44 Main Street, Newtown, CT 06470. Phone: 203-426-8704.
The decade leading up to the Civil War was one of tumult, with the great war catalysts of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852, and the Supreme Court decision regarding the slave named Dred Scott in 1857. The Newtown Historical Society will look at the last of this trio in November 12, at 7.30PM, in the community room of the C H Booth Library, 25 Main Street (rte 25), with a presentation by Joseph Secola. Dred Scott was born a slave, owned in the 1840s by an army surgeon, John Emerson, who, in the course of his army service, lived in a number of different states, including the free state of Illinois. Later Emerson returned to Missouri with Scott and his wife. After Emerson's death, his property under Missouri law was passed to his brother-in-law, a resident of New York. When Scott sued for his freedom on the basis of his earlier residence in a free state, the case, after conflicting decisions in Missouri courts, was sent to the Supreme Court because of the multiplicity of states involved. Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that slaves could not be citizens, and thus had no standing to sue in federal court, but more importantly that since slavery was recognized by the Constitution, Congress had no power to regulate it, and that both the Missouri Compromise and the Northwest Ordinance, which had prohibited slavery in certain states and territories were therefore unconstitutional. Taney had an excellent legal mind, but his legacy will always be tied to the Scott decision. The response from the northern abolitionists was overwhelming outrage, driving a perhaps irrevocable wedge between north and south. Fear that the western states and territories would become embroiled in fighting similar to that in Kansas caused a collapse of the economy and the Panic of 1857. Abe Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held their memorable 1858 debates at least partially on the issue, leading to Lincoln's election to the Presidency two years later, and the South's withdrawal from what was perceived as an increasingly hostile union. Joseph Secola is a former Judge of Probate, a practicing attorney in Brookfield, and currently serves as President of the Greater Danbury Bar Association. He has a longstanding interest in the law, and particularly in the Dred Scott case, which he has presented in other venues. All Newtown Historical Society programs are free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served following the presentation.