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.
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