Little Bits of History

From Property to Human

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 26, 2014
Dred Scott

Dred Scott

May 26, 1857: Dred Scott becomes a free man. Dred (Sam) Scott was born into slavery around 1799 in Southampton County, Virginia. He belonged to the Peter Blow family. He had an older brother named Dred, and when he died, Sam assumed the name in his honor. The Blow family moved to Huntsville, Alabama and were unsuccessful in farming endeavors there. In 1830, they moved to St. Louis, Missouri and sold Dred to John Emerson, a doctor serving with the US Army. In 1836, Dred met Harriet Robison, a teenaged slave belonging to Major Lawrence Taliaferro who was from Virginia. They were permitted to marry and Taliaferro transferred ownership of Harriet to Emerson. Emerson himself married and both new families moved frequently and returned to Missouri where in 1842 Emerson left the army.

They moved to the Iowa Territory in 1843 and Emerson died, leaving his estate to his wife, Irene. She now owned the Scotts and she leased them out as hired slaves for the next three years. In 1846, Scott attempted to purchase his family from Irene but she refused to sell. Since he couldn’t buy his freedom, he filed suit in St. Louis Circuit Court. Scott v Emerson was heard in the federal-state courthouse in St. Louis in 1847 and the judgment went to Emerson but the evidence was deemed hearsay and so the judge called for a retrial. In 1850, a Missouri jury found that Scott and his family should be freed as they were illegally held as slaves during their extended residence in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was illegal.

Because women weren’t of much better standing that slaves, it was found that when Emerson died, his property should have been transferred to his wife’s brother, John Sanford, a resident of New York. So Scott’s lawyers brought a case in New York claiming diverse citizenship and the case was filed in federal court. Scott again lost and so the case was brought to the US Supreme Court in Dred Scott v Sandford (typo by a clerk) and the high court found that any one of African descent, whether slave or free, was not a citizen of the US, according to the Constitution. It also found the Ordinance of 1787 did not apply to non-whites. The Act of 1820 (the Missouri Compromise) was also not valid. In short, African-Americans had no claim to freedom or citizenship.

Scott was returned to Irene whose brother had been committed to an insane asylum in the interim. In 1850, Irene had remarried Calvin Chaffee, an abolitionist and member of the US Congress. He was unaware until shortly before the marriage, that his wife owned the most famous slave in the country. He persuaded his wife to return the Scott family to the Blow family, the original owners but they were now living in Missouri and had becomes opponents of slavery. So only three months after the Supreme Court ruling, Henry Blow freed Scott, his wife, and their two daughters. Only 17 months later, Scott died of tuberculosis in St. Louis where he had supported his family working as a porter.

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. – Abraham Lincoln

Elimination of illiteracy is as serious an issue to our history as the abolition of slavery. – Maya Angelou

I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery. – George Washington

Racism, xenophobia and unfair discrimination have spawned slavery, when human beings have bought and sold and owned and branded fellow human beings as if they were so many beasts of burden. – Desmond Tutu

Also on this day: Who Was That? – In 1828 a strange teenager is found on the streets.
Complex Napoleon – In 1805, Napoleon was crowned King of Italy.
Sailing to Oblivion – In 1854, Khufu or Cheops’ ship was discovered.
Alse Young – In 1647, Alse was hung as a witch.

Civil Rights Act

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 11, 2013
President Johnson signing the bill into law

President Johnson signing the bill into law

April 11, 1968: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968 into law. This act provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed, or national origin. Housing discrimination laws do not mean that landlords must accept all tenants. Objective business criteria are lawful reasons for discriminating among prospective tenants. Bad credit and low or no income are legitimate reasons to not lease, but must be applied universally.

The 1968 act provided for the equal opportunity to buy or lease housing. In 1988, it was amended to include people with disabilities and families with children. The 1968 bill passed the Senate 71-20 with 71.2% of Democrats and 90.6% of Republicans voting in favor. The House passed it 250-172 with 63% of Democrats and 54.3% of Republicans voting for it. There was a statute of limitations giving wronged parties one year to approach the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with complaints.

The 1968 act was a continuation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which was an improvement on the 14th Amendment that was ratified on July 9, 1868, two years after it was first proposed. After the Civil War, America enacted laws to ensure Due Process and Equal Protection to the newly freed slaves. The 14th Amendment gives a definition to citizenship which overturned the Dred Scott case of 1857.

Civil rights have been an issue worldwide. John Locke, an Englishman who lived in the 17th century, argued that life, liberty, and property should be civil rights and protected by the state. One way to assure your rights are protected is by having a voice in your government. In the US, the 15th Amendment (1870) allowed voting to all, regardless of race and the 19th Amendment (1920) finally gave the vote to women, as well. In the UK the Reform Act 1832 allowed 1 in 7 males (property owners) the vote. Over time, more and more men were given the opportunity to have a say in their governing bodies. By 1928, even women were given the vote.

“Nations begin to dig their own graves when men talk more of human rights and less of human duties.” – William J. H. Boetcker

“We need not concern ourselves much about rights of property if we faithfully observe the rights of persons.” – Calvin Coolidge

“I am the inferior of any man whose rights I trample underfoot.” – Horace Greeley

“Majorities must recognize that minorities have rights which ought not to be extinguished and they must remember that history can be written as the record of the follies of the majority.” – Lindsay Rogers

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Dred Scott was born in Virginia in 1795. He was born a slave however he, his wife, and their two daughters lived with his master Dr. John Emerson in states and territories where slavery was illegal. He sued for his freedom, along with his family’s. The court system heard the case and when it reached the Supreme Court, Dred Scott V. Sandford was decided against Scott in a 7-2 decision. It was decided by the Court that neither Scott nor any person of African ancestry could claim to be citizens of the US. Not being a citizen meant that he could not bring suit in a federal court. Just as an aside, the Court also said that living in a free territory did not mean that he was a free man and he remained the property of his master.

Also on this day: Coming to America – In 1890 Ellis Island becomes the national immigration center.
Elks – In 1876, the Elks were organized.
Joe, Not John – In 1890, the Elephant Man died.