Sunday, February 18, 2007

Stern on the Supreme Court's impact on Twain

Bezalel Stern, Columbia (JD 07), has posted an article that appeared recently in the Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts: Huck Finn and the Civil Rights Cases: A Case Study in Supreme Court Influence. Here's the abstract:

I intend to show in this study that Mark Twain's adventures of Huckleberry Finn was inherently shaped by, among other factors, a number of momentous decisions of the Supreme Court. These were decisions which strived to project the American society of the ante-bellum period into the post-bellum world. The decisions of the Supreme Court in the post-bellum period, coupled with a severe change in the political and social atmosphere of the late 1870s and early 1880s, combined to create an environment of severe retrogression, specifically when it came to racial integration and interactions. As this Essay will show, the Supreme Court's decisions in this series of cases, while widely believed to have been wrongly decided today, nevertheless had a great deal of influence in halting or stalling many of the advances of the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Acts. Indeed, I will argue that the judicial retardation of the egalitarian movement of the nation during and immediately after the Civil War had the effect of ossifying the progression towards civil rights and civil liberties in a manner far more dramatic than the political and social anti-egalitarian forces of the time could have hoped to achieve. Additionally, and centrally for the purposes of this Essay, those judicial decisions were instrumental in the reshaping of Twain's classic text.
For more on Twain and 19th century legal history, the work of Brook Thomas is an important place to start. His chapter "Twain, Tourgée, and the Logic of 'Separate but Equal,'" in American Literary Realism and the Failed Promise of Contract (Univ. of California Press, 1997) can even be found on-line, here.