About the Author
Benjamin Robbins Curtis [1809-1874], an eminent Massachusetts jurist, was appointed to the United States Supreme Court in 1851 where he achieved his greatest fame in 1857 by his dissenting opinion in the Dred Scott case. Curtis argued in a lengthy opinion that residence of a slave with his owner in free territory conferred freedom that the slave could vindicate on his return to slave territory. He claimed also that the Court could not try the case because a slave was not considered a citizen. After resigning his seat after a series of acrimonious disputes about the case with Chief Justice Taney, he achieved eminence as an attorney, one who was esteemed for his dignity, coolness, and clear, logical mind. Indeed, he was considered one of the leaders of the American Bar, arguing fifty-four cases before the Supreme Court and eighty before the supreme court of Massachusetts. The impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson, in which he served as the president's leading counsel, was perhaps his finest hour. Many considered his opening statement for the defense to be his greatest forensic effort.