Was Dred Scott Decided Correctly? Rethinking slavery, the constitution and the coming of the Civil War

The question at the center of the Dred Scott v. Sanford case of 1856 was whether a slave is still a piece of property when he's in a free state. Scott was a slave from Virginia via Missouri who claimed that because he spent time in various free territories (including Fort Snelling) with his Army-doctor owner, he was a free man. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was determined that Scott had no right to sue at all as he was not a citizen of the United States. Besides which, the decision stated, the Fifth Amendment prevented the government from depriving its citizens of property without due process. With that, the Supreme Court overturned the Missouri Compromise. The result enraged abolitionists and, some would argue, pushed the country down the path toward the Civil War. The question at the center of Professor Paul Finkelman's keynote address is whether the justices were adhering to constitutional law when they made their decision. It is a question that, no doubt, still resonates today. The Military Commissions Act similarly strips a specific group of people, in this case the detainees at Guantánamo Bay, of their right to habeas corpus. Is the U.S. government repeating a 150-year-old mistake?
Thu., Sept. 6, 7 p.m.


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