- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Walker Books; 1 edition (January 18, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802717926
- ISBN-13: 978-0802717924
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #999,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
In this comprehensive and remarkably lucid study of post–Civil War Supreme Court decisions, Goldstone (The Activist) shows how the court's narrow interpretation of the 14th amendment--bestowing "equal protection under the law" to all Americans, regardless of race--paved the way for future decisions that diminished the status of African-Americans. While the Civil Rights Act of 1875 guaranteed " the full and equal enjoyment of public conveyances, inns, places of public amusement," it was never truly enforced and was ultimately struck down in 1883 as being unconstitutional by an 8–1 vote. Justice Marshall Harlan, a former slave owner, was the lone dissenter and though vindicated by history, at the time his dissent could not have been more unpopular--even in the North. Goldstone provides rich analysis as well as useful descriptions of the backgrounds, philosophies, and even racism of the key justices. Tracing the makeup of the courts under each administration, Goldstone analyzes how politics and social Darwinism further impeded African-American equality, concluding, "the Court did not render its decisions to conform to the law but rather contorted the law to conform to its decisions." (Jan.)
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“Goldstone offers a clear, cogent reading of the court's machinations, no small accomplishment since the justices generally rested their opinions on convoluted legal reasoning rather than on broad principles.” ―The Washington Post
“An absorbing account of the Supreme Court's role following the Civil War.” ―Library Journal
“Comprehensive and remarkably lucid” ―Publishers Weekly
“A furious indictment of the Supreme Court as an accessory to the anti-democratic machinations of Gilded Age elites.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“One of the saddest episodes in American history has been inadequately explored and poorly understood--until now. Lawrence Goldstone's brilliantly written book, Inherently Unequal, traces the post-Reconstruction Supreme Court's slow strangulation of equal rights for African-Americans. It will be a shock to many that the judicial branch, viewed in the modern context as the premier defender of civil rights, was primarily responsible for the nation's descent into a deep, racist inequality that ruined the lives of millions for a century. As Goldstone shows us, Lincoln's great legacy was cynically dismantled by the officeholders best positioned to protect it.” ―Larry Sabato
“As with Dark Bargain, Lawrence Goldstone once again adds a much-needed chapter to U.S. history with Inherently Unequal.” ―Tavis Smiley
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What stands out in this book is the unconscionable abdication by the Supreme Court of its responsibility of being the last recourse for the average person to obtain justice, in this case newly freed men. As noted by the author, Alexander Hamilton's contention that an independent supreme judiciary, appointed for life, would be above political and social pressures sadly proved to be decidedly wrong.
The beginnings of this shameful period in American history began with the attempt by Pres Andrew Johnson to permit the Southern states to rejoin the Union with no conditions attached - as though secession had not occurred and the Civil War not fought. However, Congressional Republicans, in the vast majority, were not about to stand by passively and watch the Southern states pass Black Codes that reinstituted the control and subjugation of blacks. Congress refused to seat Southern state representatives selected in white-only elections.
Continually acting against Johnson, so-called Radical Republicans passed a great deal of legislation in the late 1860s that sought to reorient Southern society. A series of Reconstruction acts created five military districts in the South, resulting in the voidance of the Black Codes and forcing the participation of blacks in the political process to draft new state constitutions. A condition for the re-entry of a state was the ratification of the 14th Amendment, which supposedly put the newfound status of freedmen beyond the whims of presidents, governors, and legislatures. Section I declared,
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States ... are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
It could be thought that this Amendment, combined with enforcement acts authorized in Section V of the Amendment and the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which disallowed discrimination based on race and color against any citizen wishing to access public places, such as inns, transportation systems, places of amusement, etc, would have secured for freedmen at least a minimal place in society. However, the Supreme Court through a series of tortured, narrow interpretations over the significance of the word "State," found that the Amendments simply did not apply to virtually all egregiously discriminatory acts and even found the Civil Rights Act to be unconstitutional in 1883.
From today's vantage point some of the decisions are absolutely shocking. The April, 1873, slaughter of over 100 freedmen guarding the Colfax, Louisiana courthouse by a large, heavily armed, all-white band was found in the CRUIKSHANK case to not fall under the 14th Amendment because of the absence of "any allegation that the defendants committed the acts complained of with a design to deprive the injured persons of their rights on account of their race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Basically, "the Colfax defendants would have had to announce their plan to violate their victims' rights on account of the color of their skin in order to be culpable." The STRAUDER and RIVES decisions of 1880 made the incredible claim that blacks never serving on juries was not evidence that they were systematically excluded and furthermore had no discriminatory affect on black defendants.
Given full confidence based on those rulings, all Southern states instituted regimes of "Jim Crow" by the early 20th century that discriminated against blacks by legally mandating "separate but equal" public facilities or designated areas, which were anything but, and essentially disenfranchising blacks by imposing severe conditions to register and to vote. Thus, Southern societies under the imprimatur of the Supreme Court were able to reestablish regimes where blacks were kept on the lowest rung of society via means both legal and extra-legal.
Of course, Supreme Court decisions always have a political and social context. As the author shows, the tremendous expansion of the Northern economy fueled by the War pushed commercial interests to the fore of the political process. That was reflected in the appointment of corporate attorneys to the Supreme Court under the Grant and subsequent administrations. Distorting the intent of the 14th Amendment, this re-comprised Supreme Court found that due process clauses applied to corporate "persons" far more so than to freedmen.
In addition, distortions of evolutionary theory, captured in Social Darwinism, were used to justify the power and superiority of the rich, as well as to validate the marginalization and alleged inferiority of blacks. Given that the racism endemic to American society now had scientific "cover" and that fairness to blacks became secondary to business concerns, it is hardly surprising the Court decisions that eviscerated the original intent of the 14th Amendment were roundly applauded.
As the author demonstrates, the suppression of blacks and the reestablishment of a white oligarchy came with huge costs to the South. The industrialization occurring in the remainder of the nation largely bypassed the South. Potential workforces were poorly educated under "separate but equal," not to mention that the most capable individuals often migrated to Northern cities. Under any criteria, the South lagged behind the rest of the nation until the end of the 20th century. Seen from the present day, the inadequacies and prejudices of the 19th century Supreme Court are in little doubt, failing to address the damaged social fabric of the nation, the vestiges of which linger even today. This dense, very insightful book is an excellent complement to broader histories of Reconstruction. Some have claimed that the material in this book is already well known - that is very doubtful.