American Revolution: A Hypocrisy in The Making

Updated: Jul 13, 2019

The American Revolution was the result of conflict between the colonist and the British government. Prior to the revolution, the colonist had no representatives in Parliament, new tax laws, privacy violating search warrants, and other laws that led the colonist to feel that their rights were being violated.


The U.S. Bill of Rights

To avoid the abuses suffered under the British, the American people created a list of powers that would be denied to the U.S. federal government. Certain provisions of "due process" and "equal protection" would also apply to the states. However, the African American community has struggled in its quest for protection under the Constitution's Bill of Rights.


THE DRED SCOTT DECISION

There is nothing in the annals of American jurisprudence that has contributed to an assignment of inferiority to the African American community more than the Dred Scott decision.

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, a former slave owner, provided the decision in the case finding that:

  • Dred Scott had no standing in the court system because blacks, regardless of whether they were free or slave, were not and could not be citizens.

  • A slave was the property of the slave owner and that temporary residence north of the Missouri Compromise’s 1830 line did not bestow freedom.

  • Congress, under the Fifth Amendment, lacked the authority to deprive citizens of their property, a ruling that served to wipe out the slavery provisions of the Missouri Compromise.

The court's decision employs strong prejudice and hateful rhetoric throughout the decision. In the holding, Justice Taney distinguished the powers afforded to states and the federal government with regard to citizenship. In conclusion, Justice Taney declared that citizenship in the United States itself belonged to the descendants of Europeans present in 1787:

It is true, every person, and every class and description of persons who were at the time of the adoption of the Constitution recognized as citizens in the several states, became also citizens of this new political body; but none other; it was formed by them and for them and their posterity, but for no one else.

According to Taney, Europeans who were present in 1787 were the only "persons" entitled to the right of citizenship. He accepted that those Europeans could extend an offer of new citizenship to immigrants of similar background, but he denied that this could be done for African slaves of their descendants.

They had for more than a century before been regarded 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; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic whenever a profit could be made by it. This opinion was at the time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race.

Although any state might have the authority to grant state citizenship to blacks, this would not confer United States citizenship. Consequently, states could not fail to comply with the Fugitive Slave Act where Congress, under the powers given it by the United States Constitution, required all non-slave states to return any slave that was illegally separated from its master.


The Dred Scott decision provoked generally predictable responses and contributed to sentiments that lead to the American Civil War.


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