Реферат: Frederick Douglas

’s “What To The Slave Is The 4Th Of July” V. Justice Taney In Dred Scott Ruling Essay, Research Paper

In the years leading to the U.S. Civil War, the controversy over slavery became

not only a social issue, but also a political and legal one as well. Opponents and

proponents of slavery each looked to the American constitution, as well as the prevailing

culture of the time, for direction in dealing with this matter. Two such people who based

their landmark works on this were Justine Taney of the U.S. Supreme Court, and

Frederick Douglas, an emancipated slave, who fought tirelessly for the abolishment of


In 1852, Frederick Douglas was asked to speak at a July 4th celebration. In his

speech, he made it known clearly, his detestment for the treatment of Black slaves of the

day, as well as the irony and hypocracy, that was especially evident on that day. He

explained that this hypocracy aimed at the black population was evident on several fronts,

and so, he refers to the fourth of July as “ the birthday of your National Independence and

your political freedom.”

However, Frederick Douglas never lost hope. Although in his speeches and

writing he aludes greatly to the detestable and horrid facts black enslavement, he

nonetheless saw a silver lining. “There is hope in the thought,” Douglas said, after he

explicated how America is a new and young nation, despite it being around the “old age

for a man”. Since the United States was recently formed, there is still plenty of room for

reform and changes that would not have been possible had America been older.

America, he said, was still in the “impressible stage of her existance.”

As bleak and grim as the conditions were for blacks at the time, was nonetheless

optimistic about the idea that blacks will one day be accepted and absorbed in all the

ranks of society. He likened this to the analogy of rivers, which, he said, were like

nations. Even though a river can not be turned aside, “it may dry up”. If a nation “dries

up”, there will be nohing left of that nation, except a “withered branch”. This withered

branch is a symbol of what the nation believed in and what could happen to it if it

unfairly cast aside certain members of its society.

Douglas also pointed out that the Declaration of Independence was one of the

most valuable factors in the Nation’s destiny. The principles written in the Declaration of

Independence should be kept and adhered to. “Be true to to them on all occasions”, wrote

Douglas. He believed that most documents that were written after the Declaration of

Independence didn’t follow the significant ideology set forth in the Declaration of

Independence. Douglas wants to use the Constitution, but without the pro-slavery clause

in it.

In stark contrast to this, Justice Taney, who wrote the majority opinion of the

court in the case of Dred Scott V. Sandford, dealt a major blow to the work of Frederick

Douglas. In his opinion, Justice Taney uses the same reference points as Frederick

Douglas, only to twist it, and give it a pro-slavery slant.

Like Frederick Douglas, Justice Taney too makes mention of the Declaration of

Independence, but in this case, to prove that blacks were never intended to maintain full

legal citizen status here in the United States. This in itself was a very significant

statement, being that the Declaration of Independence, for all intent and purposes, is not a

legal document, and so, it is hardly ever used as a reference point in the courts. It seems

almost as though Justice Taney was speaking directly Frederick Douglas on this matter.

Justice Taney, in ruling on the question of black citizenship, not only dismisses

the idea of blacks as legal citizens, but also that human beings. He bases this ruling on the

letter of the law, but rather on the spirit of the law. Meaning, that since the birth of this

country, although not written explicitly, though nonetheless obvious, that blacks were

never intended to become citizens of this country. This was the very same hypocracy that

Frederick Douglas made mention to in his writings.

Justice Taney’s view of blacks as a sub-human race, or in legal terminology, as

property, was the essence of his reasoning in striking down the Missouri Compromise.

His decision illustrated that he didn’t even believe Blacks to be human beings. He viewed

them as ordinary property, and ultimatly using this reasoning to strike down the Missouri

Compromise as unconstitutional. This was due to the fact that by granting Mr. Scott his

freedom, the Congress was depriving Mr. Scott’s former owners of their constitutional

right to due process of the law.

This points to a monumental aspect in Justice Taney’s decision. The Missouri

Compromise, which was a Congressionaly enacted law, was designed to limit the

influence of Southern Slave states, by prohibiting slavery in the new territories. Now if

by its very nature (according to Justice Taney) this was unconstitutional, because it in a

sense confiscates a person property (slaves) without due process, then accordingly, black

slaves are constitutionally recognized as nothing more than sub-human property. This, in

itself, did not offer much prospect to black slaves, in terms of legal recourse in the courts.

This was the very point that Frederick Douglas was harboring on in his Fourth of

July speech. He said that although the “Negro race” has advanced, both socially and

academically, nevertheless, they have yet to be accorded with the proper social standing

due to them. Even though, he says, amongst the social ranks of the black community are

lawyers, doctors, ministers, academics, fathers, mothers and children, still, blacks “are

called upon to prove that we are men!”

Another difference between the views of Justice Taney and Frederick Douglas, is

the angle in which they see all of this. Justice Taney, in his tenure as a U.S. Supreme

Court Justice, is forced to look at it from a constitutional and legal and of course, a

logical perspective. His feelings on the question of black servitude and citizenship must

manifest itself in his legal opinion, which he writes for the court.

Frederick Douglas, on the other hand, although a respected figure amongst many,

takes not the political perspective, but more of a moral, and even religous outlook. This

evident throughout his writings, were he refers to Americans (in his time) as hypocrits.

Furthermore, he would usually end off his talks, albeit fiery and harsh, but also optimistic

and upbeat, with quotes from the bible. “I walk by faith and not by sight”, was a

desperate attempt to point out to blacks that they indeed had a future in America.

To Frederick Douglas, slavery should never have been a legal question, especially

when looking for direction in the spirit of the law, and the framer’s intent. In his Fourth

of July speech, he began by recounting, and heralding the American Framers of the

Constitution, and the great men that they were. He explained how their revolution came

about as a result of them not being in agreement with the laws as well as the ideals of the

fatherland (England). “They went so far in their excitement as to pronounce the measures

of government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and altogether such as ought not to

be quietly submitted to”. He urged his listeners to take a lesson in that respect from their

forefathers, and not to simply use their fathers to “eulogize the wisdom and virtues of

their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own”.

After reading the works of both Fredrick Douglas, as well as the decision Justice

Taney wrote on this case, one cannot help but look in astonishment at the prevailing

political and moral ideals held by many in the United States, at the time of the Civil War

(and after), versus that same culture held by people in the United States today. Justice

Taney never denied that blacks were human beings (or, 3/5 of a human being), rather,

they were of a lower life form, and as such, served only one purpose – to serve the white


It is further astonishing to note how Justice Taney and Frederick Douglas, drew a

parallel for their reasoning from that of the political and moral culture held by the

founding fathers, respectively, and yet, each concluded differently.

Ultimatly, this prevailing political environment, had gripped the hearts and minds

of all Americans during that trying era. The fate of the Nation was eventually to be

decided on the battlefield, in one of the costliest and bloodiest wars this nation has ever


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