Supreme Injustice: Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court

Time Period
1764 to 1824
1825 to 1860
Media Type
Black History
Civil Rights
Politics & Government
Dr. Paul Finkelman, in conversation with Dr. Edward L. Ayers

On May 9, 2018, Dr. Paul Finkelman and Dr. Edward L. Ayers engaged in a conversation about Dr. Finkelman’s latest book, “Supreme Injustice: Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court" and the entanglements that alienated three major justices from America’s founding ideals and embedded racism ever deeper in American civic life. 

The three most important Supreme Court Justices before the Civil War―Chief Justices John Marshall and Roger B. Taney and Associate Justice Joseph Story―upheld the institution of slavery in ruling after ruling. These opinions cast a shadow over the Court and the legacies of these men, but historians have rarely delved deeply into the personal and political ideas and motivations they held. In "Supreme Injustice," the distinguished legal historian Paul Finkelman establishes an authoritative account of each justice’s proslavery position, the reasoning behind his opposition to black freedom, and the incentives created by circumstances in his private life.

Dr. Paul Finkelman is the president of Gratz College. He is the author or editor of numerous articles, monographs, and reference books in American legal history, with a specialty on the court cases regarding slavery, including Defending Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Old South: A Brief History with Documents; Dred Scott v. Sandford: A Brief History with Documents; A March of Liberty: A Constitutional History of the United States (two volumes); and, most recently, Supreme Injustice: Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court.

Dr. Edward L. Ayers is the author of the Bancroft Prize–winning In the Presence of Mine Enemies and other works of history honored as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. A recipient of the National Humanities Medal from President Obama, Ayers is Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and president emeritus at the University of Richmond. His most recent book is The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America.

This lecture is cosponsored with the John Marshall Foundation, Preservation Virginia’s John Marshall House, and the American Civil War Museum and is free to their members.

Dr. Finkelman’s appearance is made possible through the generous support of the Roller-Bottimore Foundation.

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

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