October 4, 1852

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                       Roger B. Taney                                                                   Benjamin Robbins Curtis                

(1777 – 1864)                                                                       (1809 – 1874)

Oct 4th Monday  Catharine Middleton & C Murphy washed

Mrs Norris and all of us dined with Mrs Witherell

and staid there untill about four and then

Mrs Norris and self went to Augustus’ to tea and

passed the evening  Mrs Lincoln is there

intends spending the winter  I do but very

little sewing have made a pr of plain cambric sleeves to day



It was the first Monday in October which in North Easton meant another washday. At the Ames compound, the Irish servant girls, Catharine Middleton and Catharine Murphy, tied their aprons on, filled the wash tubs and went to work. The slight rain did not interfere.

In Washington D.C., on this first Monday in October, nine white male justices put on their black robes and also went to work. A new session of the U.S. Supreme Court got underway. Led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of Maryland, the 1852-1853 term would deal with, among others, the case of Cooley vs. Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia. That decision would confirm the right of states to regulate commerce within their own boundaries. We might imagine that this decision had an impact on businesses such as the shovel works that shipped merchandise.

Taney and three other members of the court – John McLean of Ohio (the longest-serving), James Moor Wayne of Georgia, and John Catron of Tennessee – had been appointed by Andrew Jackson in the 1830’s. Two other justices, John McKinley of Alabama and Peter Vivian Daniel of Virginia, had been appointed by Martin Van Buren and had served almost as long. Newer to the bench were Samuel Nelson of New York, appointed by John Tyler in 1845, and Benjamin Robbins Curtis of Massachusetts, appointed by Millard Fillmore the previous year, 1851.

Associate Justice Curtis was the first and only Whig ever to serve on the Supreme Court. A graduate of Harvard, he was also the first justice to have a formal law degree. The justices up until that time had either “read law” as apprentices or attended law school without getting their degree.  Curtis would further distinguish himself in 1857 when the Taney Court handed down the infamous Dred Scott decision that determined that a black man had no rights of citizenship. Curtis and John McLean dissented from that majority decision, with Curtis so upset that he resigned from the court. He is the only justice to date to resign from the Supreme Court on a matter of principle.



April 8, 1852




April 8th Thursday  Fast day  Orinthia & Frank went to meeting

and at four oclock to a sing at the meeting house

hall.  Mr Ames has been to work all day the same

as usual  I have been very busy at work on

one thing and another have sewed on Susans

apron have it nearly done which makes the fifth

that I have made this spring

Evelina made note that today was a Fast Day, an annual event intended to be spent in fasting, prayer and supplication to the Almighty for a good growing season. The practice originated with the Puritans and evolved over time.  By 1852, it was a fading custom. Frank Morton Ames and Orinthia Foss went to church and to a “sing” afterwards, but both Evelina and Oakes Ames worked “as usual.” No one appeared to fast or spend the day in church.

A different long-standing custom of the country – slavery – needed to fade and disappear, yet hadn’t. It would only disappear with bloodshed, because the untenable social and cultural practice could not be resolved in a practical, orderly and non-violent way. War would be required, and soon.

On this day in 1852, a state court in Missouri decided against Dred Scott, a one-time slave who had sued his former owner’s estate for freedom. Scott and his wife, Harriet, had once been owned by the late Dr. John Emerson. The narrative of the case was complicated, but was based mainly on the Scotts having resided for a period of time in the free state of Illinois while working for the Emersons.  Scott believed that he and his wife should have been freed. But Dr. Emerson’s widow, Irene, kept the couple as her slaves, and wouldn’t even allow Scott to purchase his freedom. Scott sued and won in a lower court, but lost his case in the Supreme Court of Missouri.*

Scott and his lawyer appealed the case, which would go on to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857. In one of the Court’s most infamous decisions, Chief Justice Roger B. Tanney, a Jacksonian Democrat who believed in states’ rights and a slaveholder who had manumitted his own slaves, would nonetheless declare that the Negro had no rights. An “originalist” group, Tanney’s court determined that the Constitution as originally written had made no provision for the citizenship of Negroes. For Tanney, slavery was an issue to be decided at the state level.

The Dred Scott case was one more irrevocable step in the path to civil war. The U. S. government essentially abdicated federal jurisdiction over slavery, which only accelerated the sectional divisions and conflicts. Bloody Kansas burst open, and within a decade, unprecedented conflict would convulse the nation.


*”Decision in a Slave Case,” article from the Washington National Intelligencer, April 8, 1852, courtesy of http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/25809