Getting It Right: The Dred Scott Decision

Over at the gift that keeps on giving, the members place a great deal of emphasis on accurate history. That’s quite commendable. So what should one say when the following post appears?

Dred Scott SHPG

Really? Really?

It is one thing for someone seeking information to get something so confused that we understand why that person is requesting help. After all, the Dred Scott decision did nothing of the sort as described above. It opened the territories to slavery; it had nothing to do with the population of the North, preserving northern power in Congress (indeed, the implications pointed in precisely the other direction) or maintaining protective tariffs (I must admit I’ve never heard that one before). Republicans attacked the decision. In short, everything about this summary is wrong. However, one can say that the poster is seeking clarification or correction.

Seems that there’s none to be had among all the active participants of the group. Apparently not a single one of them knows better.

Wow.

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35 thoughts on “Getting It Right: The Dred Scott Decision

  1. If you are ever in beautiful, historic Frederick, Maryland, then you can visit both Chief Justice Taney’s home and grave and famous defender of slavery, Francis Scott Key’s grave. And there are many good restaurants in Frederick also.

    • Plus the Monocacy Battlefield is only a couple of miles to the South !! I do agree about the restaurants.

      As to Lani’s post, you could probably take every 4th word and come up with something that made more sense than what was written.

    • As I don’t have FB cannot see the site you reference. I assume it is one of the neoconfederate/flagger sites. Sadly, as I travel around Civil War sites here in VA I encounter a genteel sort of confederate apologist attitude quite frequently, often from docents. I grasp that people want to respect/understand their ancestors. As a Michigander whose ancestor fought for the Union I don’t have to grapple with the thorny issues of slavery and treason. But when I encounter intelligent people who argue about tariffs as the cause of the CW I am flabbergasted. Yesterday I had a conversation with a young physician who is secular, very liberal politically, and goes on medical missions to Africa twice a year. His car is festooned with Greenpeace, Obama and “Random Acts of Kindness” bumper stickers. Yet he debated passionately with me about tariffs, ending his argument with the usual flourish about most rebel soldiers not being slave holders. And he is from Wisconsin…Do high school history texts not address this issue adequately? Or is there some innate need among good people to believe the best about others, even at the cost of critical thinking or established historical fact? ( I do not include the neoconfederates/flaggers in this question as their agenda is perfectly obvious).

      I am new to this blog and enjoy it tremendously I learn something almost every day!

      • I find its actually that some people like to feel as if they’re in the know, so “knowing” tariffs were the main issue helps to mask deeper feelings of intellectual inferiority.

        I find this to be a common trait among self describing followers of American libertarianism.

  2. Looks like my reading comprehension isn’t what it should be. This comes from the “gift” an hour ago.

    “John Stones Yor conclusions are correct, Lani. Keeping the South subservient to the north by limiting our representation in congresswas essential to their control of us – some “union”!

    about an hour ago..”

    • As I’ve said before, the members of the Southern Heritage Preservation Group don’t know much about history, and what they think they know is sometimes flat wrong. Then again, it’s about heritage, not history. The only concern I have is that these people attempt to flood educational institutions with such idiocy and ignorance. Only the other hnd, examples like this demonstrate their manifest incompetency and make it easy for qualified evaluators to set aside their efforts.

      You would think that people concerned about “content” would have no problems exposing such shortcomings. :)

  3. The implication of the question is that the Republicans, who bitterly opposed Dred Scott, were the radical party, if the Democrats, as the poster claimed, were the Conservatives. I’ve always thought of Dred Scott as being a very radical decision, not a conservative one. There appears to have been a widely held belief up until that decision that Congress had the power to permit or exclude slavery from any US territory, under its Article 4, Section 3 power which states “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular state.” In 1789, the first Congress under the Constitution ratified the Northwest Ordinance, excluding slavery from the immense territory NW of the Ohio River. This interpretation of the Constitution was the basis of every compromise/action over slavery in the decades following, beginning with the Missouri Compromise through the Kansas-Nebraska Act. True, the Compromises pretty much followed the Constitutional Convention’s pattern of putting a bandage on the problem and kicking it down the road for people coming along later to confront. However, Dred Scott destroyed that option and helped play a role in the disintegration of the alliance between slave state and free state Democrats.

  4. Well, I’m guessing that they won’t get to the level of actually reading the several opinions in the case or trying to figure out the precise holding by the Court. In fact I know that they won’t. Fabrication’s one hell of a lot less work. I may have missed the key word “tariff” in the concurring and dissenting opinions, however.

    • Good lord, I wouldn’t wish having to plow through the various opinions in Dred Scott on my worst enemy. The vote was 7-2 and almost every Associate Justice wrote a concurrence or separate opinion in support of his vote.

      • i have had the misfortune of doing just that, with the additional hurdle of plowing through that thoroughly lovable 19th-century judicial writing style. I just can’t seem to recall “tariff” as a key consideration in any of them….

        • I’ve done it too, which is why I wouldn’t wish the experience on my worst enemy for the reasons you state (as with the speechmaking style of the era, brevity was not considered a virtue). No, the decision doesn’t mention tariffs.

  5. OT: Why did you post a picture of MLK as Chairman Mao? That sculpture has to be biggest unintended insult to an American icon – its positively Stalinist in its aggressive ugliness.

    • I agree about the MLK statue. I’m too young to have any personal recollection of MLK or the civil rights struggle, but nothing I have read about him justifies the statue, arms crossed, staring angrily across the water at the Jefferson Memorial.

      • I thought I was the only one who thought MLK was giving the dirtiest look possible toward The Jefferson Memorial.
        Seriously, though, the memorial is well worth it and not Stalinist up close.

        • Much of the criticism, I think, comes from real discomfort in having MLK depicted as defiant, resolute, and impenetrable. They’re content enough with the warm-and-fuzzy, non-threatening I-have-a-dream stuff, but don’t want to be reminded of the “insufficient funds” theme King expressed in the very same speech.

          • Andy-That’s like Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. Often the only thing that gets quoted is the “with malice towards none. . ” part that, taken alone makes it sound like it was was feel good and mushy. One rarely sees it as a whole with its magnificent, somewhat ominous opening two paragraphs leading into the paragraph on the cause of war, laying it squarely on slavery and leading into the lines that immediately precede the “with malice towards none”:

            >>If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.<<

            The Second Inaugural does attempt to reunify the nation but it's nothing even mildly warm and mushy.

  6. I’ve read Dred Scott teamed up with Charles Sumner and took revenge by machine gunning Justice Taney and associates. Did I get that right – or have I watched too many Tarantino movies?

  7. >> Do high school history texts not address this issue adequately? Or is there some innate need among good people to believe the best about others, even at the cost of critical thinking or established historical fact?

    cc2001: No and sort of. No to the first question because expecting a public school to educate students on such complex subjects is a joke. Public schools have never reliably done that, but rather their teaching tended to be a furtherance of what the student’s parents and community had already believed, right or wrong. In other words, the schools merely reinforced the “common knowledge” of the society that spawned the school. In my view a great deal of the problem is that we have romantic understandings of education that are entirely detached from reality.

    Maybe to the second question because I think finding the best in certain groups is only one part of why people want to believe such nonsense. I think we have to acknowledge that knowing history is more difficult than we “history buffs” would like to admit, and that fewer will know it as well as our romantic attachments to the ideal citizen scholar will allow us to believe. That’s why we’re on a blog discussing this because those around us don’t have any idea what we’re talking about and think we’re strange and avoid us if we talk about it too much. Most people know very little unbiased history, but we all have political and social beliefs. I’ve been amazed lately in reading about Midwestern history that I had no idea what really went on there and I was born there. The same is true of Southerners. Honor culture, what honor culture? They’ve never even heard of it. Anyway, most people take what they think they know better (political and social beliefs) and try to square dim and fuzzy ideas on history with that. Don’t we all essentially conform what we know least well to what we think we know the best? So thinking well of certain groups is only one part of the larger explanation in my view. The military has a term called SNAFU that applies to much of life. :)

    • Thanks Mark. I think what you’ve said makes a lot of sense. i suppose I am also guilty of expecting factual history to conform to my preconceived notions. I pray my capacity for critical thinking will save me from what I will now forever think of as the tariff trap.

      • Unfortunately, the current obsession, including by parents, with student scores on standardized tests being the sole model of student AND teacher performance increasingly means teachers are required to “teach for the test.”. It also means, in those schools that do allow more, that parents get angry and put a lot of pressure on schools if the school and/or a teacher does anything that requires the child to THINK and/or challenges the parents’ beliefs no matter how unsubstantiated.

      • cc2001, I’d note too that most students don’t get deep exposure to a lot of issues in a typical high school history class. I’ve not been in a classroom in some years, but for example when I student taught in the 90’s, the junior class started U.S. History at 1865 and went forward from there, and their previous exposure to U.S. History (apart from what little was included as part of Geography) was in 7th grade, when they studied from colonial times to 1865. That’s a pretty typical example for my state, others may break it down differently but regardless, most topics are covered relatively superficially.

        And then of course there is the attention span and grasp of subject matter that your typical 16-year-old has that is more interested with the members of the opposite sex in the classroom than anything that might have happened more than a century before they were born.

        • Somewhere I have read that the modern division of American History into 1492-1865 and 1865-the present was done circa 1900, when the second semester covered the last 40 or 50 years. That would be akin to second semester today covering only from the Kennedy Assassination to the Obama Administration. Not the least of the problem is trying to do 150 years in a semester..

  8. Just trying to diagram the sentences in that paragraph that would give one vertigo, but trying to tease out the meaning and list the errors would take a few pages…there’s a passage in one of Chandler’s stories where Marlowe is in a bar in Ensenada during Prohibition, reads a sign that says “only genuine pre-war British and Canadian whiskeys served here” and he tries to decided whether a single word in the sentence is true…

    I feel the same way about Ms. Rinkel’s request.

    As far as US history standards in high school, realize that the current standards vary widely state by state; in my particular liberal hotbed, the standards are pretty respectable, and have been since (personal experience) since the 1970s. Current standards are here – nary a mention of tariffs to be found:

    http://www.nchs.ucla.edu/Standards/us-history-content-standards/us-era-5#section-0

    Things may be different in Baja Oklahoma, of course, which is the other large market for high school history texts. Something to keep in mind when deploring the ignorance of the willfully ignorant…

    Best,

    • My sister has worked as an editor in the textbook division of a publisher. The stories about the approval process for history textbooks in Texas, for example, are frightening. Garbage in, garbage out.

      • Yep, that’s pretty much my point. Comparing and contrasting the standards of California vis a vis Texas and what is produced as a result could be a pretty good dissertation or thesis for a grad student in educational pedagogy, or with a historical memory focus…

        Best,

          • Good. As a prologue, you can use the tale about Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, the first female governor of Texas, who supposedly rejected the idea of Spanish-language textbooks for children in South Texas by pulling a Bible from her desk, waving it at the questioner, and explaining that “if the English language was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the schoolchildren of Texas!”

            • Of course, the Texas Board of Education has a long track record in the decades following Ma’s departure from the scene. That uniformed people who are completely ignorant of, and uncredentialed in, a particular area of study control content being taught to kids is something you cannot make up.

              • True or not, it’s a well-known anecdote that illustrates well the conflict between the educational needs of students and the cultural/political priorities in this state. Stories like that, even when completely false, get told and retold because they strike a nerve and illustrate what people believe, or think others believe. Like the story Grant tells in his memoir about Braxton Bragg in the Old Army, sending memoranda beck and forth between himself in his role as a company commander, and as outpost quartermaster, it’s an anecdote that is illustrative of a larger perspective.

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