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NO BUST FOR AUTHOR OF DRED SCOTT
SPEECH IN THE SENATE, ON A BILL PROVIDING FOR A BUST OF THE
LATE CHIEF JUSTICE TANEY, FEBRUARY 23, 1865.
FEBRUARY 23d, Mr. Trumbull moved to proceed with the consideration of a bill from the House of Representatives requiring the Joint Committee of the two Houses on the Library to contract with a suitable artist for the execution in marble, and delivery in the Supreme Court Room of the United States, in the Capitol, of a bust of the late Chief Justice Taney, and appropriating one thousand dollars for this purpose. On the question of taking it up, Mr. Sumner said: “I object. An emancipated country should not make a bust of the author of the Dred Scott decision.” The motion to take up prevailed, when Mr. Sumner said :
R. PRESIDENT, - I objected to this joint reso
lution, when it was reported by the Senator from Illinois Mr. TRUMBULL], and he was disposed to hurry it upon the Senate, to the exclusion of important busi
I objected to it again to-day; but it was from no indisposition to discuss it.
I know well the trivial apology which may be made for this proposition, and the Senator from Maryland [Mr. JOHNSON] has already shown something of the hardihood with which it may be defended. In the performance of public duty I am indifferent to both.
The apology is too obvious. "Nothing but good of the dead.” This is a familiar saying, which, to a cer
tain extent, is acknowledged. But it is entirely inapplicable, when statues and busts are proposed in honor of the dead. Then, at least, truth must prevail.
If a man has done evil during life, he must not be complimented in marble. And if indiscreetly it is proposed to decree this signal honor, then the evil he has done must be exposed; nor shall any false delicacy seal my lips. It is not enough that he held high place, that he enjoyed worldly honors, or was endowed with intellectual gifts.
“Who wickedly is wise, or madly brave,
Is but the more a fool, the more a knave." What is the office of Chief Justice, if it has been used to betray Human Rights? The crime is great according to the position of the criminal.
If asked, Sir, to inention the incident of our history, previous to the Rebellion, most worthy of condemnation, most calculated to cause the blush of shame, and most deadly in its consequences, I do not doubt that you would name the Dred Scott decision, and especially the unhallowed assertion of the Chief Justice. I say this with pain. I do not seek this debate. But when a proposition is made to honor the author of this enormity with a commemorative bust, at the expense of the country, I am obliged to speak plainly.
I am not aware that the English judges who decided contrary to Liberty in the case of ship-money, sustaining the king in those pretensions which ended in Civil War, have ever been commemorated in marble. I am not aware that Jeffreys, Chief Justice and Chancellor of England, famous for talents as for crimes, has found any niche in Westminster Hall. No, Sir. They have been left to the judgment of history; and there I insist
that Taney shall be left in sympathetic companionship. Each was the tool of unjust power.
But the power Taney served was none other than that Slave Power which has involved the country in hideous war.
I speak what cannot be denied, when I declare that the opinion of the Chief Justice in the case of Dred Scott was more thoroughly abominable than anything of the kind in the history of courts. Then and there judicial baseness reached its lowest point. You have not forgotten that terrible decision, where an unrighteous judgment was sustained by falsification of history. Of course the Constitution of the United States and every principle of Liberty were falsified; but historical truth was falsified also. I have here the authentic report of the case, where it appears that the Chief Justice, while enforcing his unjust conclusion, blasting a whole race, used the following language.
“It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in relation to that unfortunate race, which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted. But the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken.
• 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 that time fixed and universal in the civil
ized portion of the white race. It was regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics, which no one thought of disputing, or supposed to be open to dispute.” 1
In these words, solemnly and authoritatively uttered by the Chief Justice of the United States, humanity and truth were set at nought, and the whole country was humbled. “Then I and you and all of us fell down, whilst bloody Slavery flourished over us."
I quote his words fully, so that there can be no mistake. Here, then, is his expressed assertion, that at the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the adoption of the National Constitution in 1789, in Europe as well as in our own country, colored men were regarded as having "no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Now, Sir, this is false, terribly false. It is notorious that there were States of the Union, where, at the adoption of the Constitution, colored persons were free, and even in the enjoyment of the electoral franchise, while in England the Somerset case had already decided that there could be no distinction of persons on account of color, and Scotland, France, and Holland had all declared the same rule. Even Spain had spoken by the voice of some of her best children. So had Portugal. So also had Italy, and the Catholic Church. On this point there is no question. And yet this Chief Justice, whom you would honor with a marble bust, had the strange effrontery to declare that at that time, as well abroad as at home, colored men were regarded as having “no rights which the white man was bound to respect"; and this he said to justify a brutal inter
1 Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 Howard, R., 407.
pretation of the Constitution. Search judicial annals and you find no perversion of truth more flagrant.
Sir, it is not fit, it is not decent, that such a person should be commemorated by a vote of Congress, – especially at this time, when Liberty is at last recognized. If you have money to commemorate the dead, let it be in honor of the defenders of Liberty gathered to their fathers. There was John Quincy Adams. There, also, was Joshua R. Giddings. Let their busts be placed in the Court-Room, where with marble lips they can plead always for human rights, teaching judge and advocate the glory and the beauty of justice. Then will you do something not entirely unworthy of a regenerated land, something to be an example for future times, something to help fix the standard of history.
I know that in the Court-Room there are busts of the other Chief Justices. Very well. So in the Hall of the Doges, at Venice, there are pictures of all who filled that high office in unbroken succession, with the exception of Marino Falieri, who, although as venerable from years as Taney, was deemed unworthy of a place in the historic line. Where his picture should have been is a vacant space, testifying always to the justice of the Republic. Let such a vacant space in our Court-Room testify to the justice of our Republic, and may it speak in warning to every one who would betray Liberty!
The appropriation was vindicated by Mr. Trumbull, Mr. Reverdy Johnson, of Maryland, and Mr. Carlile, of West Virginia. It was opposed by Mr. Hale, of New Hampshire, Mr. Wilson, of Massachusetts, and Mr. Wade, of Ohio. Mr. Sumner then obtained the floor.