Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee decided this week that he was a historian by declaring that the Dred Scott decision remains the law of the land.
Really. As he put it …
“the Dred Scott decision of 1857 still remains to this day the law of the land which says that black people aren’t fully human. Does anybody still follow the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision?”
This is so bad on so many levels that it makes Huckabee sound like Connie Chastain.
First, the Dred Scott decision actually makes no such claim. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s opinion points in a somewhat different direction. He asserted that it was commonly believed that African Americans were “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” That’s rather repulsive, but it does not deny blacks humanity. It simply denies them any meaningful rights or any claim to equality.
Second, Huckabee seems to have overlooked that the key to Taney’s ruling was that blacks could not be citizens of the United States. As the chief justice asked, “Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen?”
To this question Taney answered with a resounding no. “We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.”
Eleven years later, the Fourteenth Amendment changed all that. As Section One declares, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
You would think that given all the recent attention given Section One that Huckabee would at least read it. But that may be asking too much. After all, the Constitution is the law of the land, and presidents take an oath to uphold it. But then we’ve already seen that the former governor thinks it’s okay to ignore that document, which doesn’t speak well for his candidacy.
Coming as it did on the heels of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment established national citizenship. It was soon followed by the Fifteenth Amendment, setting aside race, color, or previous condition of servitude as a barrier to voting. In proclaiming the ratification of that amendment on March 30, 1870, Ulysses S. Grant remarked: “A measure which makes at once 4,000,000 people voters who were heretofore declared by the highest tribunal in the land not citizens of the United States, nor eligible to become so (with the assertion that ‘at the time of the Declaration of Independence the opinion was fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race, regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics, that black men had no rights which the white man was bound to respect’), is indeed a measure of grander importance than any other one act of the kind from the foundation of our free Government to the present day.”
Grant understood something that Mike Huckabee does not.
And now you know a little more about the Dred Scott decision … and much more than does Mike Huckabee.