“The highest authority has spoken. The voice of the Supreme Court has gone out over the troubled waves of the National Conscience…. [But] my hopes were never brighter than now. I have no fear that the National Conscience will be put to sleep by such an open, glaring, and scandalous tissue of lies…” Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), a prominent black abolitionist, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dred Scott vs. Sanford
In 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court made one of the most infamous rulings in our young nation’s history. In a 7-2 decision under Dred Scot vs. Sanford they found that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves or their descendants whether or not they were slaves, were not U.S. citizens and were not protected by the Constitution. They were to be considered property, and therefore could not be taken away from their owners by the state without due process. The Court had attempted to settle the issue of slavery in the United States, but instead their decision had the exact opposite effect. It ended up being something that continued to be hotly debated across the country, with the abolition of slavery becoming a key Republican plank, and eventually allowing the second ever republican nominee for President, Abraham Lincoln, to win the presidential election in 1860. It is also cited as playing an important role in the Southern states succession which eventually led to the Civil War. This decision was considered the worst the Court ever made to the cause of liberty.
Until now that is. In a convoluted, twisted 5-4 decision, our current U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is constitutional for Congress to use its taxing power to penalize people who choose not to purchase a private product, like health insurance, from a third party. No longer are we free to live our life and spend our money as we see fit, but we are now seen as no more than chattel, to have our behaviors and our income regulated and controlled by however our masters in Washington see fit. Does that sound like we are free-born men and women to you? Or are we more like Dred Scott, mere slaves to a political bureaucracy, the new virtual plantation?
The ramifications of the Dred Scott decision became lightening rod for those fighting to abolish slavery in the newly acquired American territories. The stakes were now even higher, as under this decision, neither the states nor Congress were allowed to determine whether they would be free or slave. Slavery could now expand not only out West, but into the original Northern states, as slaves owners would now be allowed to bring their property (slaves) wherever they saw fit to live. It was railed against as not only an assault on State sovereignty, but also on individual liberty and the idea that rights are conferred by God, not government. Then, like now, the US Supreme Court supported the idea of chains being placed upon American freedom. And then, like now, those who sought to break those chains would not bow in dispirited, resigned acceptance.
Ultimately, we the American people will be the final arbiter of our freedom. As the Dred Scott case shows us, just because the U.S. Supreme Court says something is constitutional, does not make it right. As you know, that past court decision was not the end of the story. The Civil War and the 14th Amendment show us that support of the limitation of freedom will be met with resolute resistance; Americans will not meekly accept such intrusions to liberty. We know where the ultimate sovereignty lies, and it is not with the courts, with Congress or with the President. It lies with us. We will always have the final say, and we will not cower in fear when others try to tell us otherwise. We have the power to remove those from office who support citizen enslavement to the whims, values and agendas of a power hungry centralized government. We also have the power to elect those that support the Constitutional principles of limited government and expanded liberty, and hold them accountable to the laws they pass.
Now, 155 years later, the U.S. Supreme Court has once again moved to restrict our freedom. They have made their ruling. But come November, the American people will make theirs.
“Beneath Courts and Congresses and Presidents is the great PEOPLE. They love liberty — they love justice — they love humanity. Till they affirm the decisions of Law embruting man’s divine nature, and till they approve of legislation which defies God, and till they order Executives to execute iniquity, this conspiracy of the Oligarchy is wholly incomplete. That consent will forever and ever be wanting. But one thing will not be wanting — the resolute purpose of the humane, the just and the free men of the Free States, to meet the close issue forced upon them through the decision of the case of Dred, squarely and fairly, and never to abate their efforts to recover the entire administration of the Republic away from Slavery and back again to Freedom. All who love Republican institutions and who hate Aristocracy, compact yourselves together for the struggle which threatens your liberty and will test your manhood!” from The Issue Forced Upon Us, an editorial written in the Evening Journal, Albany, New York, March 9, 1857, following the Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling