The Declaration of Independence and Contemporary Constitutional Pedagogy – Article by Mark Graber

From Volume 89, Number 3 (March 2016)

The judicial opinions in Dred Scott v. Sandford debated whether the Declaration of Independence expressed an American aspiration to some form of racial equality. Chief Justice Taney insisted that the simultaneous American commitments in 1776 to the principles of the Declaration and to maintaining African Americans in human bondage demonstrated that the persons responsible for the Constitution of the United States did not regard persons of color as having any natural rights that “the white man was bound to respect.” “[I]f the language” of the Declaration, “as understood in that day, would embrace [persons of color],” Taney stated, “the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted; and instead of the sympathy of mankind, to which they so confidently appealed, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.” Justice Benjamin Curtis disagreed. His dissent insisted that the Declaration in 1776 articulated an American commitment to recognizing that persons of color had fundamental human rights.



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