Law can be a doubled-edged sword. It can be used to both oppress and to seek justice. The arc of Anglo-American legal history has been to protect individual rights and property, elements that are inextricably linked. The most conscipuous failure for an extended period in American juris prudence was race. This was an issue not touch on by English common law at the time of the foundation of the American colonies, but slave laws based on race were adopted in each of the American colonies and were especially important in the South where most Aficans were impted and where the aboliionist Movement made little progress after the foundation of the United States (1776). Even during the skave era, there wre some legal victories for Africans, nost notably the decesion in the Constitution to abolish the save trade (1809) and the Amistad trial (1839-40). The overwealming legal novement in the North was toward freedom and in the South toward strenthening slavery. This division led to the Fugative Save Law (1850) and perhaps the worst decision in Suprme Court history --the Dread Scott decsion (1857). Ultiately the savery issue privedc beyond the capacity of law and politics to reslove. Thus only the Civil War.aterrible national bloodletting, resolved the issue. And ultimately three amendmets to the Constitution resolvd the issue. Most black Americams who at the time lived in the south were unable to fully realize the benefits of emancipation because of the Black Codes passed by Southern Lehisatures tablishing the Jim Crow system. This was confirmed by the Supreme Court in Plessy vs. Fergusson estabkishing the seoarate but equal doctrine (1898). This did not change until the Supreme Court strucj down raial segregation in the Brown vs, Topeka decision (1954). The 14th and 15th amendments were used to undo the Jim Crow system of the South. Congression passage of two civil rights (1964-65) furtheredthat process. The American jury system was a further impediment to racial justic, at least unil racila minorities achieved the right to vote in the South and thus began to appear in the jury pool. This led to miscarrrriages of justice such as the Scottsboro boys and George Stinney here (figure 1).
The arc of Anglo-American legal history has been to protect individual rights and property, elements that are inextricably linked. The most conscipuous failure for an extended period in American jurisprudence was race. This was an issue not touch on by English common law at the time of the foundation of the American colonies. The first slavesin American were nitially treated as indentured servants, a precedent for whuch dis excist in English law. As more Africans were purchased and indenturedservitude proved unsustanable in the Colonies, each colonial legislature began adopting slave laws based on race. This legal structure was especially important in the South where most Aficans were imported. After the American Revolution (1776-83), the issue of slavery was avoided because it would have broken up the United States at its very birth.
lavery was not a major issues durng theRevolutinary War and theArticles of Condederation because there was such a weak central government. This changed with ratification of the new Federal Contitution. The Constitution did not mention slavery by name, but indirectly recognzed the institution by leaving it a matter of state law. The Constitution took some actions against slavery, setting a date to end the slave trade and limiting the voting power of slavestates by not counting the slaves as afull person in allocating representation in the House of Representatives. By not addressing slavery, th Constitution left the individual states to decided the issue, esentially preseving the institution in the South. At the time, slavery was considered a dieing institution because of its inhrent inefficiencies. Many in both the North and South believed that slavery would slowly disappear even in the South. This is exactly what occurred in the North, but not in the Souh.
Eli Witney's invention of the cotton gin radically transformed the Amricann economy. Cotton had been a minor crop before the cotton gin provided an effocent method of removing the seeds from the cotton. In a short period, cotton went from a minor crop to King Cotton--a crop which dominated southern agriculture. Cotton provided the perfect crop for plantation agriculture andslaves providedthe work force. Cotton and slavery did not only transform the South, but also the North. Cotton provided the raw material and the export earings needed to industrialize the North. While the North and South were connected ecnomically, legal systems developed very differently. Led by the Abolitionist Movement, one northern state after another moved to ablolish slavery. The Abolitionist Movement made little progress in the South. And in fact after the Nat Turner Rebellion (1831), the southern states passed even more restructive slave codes, further restrictging the lives of slaves. Even during the slave era, there wre some legal victories for Africans, most notably the decesion in the Constitution to abolish the save trade (1808) and the fledgling U.S. Navy joined the Royal Navy in anti-slave trade patrols off West Africa. The Amistad trial (1839-40) electrified the nation. The overwealming legal movement in the North was toward freedom and in the South toward strenthening slavery. This division led to the Fugative Save Law (1850) and perhaps the worst decision in Supreme Court history--the Dread Scott decsion (1857). America was left as presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln described as half slave and haf free.
Ultimately the savery issue proved beyond the capacity of American law and politics to reslove. Thus only the Civil War, a terrible national bloodletting, resolved the issue. President Lincoln did not have the power to abolish slavery. The southrn slave states had the votes in Congress to block any presidential action. And as the Dread Scoot deceion had shown, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Taney stood willing to block any Federal action agamst slavery. Only Southern secession and presidential war powers gave the President te ability to act. The result was the Emancipation Proclamation (1863). It actually changed very little, but in fact set the Federal Government firmly on the path of abolition, delivery a blow to slavery as a institution from which it could never recover.
The central step taken during Reconstruction, in effect the crown jewels, was the passage of the 13th-15th amendments which abolished slavery and guaranted the civil rights, including the right to vote, of the freed slaves and guaranteed the equal protection of the law. The Emancipation proclamation was an exective order and open to legal chalenge. It was inevitable that once the former Condereate states were readmitted to the Union that slave owners would sue in the Federal courts for the return of their property. Only incorporation emancipation in the Constitution through an amendment would make emancipation permanent. The Republicans decuded to take the further step of granting citizenship to the frreed slaves. The final amendment resulted from Southern efforts to prevent the freed slaves from voting. White opposition in the South largely undermined the achievement of tee goals invisioned. But enshrined in the Coinstitution, these amendments would evetually make it possible to achieve the goals envisioned.
Ultimately the three amendmets to the Constitution resolvd the slavery abd citzenship issues, but not he race ssue. The hope of real freedom for the emancipated slaves after the Civil War was quashed by racist state governments after the withdrawl of Federal trops in the 1870s. Most black Americans who at the time lived in the south were unable to fully realize the benefits of emancipation State Governments enacted Black Codes which constructed wht became known as Jim Crow laws. The term came from Jim Crow who was a popular antebellum minstrel show character. The gains achieved by blacks during Reconstruction were gradually eroded by racist Jim Crow legislation and extra legal terror fomented by the Klu Klux Klan. Lynchings and mob vilolence througout the South cowed blacks into submission and prevented them from voting in any significant numbers. They were no longer slaves and this in essential was a substantial imprvoment, in many ways--not the least in freedom of movement and stability of family relatinships. They were, however, denined basic civil rights and as a result any substatial economic opportunity. This system was confirmed by the Supreme Court in Plessy vs. Fergusson establishing the separate but equal doctrine (1898). The American jury system was a further impediment to racial justic, at least unil racila minorities achieved the right to vote in the South and thus began to appear in the jury pool. This led to miscarrrriages of justice such as the Scottsboro boys and George Stinney here (figure 1).
The Jim Crow legal system did not change until the Supreme Court struck down racial segregation in the Brown vs, Topeka decision (1954). The 14th and 15th amendments were used to undo the Jim Crow system of the South. Congression passage of two civil rights (1964-65) furthered that process.
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