Lord God, during this Lenten season, teach us to come before you in humility, lamenting the signs that your kingdom has not yet come in its fullness. Help us to acknowledge our finitude and failings, and guide us into a journey of remembering rightly, repenting honestly, and responding faithfully. We long for the coming of your mosaic kingdom in Jesus Christ, our Lord, and invite your Holy Spirit to lead us now.
THIS DAY IN HISTORY: MARCH 6, 1857
Dred Scott Decision
Dred Scott was an enslaved African American man who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom, along with the freedom of his wife and their two daughters in 1857. Scott claimed that he and his wife should be granted their freedom because they had lived in Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory for four years, where slavery was illegal. Yet on March 6, 1857, the United States Supreme Court decided 7–2 against Scott, finding that neither he nor any other person of African ancestry could claim citizenship in the United States, and therefore Scott could not bring suit in federal court.
Legally, Scott was correct in his lawsuit, as Missouri precedent dating back to 1824 had held that slaves freed through prolonged residence in a free state would remain free when taken back to Missouri. The doctrine was known as “Once free, always free.” Scott and his wife had resided for two years in free states and free territories, and his eldest daughter had been born on the Mississippi River, between a free state and a free territory.
Initial legal proceedings in 1846 went in favor of Scott’s freedom, as testimony that established his ownership by Mrs. Emerson was ruled to be hearsay. However, the judge called for a retrial due to a legal technicality, and the retrial in January 1850 still ruled in favor of Scott’s freedom. Irene Emerson, unable to accept the financial setbacks of losing four slaves, appealed this decision.
In 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down the lower court ruling, arguing that growing antislavery sentiment in the free states made it no longer necessary for Missouri to defer to the laws of free states. In doing so, the court overturned 28 years of precedent in Missouri. Scott then chose to appeal this case to the U.S. Supreme Court, and on March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the majority opinion. Taney ruled that:
- Any person descended from Africans, whether slave or free, is not a citizen of the United States, according to the Constitution.
As a result of this case, courts affirmed that “Africans, whether slave or free…had no civil rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Legally, they were solely property, and could therefore be used and abused at the owner’s discretion.
SCRIPTURE RESPONSE: AMOS 5:12-15
12 For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
for the times are evil.
14 Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
15 Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
RESPONSE OF LAMENT AND CONFESSION: Please spend some time in personal response, crying out to God with prayers, poems, songs, or art that expresses your lament and confession. If you feel led, please share these responses with others, using #lentenlament #day6
You may close with the following:
Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.
CLOSING PRAYER: GIVE US GRACE (W.E.B. DuBois)
“Give us grace, O God, to dare to do the deed which we well know cries to be done. Let us not hesitate because of ease, or the words of men’s mouths, or our own lives. Mighty causes are calling us—the freeing of women, the training of children, the putting down of hate and murder and poverty—all these and more. But they call with voices that mean work and sacrifices and death. Mercifully grant us, O God, the spirit of Esther, that we say: I will go unto the King and if I perish, I perish. Amen.“