Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Finkelman's "Supreme Injustice"

Paul Finkelman, the new President of Gratz College, has published Supreme Injustice: Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court, with the Harvard University Press:
The three most important Supreme Court Justices before the Civil War—Chief Justices John Marshall and Roger B. Taney and Associate Justice Joseph Story—upheld the institution of slavery in ruling after ruling. These opinions cast a shadow over the Court and the legacies of these men, but historians have rarely delved deeply into the personal and political ideas and motivations they held. In Supreme Injustice, the distinguished legal historian Paul Finkelman establishes an authoritative account of each justice’s proslavery position, the reasoning behind his opposition to black freedom, and the incentives created by circumstances in his private life.

Finkelman uses census data and other sources to reveal that Justice Marshall aggressively bought and sold slaves throughout his lifetime—a fact that biographers have ignored. Justice Story never owned slaves and condemned slavery while riding circuit, and yet on the high court he remained silent on slave trade cases and ruled against blacks who sued for freedom. Although Justice Taney freed many of his own slaves, he zealously and consistently opposed black freedom, arguing in Dred Scott that free blacks had no Constitutional rights and that slave owners could move slaves into the Western territories. Finkelman situates this infamous holding within a solid record of support for slavery and hostility to free blacks.

Supreme Injustice boldly documents the entanglements that alienated three major justices from America’s founding ideals and embedded racism ever deeper in American civic life.
Here are two endorsements:

    “Paul Finkelman is by any account one of our leading historians of American slavery and the law. His incontrovertible and startling findings about the involvement of Justice Marshall in slave owning and selling, and Justice Story’s pro-slavery decision in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, are essential reading for anyone interested in American constitutional development in the antebellum era and its enduring influence on American law and society.”—Sanford Levinson, author of An Argument Open to All: Reading ‘The Federalist’ in the 21st Century

    “Scholarly, hard-hitting and relevant. Finkelman’s book is a must-read for those who seek to understand the permeating influence of slavery in the development of antebellum law.”—R. Kent Newmyer, author of The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr: Law, Politics, and the Character Wars of the New Nation

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