Though one of the brightest stars in the line-up for US president, Vivek Ramaswamy greatly errs in his uninformed explanation of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s (pronounced “Taw-nee”) majority opinion in the Dred Scott Case of 1857. Ramaswamy recently opined that Justice Taney’s majority opinion denying free status to Scott was for the purpose of “keeping guns out of the hands of black people.” He offers no documentation to support this belief.
First, Justice Taney was born in Maryland in 1777 and had a far better understanding of the Founders’ minds and logic than Mr. Ramaswamy does today. Further, prior to his seat on the Court, Taney served as US Attorney General and Secretary of the Treasury under President Andrew Jackson.
In the Dred Scott decision before them, Justice Taney and his Court were primarily concerned with Dred Scott’s free or slave status, and if somehow he had obtained citizenship in some State under the Articles of Confederation or the later Constitution. Prior to the postwar 14th Amendment, the US Constitution did not include the word “citizen” and each State set its own standard for citizenship. As Dred Scott was born an African slave, was not freed from this status and was not a “citizen” of a State who could sue in federal court.
The question of access to weapons had no bearing on the case as Mr. Ramaswamy suggests.
The Court ruled, with two Justices dissenting, that black people descended from American slave ancestors were not such persons as the word “citizen” means when the Constitution gives federal courts jurisdiction over suits between citizens of different States.”
(The Legal & Historical Status of the Dred Scott Decision. Elbert William R. Ewing, Cobden Publishing, 1909, pp. 54-55)