of slavery. He wrote the majority opinion for the court. It stated that because Scott was black, he was not a citizen and therefore had no right to sue.
    While the decision was well-received by slaveholders in the South, many northerners were outraged. The decision greatly influenced the nomination of Abraham Lincoln to the Republican Party and his subsequent election, which in turn led to the South's secession from the Union. The ruling hastened the arrival of the American Civil War by further polarizing already tense relations between North and South.
    The Dred Scott decision served as an eye-opener to Northerners who believed that slavery was tolerable as long as it stayed in the South. For many Northerners who had remained silent on the issue, the very real possibility was that the decision took away power Congress once had to regulate slavery in new territories. Once slavery expanded into the western territories, it could spread quickly into once-free states. This growing fear in the North helped further contribute to the Civil War.
    Peter Blow's sons, childhood friends of Scott, had helped pay Scott's legal fees through the years. After the Supreme Court's decision, the former master's sons purchased Scott and his wife in 1857 and set them free.
Dred Scott died of TB nine months later.

(Much of the text in this article was paraphrased from http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/)

     Have you ever wondered what the dilapidated old brick building was that's sitting across U.S. 29 from the Century City Hall? Well, wonder no more, because it once was a thriving "Service Station," owned by the McCurdy brothers. These two pictures show then (in the 1940s) and now.

This page last modified on Sunday, February 25, 2007

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