Mar 06 2011

On This Day in History March 6

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 6 is the 65th day of the year (66th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 300 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1857, the US Supreme Court hands down its decision on Sanford v. Dred Scott, a case that intensified national divisions over the issue of slavery.

Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves (or their descendants, whether or not they were slaves) were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S. citizens. The court also held that the U.S. Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories and that, because slaves were not citizens, they could not sue in court. Furthermore, the Court ruled that slaves, as chattels or private property, could not be taken away from their owners without due process. The Supreme Court’s decision was written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.

Although the Supreme Court has never overruled the Dred Scott case, the Court stated in the Slaughter-House Cases of 1873 that at least one part of it had already been overruled by the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868:

   The first observation we have to make on this clause is, that it puts at rest both the questions which we stated to have been the subject of differences of opinion. It declares that persons may be citizens of the United States without regard to their citizenship of a particular State, and it overturns the Dred Scott decision by making all persons born within the United States and subject to its jurisdiction citizens of the United States.

The Decision

The Supreme Court ruling was handed down on March 6, 1857, just two days after Buchanan’s inauguration. Chief Justice Taney delivered the opinion of the Court, with each of the concurring and dissenting Justices filing separate opinions. In total, six Justices agreed with the ruling; Samuel Nelson concurred with the ruling but not its reasoning, and Benjamin R. Curtis and John McLean dissented. The court misspelled Sanford’s name in the decision.

Opinion of the Court

The Court first had to decide whether it had jurisdiction. Article III, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution provides that “the judicial Power shall extend… to Controversies… between Citizens of different States….” The Court held that Scott was not a “citizen of a state” within the meaning of the United States Constitution, as that term was understood at the time the Constitution was adopted, and therefore not able to bring suit in federal court. Furthermore, whether a person is a citizen of a state, for Article III purposes, was a question to be decided by the federal courts irrespective of any state’s definition of “citizen” under its own law.

Thus, whether Missouri recognized Scott as a citizen was irrelevant. Taney summed up,

   Consequently, no State, since the adoption of the Constitution, can by naturalizing an alien invest him with the rights and privileges secured to a citizen of a State under the Federal Government, although, so far as the State alone was concerned, he would undoubtedly be entitled to the rights of a citizen, and clothed with all the rights and immunities which the Constitution and laws of the State attached to that character.

This meant that

   no State can, by any act or law of its own, passed since the adoption of the Constitution, introduce a new member into the political community created by the Constitution of the United States.

The only relevant question, therefore, was whether, at the time the Constitution was ratified, Scott could have been considered a citizen of any state within the meaning of Article III. According to the Court, the authors of the Constitution had viewed all blacks as

   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.

The Court also presented a parade of horribles argument as to the feared results of granting Mr. Scott’s petition:

   It would give to persons of the negro race, …the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.

Scott was not a citizen of Missouri, and the federal courts therefore lacked jurisdiction to hear the dispute.

Despite the conclusion that the Court lacked jurisdiction, however, it went on to hold (in what Republicans would label its “obiter dictum”) that Scott was not a free man, even though he had resided for a time in Minnesota (then called the Wisconsin Territory). The Court held that the provisions of the Missouri Compromise declaring it to be free territory were beyond Congress’s power to enact. The Court rested its decision on the grounds that Congress’s power to acquire territories and create governments within those territories was limited. They held that the Fifth Amendment barred any law that would deprive a slaveholder of his property, such as his slaves, because he had brought them into a free territory. The Court went on to state – although the issue was not before the Court – that the territorial legislatures had no power to ban slavery. The ruling also asserted that neither slaves “nor their descendants, were embraced in any of the other provisions of the Constitution” that protected non-citizens.

This was only the second time in United States history that the Supreme Court had found an act of Congress to be unconstitutional. (The first time was 54 years earlier in Marbury v. Madison).

 1454 – Thirteen Years’ War: Delegates of the Prussian Confederation pledge allegiance to King Casimir IV of Poland who agrees to commit his forces in aiding the Confederation’s struggle for independence from the Teutonic Knights.

1521 – Ferdinand Magellan arrives at Guam.

1788 – The First Fleet arrives at Norfolk Island in order to found a convict settlement.

1820 – The Missouri Compromise is signed into law by President James Monroe. The compromise allows Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state, but makes the rest of the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase territory slavery-free.

1834 – York, Upper Canada is incorporated as Toronto.

1836 – Texas Revolution: Battle of the Alamo – After a thirteen day siege by an army of 3,000 Mexican troops, the 187 Texas volunteers defending the Alamo are defeated and the fort is captured.

1840 – Baltimore College of Dental Surgery Opened, the first Dental school.

1857 – Supreme Court of the United States rules in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case.

1869 – Dmitri Mendeleev presents the first periodic table to the Russian Chemical Society.

1899 – Bayer registers aspirin as a trademark.

1921 – Portuguese Communist Party is founded as the Portuguese Section of the Communist International.

1945 – Cologne is captured by American Troops.

1946 – Ho Chi Minh signs an agreement with France which recognizes Vietnam as an autonomous state in the Indochinese Federation and the French Union.

1951 – The trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg begins.

1953 – Georgy Maksimilianovich Malenkov succeeds Joseph Stalin as Premier of the Soviet Union and First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

1964 – Nation of Islam’s Elijah Muhammad officially gives boxing champion Cassius Clay the name Muhammad Ali.

1964 – Constantine II becomes King of Greece.

1965 – Premier Tom Playford of South Australia loses power after 27 years in office.

1967 – Joseph Stalin’s daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva defects to the United States.

1970 – Blast at Weather Underground safe house in Greenwich Village kills three.

1975 – For the first time, ever, the Zapruder film of the assassination of John F. Kennedy was shown in motion to a national TV audience by Robert J. Groden and Dick Gregory.

1975 – Algiers Accord: Iran and Iraq announce a settlement of their border dispute.

1981 – After 19 years of presenting the CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite signs off for the last time.

1983 – The first United States Football League game is played.

1987 – The British ferry MS Herald of Free Enterprise capsizes in about 90 seconds killing 193.

1988 – Three Provisional Irish Republican Army volunteers are killed by Special Air Service on the territory of Gibraltar in the conclusion of Operation Flavius.

1992 – Michelangelo computer virus begins to affect computers.

Holidays and observances

   * Alamo Day (Texas)

   * Christian Feast Day:

         o Chrodegang

         o Colette

         o Fridolin

         o Kyneburga, Kyneswide and Tibba

         o Marcian of Tortona

         o Olegarius

         o March 6 (Eastern Orthodox liturgics)

   * Commemoration of Perpetua and her companions, martyrs, Africa (Anglicanism)

   * Foundation Day, the founding of Norfolk Island in 1788. (Territory of Norfolk Island)

   * Independence Day, celebrates the independence of Ghana from the United Kingdom in 1957. (Ghana)

1 comment

  1. TMC

    Nate Silver tweets:

    Would love to see odds on this: Will the Republican presidential nominee appear in public with Gov. Scott Walker after Labor Day 2012?

    I would love to see the odds on Scott Walker appearing on Labor Day at all in 2012 that’s if he’s still governor.

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