The Reconstruction Justice of Salmon P. Chase: In Re Turner and Texas v. White

The Reconstruction Justice of Salmon P. Chase: In Re Turner and Texas v. White
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April 1st 1997 by University Press of Kansas

The demise of the Confederacy left a legacy of legal arrangements that raised fundamental and vexing questions regarding the legal rights and status of former slaves and the status of former Confederate states. As Harold Hyman shows, few individuals had greater impact on resolving these difficult questions than Salmon P. Chase, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1865 to 1873.

Hyman argues that in two cases -- In Re Turner (1867) and Texas v. White (1869) -- Chase combined his abolitionist philosophy with an activist jurisprudence to help dismantle once and for all the deposed machineries of slavery and the Confederacy. In Re Turner was a private law case decided at the federal circuit level.

It involved a black woman's claim that she, a recent slave, was being held in involuntary, servitude. Elizabeth Turner's mother had apprenticed her to their former master, who had not abided by his contractual obligations to provide Elizabeth with training and compensation, substantively keeping her in slavery. Chase's decision, which relied upon due process and equal protection implications in the thirteenth amendment and the 1866 Civil Rights Act, confirmed the rights of emancipated slaves to bargain and contract with employers on a parity with white workers. Texas v. White was a public law case decided in the Supreme Court. It revolved around the issue of whether the holders of U.S. bonds seized and sold by the Confederate state of Texas could demand payment after the war from that state's newly reconstructed government. In effect, Chase and his associate justices were asked to determine the legality of actions committed by all former Confederate states and, thus, to define whatconstituted a state. Chase's opinion reaffirmed the permanence of the Union and its constituent states and the duty of the states to respect the legal rights and obligations of all citizens. Hyman's exemplary study provides a much-needed reevaluation of both cases in the context of Chase's life and shows how they secured for him a rostrum for both moral and legal reform from which he asserted his strong views on the fundamental rights of individuals and states in an era of sporadically expanding federal power. "This is constitutional history as it should be written, but seldom is. Combining an excellent sketch of Chase's life with the social, intellectual, and moral climate of the times, Hyman provides a brilliant analysis of two landmark decisions. He also presents a stimulating, original, and provocative treatment of the Chase Court that sheds new light on our understanding of the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments". John Niven, editor of The Salmon P.

Chase Papers

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