No Right to Respect: Dred Scott and the Southern Honor Culture, 42 New Eng. L. Rev. 79 (2007)Faculty Scholarship
AbstractThis Article reflects on the infamous decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857), in which the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of slavery. This Article considers this infamous case and the distance the nation has come since it was decided as well as its continuing legacy on the contemporary American struggle for racial equality. In Dred Scott the Court held that slavery was constitutional because it was consistent with the intent of the Framers and because black people were "a subordinate and inferior class of beings who... whether emancipated or not.., had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." This Article argues that when Chief Justice Taney, writing for the majority of the Court, wrote those infamous words he was also saying that blacks had no right to be respected by whites. This Article is the first scholarly effort to analyze Dred Scott in terms of the implications that may be drawn from its roots in the values and dynamics of the honor culture of the Old South where respect and honor were fundamental organizing principals. This Article argues that although Dred Scott is no longer controlling legal authority, the racial ideology of white disrespect for blacks it articulated and incorporated into American constitutional law, is a continuing dynamic of contemporary race relations and has exerted a powerful influence on virtually every aspect of America's racial discourse for the past 150 years. This Article concludes that one of the principal legacies of Dred Scott is the way these racial ideologies have insidiously sabotaged and undermined many of the national efforts to shake off the racial shackles of the past and achieve meaningful racial equality in America. One of the principal ways to overcome this legacy is first to recognize its continuing influence on contemporary racial reality and then to enunciate public policies designed to expose and resist some of the core values and dynamics that fuel its power.
Citation InformationCecil J. Hunt II, No Right to Respect: Dred Scott and the Southern Honor Culture, 42 New Eng. L. Rev. 79 (2007).