During the 19th century, slavery became more of a predominant role in the United States. The formation of rules and regulations of slaves and free African Americans was in the process of being established. However, the purpose of most laws were to be authoritative rather than to protect. As the northern states gradually abolished slavery following the Revolutionary War, the lives of slaves in the southern states began to decline. In our book “Celia, A Slave,” Celia is tormented relentlessly by her owner Robert Newsom and doesn’t have the legal right to properly defend herself. Now living in the upper south, throughout the time that Robert Newsom owned Celia, she had a slim to none chance of obtaining freedom of any kind. Slavery was forced labor that relied upon harassment, cruelty, and dehumanization. Being a slave wasn’t just a lifestyle, it was also part of the legal system. After Celia unintentionally murdered her owner Robert Newsom after he repeatedly sexually assaulted her, she was brought in front of a jury of 12 white men who were pro-slavery, which was undoubtedly unfair. Similarly to Celia, Dred Scott also pled for his freedom by going up against the court system multiple times but ultimately ended up losing his battle. Unfortunately, people of color were unable to properly justify their livelihood as a human being. African Americans should have held the right to uphold a fair and just trial without the use of any bias.
In the 19th century, the few rights that slaves had were primarily to rule rather than protect them. Their testimonies in court were unfair, with pro-slavery white men dominating the court system and were unable to rightly defend themselves while being viciously attacked as we see in the cases of Celia and Dred Scott. At the start of Celia’s trial for the murder of Robert Newsom, “… under Missouri law slaves accused of capital crimes were entitled to a court-appointed attorney” (McLaurin 81). Her attorney was decided by judge William Augustus Hall. His views on slavery are unknown, but he searched for someone unbiased and has not affiliated themselves with any pro or anti slave riots. He picked a well respected man named John Jameson, who had a reputation as an outstanding trial attorney to represent Celia’s defense (McLaurin 86). He argued that the murder was the pure act of protecting her own life, but that wasn’t enough to persuade the court. Celia’s attorney opted for a new trial based on “… allowing illegal and incompetent testimony on behalf of the state, excluding legal defense testimony from the jury, refused crucial jury instructions requested by the defense, allowed illegal instructions on behalf of the state, and refused to give the jury legal instructions as to the law of the case prayed for by the defendant” (McLaurin 120). It was clear that Hall was taking wrongful advantage of his position, resulting in the unfortunate outcome of Celia.
Dred Scott believed that he and his family should be awarded their freedom because they have lived in Illinois territory where slavery was unconstitutional. He fought unconditionally for his freedom along with his family. As he took his case of wanting to gain his freedom to the Supreme Court, the justices were extremely prejudiced. “7 had been appointed by pro-slavery presidents from the South, and of these, five were from slave-holding families” (Source 1, 1). The Supreme Court justices claimed that he was not a citizen of Missouri because he was of African descent according to the Constitution of the United States (Source 1, 2). It became clear that they were doing everything in their power to reject the idea of Scott and his family at the possibility of freedom.
During her trial, Celia didn’t seem to have a fair chance of obtaining any freedom. She was sabotaged by the court leaders and with their unjust rulings. She most likely knew that her chances of winning the trial were extremely low because she was a slave and the court expressed bias against her and consisted of 12 white pro-slavery men. Comparably, Dred Scott didn’t get a fair trial although he claimed that he moved to a free state and should obtain his freedom. The court proceeded to declare that “Dred Scott was not a citizen of Missouri within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States, and not entitled as such to sue in its courts; and, consequently, that the Circuit Court had no jurisdiction of the case, and that the judgment on the plea in abatement is erroneous….” (Source 1, 3). The jury undeniably was not interested in giving Scott or his family any kind of freedom because they believed it was unconstitutional, though they didn’t take into account that every man is created equal in their decisions.
One of the most nationally debated issues of the 19th century was if slavery should expand in the western territories. The north wanted to slowly end the spread of slavery and eventually have it become abolished, meanwhile the south was pushing for the expansion of slavery. The Free State Party was an anti-slavery organization created in the Kansas territory (McLaurin 76). “The committee was also empowered to plan a strategy that would result in Kansas’s entrance into the union as a free state. Delegates chose Lane to chair yet another crucial committee, “the committee will address the people,” which was charged with justifying the convention’s actions to the public” (McLaurin 77). This committee was formed to eventually make each state a free state by fulfilling promises made to the people. It was a difficult task to complete because the nation was so divided between pro and anti slavery movements. Unfortunately, this extreme division of the nation resulted in the Civil War.
The rights of slaves were so minimal, that it was hard to obtain freedom from the court system. Slaves were able to testify, but since the court was immensely biasd in favor of slavery and its expansion. As living proof of the corrupt and unjust Supreme Court circumstances, Celia and Dred Scott were given unfair trials. As described in my previous paragraph, the war on expansion was such a controversial topic among the nation resulting in racial divisions of the country was at one of its highest points and the tension between whether or not slavery should become abolished was among popular opinions. Though it took centuries to progress, the color of your skin doesn’t define your ability to hold rights as an American citizen.
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