links for 2007-08-21
Joe Klein Is Shrill!

Law Professor Mark Graber Strikes Again

When last we saw law professor Mark Graber, he was celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday weekend by asserting that Roger Taney's opinion in Dred Scott was sound--an act of judicial statesmanship--and had wedged himself into a position to the right of John C. Calhoun, arguing that the 1787 U.S. Constitution incorporated principle of "concurrent majorities" that made it substantively unconstitutional for legislation affecting slavery to be passed by a section-specific majority.

Now Mark Graber is back: This time it is one of the most bizarre ripping-of-quotations-from-context I have ever seen, asserting that the differences on slavery between Roger B. Taney and Abraham Lincoln were "almost trivial." In making this argument, Graber lets Lincoln speak for one single clause before silencing him and hustling him offstage:

Balkinization: A good case can be made for tearing down the bust of Roger Brooke Taney that stands in front of the city hall in Frederick.... Taney wrote the opinion for the Supreme Court in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856)... that persons of color could not be American citizens and that slavery could not be prohibited in American territories.... While the bulldozers are rented, we might get our money’s worth and tear down all statues honoring Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln insisted he "never complained especially of the Dred Scott decision because it held that a negro could not be a citizen..."

From a contemporary perspective, the differences between Lincoln and Taney seem almost trivial. The sixteenth president opposed making persons of color citizens of Illinois, advocated federal fugitive slave laws, endorsed slaveholding in the nation’s capital, and insisted that the federal government had no power to interfere with slavery in any state in which human bondage was legal. Their only serious dispute was over whether slaveholders could take their human property to North Dakota, a place few if any slaveholders had expressed interest in settling...

Let us bring Abraham Lincoln back on stage, and let him say more than the nineteen words from his Alton speech that Graber lets him say. Here is what Lincoln said about the "almost trivial" differences between him and the anti-anti-slavery Democrats like Stephen Douglas (let along the pro-slavery Democrats like Roger Taney):

Last Joint Debate, at Alton. Mr. Lincoln's Reply. Lincoln, Abraham. 1897. Political Debates Between Lincoln and Douglas: Judge Douglas... says he “don’t care whether [slavery] is voted up or voted down” in the Territories. I do not care myself, in dealing with that expression, whether it is intended to be expressive of his individual sentiments on the subject, or only of the national policy he desires to have established. It is alike valuable for my purpose. Any man can say that who does not see anything wrong in slavery; but no man can logically say it who does see a wrong in it, because no man can logically say he don’t care whether a wrong is voted up or voted down. He may say he don’t care whether an indifferent thing is voted up or down, but he must logically have a choice between a right thing and a wrong thing. He contends that whatever community wants slaves has a right to have them. So they have, if it is not a wrong. But if it is a wrong, he cannot say people have a right to do wrong.... You may turn over everything in the Democratic policy from beginning to end, whether in the shape it takes on the statute book, in the shape it takes in the Dred Scott decision, in the shape it takes in conversation, or the shape it takes in short maxim-like arguments, it everywhere carefully excludes the idea that there is anything wrong in [slavery].

That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles—-right and wrong—-throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle...

Mark Graber may think this difference is "almost trivial." I cannot find anybody else who does.